2017 Top Music Film ScoresMore and more, music scores are breaking boundaries and pushing the limits of what can and should be done. We’re seeing more diverse soundscapes than ever, and this list is a reflection of that. I love that the artform is becoming something not exclusive to classically trained composers, and it’s forcing the old guard to keep up. Here are the music scores that really hooked me throughout the year.

Thelma by Ola Flottum: Joachim Trier’s story of sexual and personal awakening is a dreamlike labyrinth of poetry and dense atmosphere. Tying it all together, Ola Flottum’s score is full of wonder and majesty, even if laced with an underlying sense of poignancy and sinister flourishes. At every step, Flottum mirrors the repression and longing of the story’s characters, blending somber melodies with hopeful moments of grace.

The Girl With all the Gifts by Cristobal Tapia de Veer: Colm McCarthy’s subversive zombie film is a breath of fresh air. It diverges from genre standards and tells a bleak, apocalyptic story with a very tender and sincere heart. de Veer’s score hooks us right from the start, offering spliced ethereal vocals, moody electronics and a haunting pulse. This is as eclectic as it comes, and a perfect companion to a film that defies classification.

Raw by Jim Williams: Like the film it accompanies, Williams’ score shifts, snakes and transforms, hitting us when our guard is down. Initially starting as a series of folky, acoustic cues, the score eventually transitions into menacing keyboard melodies, distorted instruments and dissonant flourishes. Beautiful and terrifying all the same.

Life by Jon Ekstrand: In the best way, Daniel Espinosa’s space thriller is a modern predecessor to John Carpenter’s claustrophobic apocalypse films. Rather than pander with another 80s 8-bit film score, Jon Ekstrand went the opposite route, crafting an operatic, orchestral score that is sounds as huge as it is terrifying. Toying with two extremes, Ekstrand’s score feels timeless but not a slave to what came before.

Alien Covenant by Jed Kurzel: Ridley Scott’s latest foray into the Alien universe was more a study of life and creation than it was about the claustrophobic horror we were hoping for. Scott traded standard jolts for deep mythology and existential terror, and it gave Kurzel the perfect playground for  rich orchestral textures, spinning off from Jerry Goldsmith’s original score. The results are reverent, yet strikingly original.

Twin Peaks by Various Artists: Twin Peaks’ return was perhaps one of the few real events of the year. Lynch brought his show back in a way that no one else could, and to immerse us into his warped imagination, he culled from a rich collection of sourced and original music. The performances that closed off each episode boasted a killer lineup of both past and future legends, while Angelo Badalamenti and The Chromatics’ Johnny Jewel provided melodic atmosphere. To really dive in, you’ve gotta check out Music for the Event Series (the Roadhouse performance tunes), Limited Event Series Soundtrack (Badalmenti’s score) and Windswept (a curated album by Johnny Jewel).

Dishonored 2 / Prey by Various Artists: Arkane Studios put out two of the year’s best video games. Both toyed with alternate realities and boasted gameplay with unique mechanics and open-ended play styles. For Dishonored’s fantasy-drenched, Victorian steampunk aesthetic, Daniel Licht’s hammered dulcimer theme is stunning. In a single passage, he captures the story’s mystery with vibrance and intrigue. For Prey’s space-set techno thriller, Mick Gordon, Matt Piersall, Ben Crossbones and Raphael Colantonio went more electronic. From the opening credits’ poppy “Everything is Going to be Okay” to the foreboding “Typhon Voices”, this score takes us to places, evoking a sleek, sci-fi horror soundscape that hypnotizes.

A Ghost Story by Daniel Hart: Matching the film note-for-note, Hart’s music and ideas are stripped to their most bare form, allowing sensory melodies to breathe and expand within our imaginations. What we end up with is a score that fills our souls, rich and beautiful, as its chamber-like presentation follows director David Lowery’s film beyond time and space.

The Lovers by Mandy Hoffman: This is one of the scores that truly surprised me this year. Rather than succumb to the genre’s bland and boring stereotypes, Hoffman went classic, evoking fanciful cues reminiscent of Max Steiner and a golden age of forgotten Hollywood. The final product gives the film a waltzy rhythm that’s as contagious as its characters’ newfound and irreverent romance.

Ghost in the Shell by Lorne Balfe: Label this as one of the year’s greatest upsets – not because it’s a bad score, but because an official release has been indefinitely canned. Shrouded in controversy and not as good as it should’ve been, this film’s one, uncontested bright spot is its pulsing neo-electro score. From arpeggiating rhythms to thundering drums, Balfe’s work is soulful and kinetic. Luckily, in light of the scrapped release, Balfe has uploading an album’s worth of cues to his YouTube. There’s also an impromptu track listing of the uploaded selections in sequence order. Hit up a YouTube audio ripper and have at it.

Blade Runner 2049 by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch: When Denis Villeneuve stalwart Johann Johannsson was scrapped from the film close to completion, it felt like an omen. Zimmer and Wallfisch taking over suddenly felt like a commercial move, something done to create an overtly accessible soundscape. Luckily, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Though we’ll always wonder what Johannsson could’ve done, Zimmer and Wallfisch’s work turned out to be inspired, resulting in a dense cacophony of sonic bliss that is at once impenetrable and moving. More impressionistic than anything else, this score is breathtaking, turning scenes like the film’s climactic battle into all-time cinematic bliss. At the two-minute mark and beyond, “Sea Wall” is on a level of its own.

Good Time by Oneohtrix Point Never: With their latest film, the Safdie brothers created a bonafide knockout. Their story about a botched heist and two hustling brothers falling through the cracks is a new, hard-hitting classic. Electro artist Daniel Lopatin created a series of themes that ebb and flow with the desperation of each character, keeping the energy surging with arpeggiated attacks, while spacey keyboard solos help to capture the fluidity of each moment. When the score kicks in and locks, it’s a ride in and of itself.

Call Me By Your Name by Various Artists: This one’s a doozy. Director Luca Guadagnino didn’t create a mere film so much as he did an immersive, sensuous experience. We’re right there with two characters as a whirlwind romance progresses and takes us by storm. Anchoring the affecting story, a careful selection of classical pieces and originals by the likes of Sufjan Stevens were assembled. From the galloping piano work of Ryuichi Sakamoto to a pivotal work from Frank Glazer and even new wave tunes from The Psychedelic Furs, this is an eclectic collection that takes us through every spectrum of human emotion.

The Shape of Water by Alexandre Desplat: I have to admit, though I was thoroughly enraptured by Guillermo del Toro’s latest masterwork, Desplat’s score didn’t immediately hit me. It was after a second viewing that this really hit home, and I was able to realize the breadth and nuance of its scope. Like del Toro’s film, beauty is in the details, from a whistled tremolo melody, to themes that are constantly elaborated on, Desplat’s latest takes a hold of us in its own way.

Phantom Thread by Jonny Greenwood: At the time of this post, Greenwood’s score isn’t fully available yet. I’ve seen the film, however, and let me tell you, the first time I heard it, I knew this was THE ONE. This is the best score of the year, dripping with seductive sinister nuance and a wonder that constantly battles the darkness. Each note feels so deliberately selected, and nothing feels out of place, even as the score switches from symphonic voicing to chaotic piano solos. It’s art like this, that boggles the mind, and makes me wonder how someone’s mind can even think like this.