Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Top 5 Film Scores of 2014

Joe Hisaishi Conducting

So 2014 has nearly come to a close and that means it's time to honor the best in film from 2014.  On a whole, 2014 was a fairly weak year of movies, as is evidenced by this list of what I believe to be the best film scores of the year.  Last year I did a top 10, this year I was only able to come up with 5 film scores that I was comfortable with including on a list such as this.  That just speaks to how this whole year of film has been for me.

There have been a lot of movies that came close to greatness, but just missed the mark by rushing the ending or leaving in one tiny plot hole that sucked all of the awesomeness out of the experience.  The film scores of this year have been fairly similar.  I am a big fan of strong, thematic work with very hummable themes recurring throughout the movie.  There wasn't a whole lot of that this year, with most scores feeling more like mood music than anything else.  That's a personal gripe, and most wont mind that or notice that, but I do.

The 5 film scores that made my list this year are good representations of strong thematic work, perhaps the only really good representations from this year.  Now,before I start, I'm going to point out that unlike most professional movie critics, I am an amateur, therefore I was only able to review the movies I could:  a.) afford, and b.) see, so that means I only reviewed movies that were in wide release.


5.  Alexandre Desplat, Godzilla
(Last Year:  Ramin Djawadi, Pacific Rim)
The craziest thing about my relationship with Alexandre Desplat's music is that I ordinarily find him overrated, but not this year.  I have included him twice on this list, and justly so.  As a matter of fact, his score for Godzilla would have probably made it even in a more competitive year.  He managed to come up with a theme for Godzilla that could be played many different ways, whether it was intense and scary, mysterious and quiet, or even noble and heroic, the theme could be done in a great many variations.  That to me is the mark of a great film score, and it's why Godzilla is on this list.

4.  Alexandre Desplat, Unbroken
(Last Year:  Steven Price, Gravity)
This particular film score is one of those that usually isn't my cup of tea, but I felt like it did its job so well I had to honor it.  While there is a theme that occasionally recurs, the real strength of Desplat's score for Unbroken is how powerfully the score, the picture, and the performances all work together in concert to convey the strong emotional moments of Louis Zamperini's story.

3.  Michael Giacchino, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
(Last Year:  John Ottman, Jack the Giant Slayer)
Giacchino is one of my favorite composers out there, and it's funny that his score for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is what I would consider one of his weakest scores, and yet that goes to show how good he always is.  If there is a natural successor to John Williams, Giacchino is it, often mimicking the trailblazers like Williams and Jerry Goldsmith with his use of thematic material tying into each set of characters.  In particular, Giacchino heavily channels Goldsmith's score for the original Planet of the Apes in a lot of action moments with this score.  His heavy use of the xylaphone really helps to bring this franchise around full circle.

2.  John Powell, How to Train Your Dragon 2
(Last Year:  Randy Newman, Monsters University)
John Powell's score for the first How to Train Your Dragon was my favorite film score of 2010, and is easily one of my 10 favorite film scores of all-time actually, so no pressure.  The truth is, nothing could ever truly match the score of that first film, and the great thing is Powell doesn't really try.  He brings back all of the same themes and uses them again when needed, but once we're into the story, he focuses primarily on the darker nature of this sequel with the music, utilizing new themes that are equally as beautiful.

1.  Joe Hisaishi, The Wind Rises
(Last Year:  Michael Giacchino, Star Trek Into Darkness)
This is it, the last time Joe Hisaishi will score a Hayao Miyazaki film, with The Wind Rises being the famed Japanese animator's final film.  Joe Hisaishi is easily up there with John Williams for me.  He's just a master of the craft who understands how music and film go together to create maximum emotional impact, and he does that in The Wind Rises to perfection.  The most unique thing about Hisaishi in contrast to folks like John Williams, is his music is all about the subtlety.  Rarely is it loud and bombastic, it's usually soft and speaks of the character's emotion rather than the spectacle onscreen, thanks to his favoring of the strings and woodwinds over the brass and percussion.

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