“Film music must supply what actors can not say. The music can give to an audience their feelings. It must really convey what the word can not do.” This quote from legendary composer Bernard Herrmann is the best way to describe the power of a great film score. This past year, film scores were just as varied as the wildly diverse films they accompanied. From classical orchestrations, to the sound of rock bands and even electronic sonorities that jolted the ear, below are my choices for the 10 best original scores this year.
It Follows / Disasterpeace: Horror had an incredible year as filmmakers returned to the basics, exploring exactly what made the genre scary in the first place. The earliest triumph this year was David Robert Mitchell’s tale of teens trying to outsmart a seemingly unstoppable force. Harkening back to the sounds of John Carpenter and Stockhausen, Disasterpeace thrills us with pulsating synths that drive as hard as the action. Cues like “Heels” perfectly complement action on screen using repetition to build tension, while “Title” gives us the thematic material that will become one of the movie’s most defining traits. The music found in “Jay” plays on the character’s innocence, while juxtaposing a dark segment, letting us know of the impending doom awaiting her.
Mad Max: Fury Road / Tom Holkenborg: Netherlandic electronic musician turned film composer, Tom Holkenborg (Junkie XL), continues to further himself from his pop past. His best effort in 2015 was a complimentary score that’s every bit as wild, emotional, and perfect as George Miller’s latest chapter in the continuing saga of the Aussie Road Warrior. Combining electronics with a late period Bernard Herrmann-esque orchestra (strings, percussions, a small woodwind section, and a huge amount of low brass), Holkenborg delivers a score that truly is rock and roll in nature. Blaring french horns demand that the rest of the orchestra match their intensity, creating a massive hurricane of power. “Brothers in Arms,” “Many Mothers” and “Let Them Up” prove that Holkenborg, coming from a background in electronic dance music, is growing into an outstanding composer with his own unique spin on orchestral music.
Love & Mercy / Atticus Ross: How do you set the life of one America’s greatest singer/songwriters to music? Ross perfectly captures the agony and the ecstacy of Brian Wilson in Bill Pohlad’s biopic by creating an untraditional score comprised of sound collages. Bits of classic Beach Boys songs are blended, mixed, melded, and added together to create what is perhaps the most unique film score of 2015. The perfect example of Ross’ brilliance can be heard in “The Black Hole,” which opens the film.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens / John Williams: Maestro Williams returns to a galaxy far, far away. His recent works have been moving away from the Wagnerian style of writing themes for every character, instead going for deeper emotion and scoring the action and subtext of a scene through orchestral colors and rhythmic propulsion. Even in this style, Williams proves that he is still better than any film composer working today, proving his mastery over the orchestral medium with “The Scavenger,” “I Can Fly Anything” and the celestial beauty of “Rey’s Theme.” Also proving he can score bad guys, “Snoke” gives us a gritty pairing of about two dozen male singers to create a scary sound to The First Order. On the other side of that spectrum, “Scherzo for X-Wings” beautifully melds the Star Wars theme with a new melody heard in “March of the Resistance”, to create a fantastic piece with trumpets firing as rapidly as blasters.
The Hateful Eight / Ennio Morricone: Quentin Tarantino’s body of work is known greatly for its use of music, but not so much in the original sense. The director has acknowledged that he writes to music and in this way, finds the perfect pop songs, film score cues, or anything of the like to place in his movies. His latest take on violence and racism in the Old West called for Tarantino to bring legendary Italian Maestro Ennio Morricone back to the Western genre for the first time in 34 years. Creating tension, drama, and terror through his use of repetition and simple instrumentation, Morricone’s created a stand out score from his impressive and prolific body of work. Crunched for time, Morricone revised unused cues from John Carpenter’s The Thing, but since, Tarantino’s latest is a pseudo remake of that film, it still works. Like The Hateful Eight’s setting, Morricone’s latest is cold, barren and hypnotically beautiful.
Sicario / Jóhan Jóhannsson: Deep synthesizers, pulsating low percussions and minimalistic orchestral colors paint the landscape of the US/Mexico border in Dennis Villeneuve’s tale of moral ambiguity. From the very start, Jóhannsson tells us through his music that we are not in for an optimistic tale of good versus evil. “The Beast” is a truly frightening cue (heard over the end credits). Coming off of his first Oscar win for The Theory of Everything, Johansson proves that he is a force to be reckoned with for any film that he is a part of.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation / Joe Kraemer: Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, and Michael Giacchino have all left their mark on Lalo Schifrin’s original theme. Newcomer to the series Joe Kraemer immediately lets the audience know that he means business with “The A400” which presents Schifrin’s theme in a grandiose way before weaving us into his new and original material for the latest adventure. “Solomon Lane” juxtaposes a beautiful melody that moves from the strings to woodwinds all while a marauding french horn line intimidates its way to the forefront of the sound.
Legend / Carter Burwell: The seasoned composer known for his collaborations with the Coen Brothers distinguished himself in 2015 for his work on Todd Hayne’s film Carol, but its work on the true story of the Kray Twins adds an unexpected edge to Brian Helgeland’s sixth film. Perfectly capturing the mood of 60s London, the audience is met with an unexpected rock configuration accompanied by light woodwinds and solo trumpet. The title track from the score perfectly captures the strangely peculiar mood of a strangely peculiar movie. An emotional side to the score is present for Emily Browning’s character. Undoubtedly, the Krays had a charm that Burwell seemed to have perfectly captured in his score.
Jurassic World / Michael Giacchino: Stepping into the shoes of one of the most beloved franchises in cinema history is no easy task, but Michael Giacchino handled himself just fine. The Oscar winning composer known for his work on Pixar movies outshines every element in the film, creating a score that captures the wonder and awe of John Hammond’s vision from the first film. “As the Jurassic World Turns” perfectly embodies the childlike excitement and elation of being in the new park. Not only does Giacchino hold his own on this film but also pays perfect homages to John Williams’ original themes in ways that aren’t corny or forced. “The Dimorphodon Shuffle” also demonstrates that MG has become a master of scoring action. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Giacchino has the sound of yesteryear, fitting alongside composers like Jerry Goldsmith or Elmer Bernstein.
Creed / Ludwig Göransson: The fact that the Rocky series still has steam left in it after all of these years just goes to show you how incredible the original characters were. Accompanying a career defining performance by Sylvester Stallone is a brilliant score by newcomer Göransson. It’s always a tricky thing to balance original compositions on top of a legendary theme, but Göransson does it beautifully, and with a modern hip-hop edge. Having left his mark on television shows like Community and New Girl, the 31-year-old Swedish composer knocks it out of the park as cues like “You’re A Creed” sonically hands the torch off to young Adonis Johnson, being trained and fathered by the Italian Stallion himself. “Meeting Rocky” adds the emotional weight presented by Bill Conti in the original films and introduces a new theme for both Rocky and Adonis, utilizing a smart mix of electric guitar, celli and touches of a solo horn as heard in the original Rocky. The crown jewel on top of the entire score is a new theme for Adonis. Scored for low brass, it strikes like a punch straight to the jaw.