Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Favorite Movie Scores of 2015

When it comes to popular music, I really don't listen to a lot, if any, however if you take a look at my iTunes library, you'll find hours upon hours of movie music.  While I may be abnormal in that I prefer the stylings of John Williams to Adele, I really don't mind that sort of abnormality.  For me, one of my favorite things every single year is listening to all of the new movie music and hoping with every ounce of optimism I have, that with each new movie I will hear a new unforgettable movie theme that can rival any other.  For the most part, 2015 was a rousing success in that department.  There were a great many awesome movie scores this past year and today I would like to share my 10 favorite movie scores from 2015.  As with any list this is entirely subjective, but hopefully this list will be representative of the year that was and will be some great reading and listening to round out the end of the year.  So with all that said, here we go with number 10!


10.  Avengers:  Age of Ultron
One of the biggest things that Marvel has struggled with in all of its various movies thus far, is a musical identity that saw themes carrying over from one movie to the next.  While I still think that Marvel has a long ways to go, the score for Age of Ultron made a great many strides in correcting this course.  Co-written by Danny Elfman and Brian Tyler (who also wrote the music for Iron Man 3 and Thor:  The Dark World), the music for Age of Ultron harkens back to Alan Silvestri's score for The Avengers at most of the appropriate moments, while at the same time Elfman penned a new heroic theme for the Avengers that builds off of Silvestri's cues while helping further solidify a musical identity for the team.  As for Tyler's contribution, you can really hear it in the way he weaves in the themes he wrote for Iron Man and Thor in the other Marvel movies he composed, creating an aural consistency that links this movie to those other Marvel movies.  While I still think Marvel could do more on the music front with their movies, Age of Ultron's score was a step in the right direction, let's just hope it continues going down this path.

9.  Mr. Holmes
Carter Burwell is a composer whose contributions to so many great movies have often been overlooked because he is typically not an in your face kind of guy with his music.  Burwell's work on Mr. Holmes is bar none some of his best work, and that is saying something considering he is typically the go-to composer for the Coen Brothers.  With Mr. Holmes, he crafted a very stately, churning theme for the aged Sherlock Holmes that really suited this interpretation of the character, with the theme being at times tragic, uplifting, and mysterious.  While I'm hard pressed to say whether or not anyone else will remember this score come awards time, this is one that should at least be in the Oscar conversation.

8.  Ant-Man
This score was perhaps the most purely fun score to listen to all year long.  Composer Christophe Beck wrote a sensational blockbuster score that does everything that is required of a movie like this.  Beck handles the action sequences with propulsive brass, the quieter moments with strings and woodwinds, and through it all he gives it a flair that is unique and slightly different from other movies.  A large part of what set Ant-Man apart from other superhero movies in general, was the fact that it was a heist movie and Beck really exemplifies that in the music, with the themes often echoing the music from movies like Ocean's Eleven.  However my absolute favorite part of Beck's score is his theme he wrote for the Ant-Man character.  The theme works in so many different capacities throughout the movie with it being everything from a solemn, reflective piece to a massive, heroic overture.  Simply put, this is one of the finer scores ever written for a Marvel Studios movie.

7.  Kingsman:  The Secret Service
Another really fun score, Henry Jackman's music for Kingsman was a great highlight early in the year and still stands up there with the rest of the scores that came after it in 2015.  Of all of the spy movies that came out this year, I actually liked the music for this one more than any of the others, primarily because it was all new and fresh.  Jackman managed to craft a spy movie score that sounded like we had heard it before, but we actually hadn't.  Sure, the music never does anything to break the spy action movie mold, but it does it with so much style and energy that you are hooked from the first few notes of the Kingsman theme that Jackman wrote.

6.  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2
I said it in my review of the movie when it came out, but James Newton Howard has been the unsung hero of the whole Hunger Games franchise.  His scores for all four movies were consistent, while there were few new themes introduced in the latter movies, he just continued to refine what already worked and made it work even better.  The perfect case and point of this was in the music for the final scene of the whole series.  The music harkens back to the main theme that Newton Howard composed for the very first movie and it is still as emotionally resonant now as it was then.

5.  Inside Out
If there is any kind of successor to John Williams, it is Michael Giacchino.  Perhaps the most busy composer currently working (having composed the music for four major blockbusters just this year alone), Giacchino has written some of the most hummable movie music of the past decade or so, primarily thanks to his collaborations with Pixar.  With his score for Pixar's latest, Inside Out, Giacchino once again did what he does best, he created easy to hum themes for all of the primary characters and managed to work them in concert with one another in different tempos and keys to fit the mood of what the story needs at that moment.  His theme for Joy is light and effervescent, while his theme for Sadness is rather brassy and glum, and then his theme for Bing Bong is very bouncy and reminiscent of a circus.  Few composers can actually bring together that many vastly different sounds into a cohesive whole, but Giacchino has the ability to do that and just makes it look easy.  While Inside Out is not my favorite Giacchino score of 2015, it is one of his best of all-time, which goes to say what I really think about it.

4.  Paddington
Most of my favorite movie scores this past year were done by well-known composers, but in the case of Paddington, composer Nick Urata came from the world of Indie movies to craft a score that perfectly captures everything I love about this immigrant bear from Peru.  Urata gave many scenes an appropriately South American flare, especially when Paddington is given a bath to look presentable, but it is Urata's main theme for the movie that gives it heart and perfectly encapsulates Paddington.  The theme is at times soft and delicate, at others bouncy and eccentric, and even grand and majestic, like when Paddington first arrives in London.  I have always loved this bear, and this music is a great way to travel back to the colorful realm of Paddington's adventures when you're needing a nice reminder of the good in our world.

3.  Tomorrowland
The other Michael Giacchino score on this list, Tomorrowland is one of my five faves he's ever written.  The music for Tomorrowland is seemingly simplistic and standard for a blockbuster adventure movie.  It creates wonder and awe, mystery and suspense, and emotional heart tugging all when it needs to, so why is it one of my favorites of Giacchino's oeuvre?  Because it's just full of hope.  The whole idea of Tomorrowland is about discovering hope for the future amidst all of the negative thought in our world and that idea is what Giacchino captured most brilliantly in his themes for this movie.  When you hear his music for Tomorrowland, you just can't help but want to dream, and dreams are the first building blocks in making a better future, so in a way you can say Michael Giacchino's music for Tomorrowland helps make the world a better place.  I can't think of a better way to sum up the score other than that.

2.  Cinderella
This movie was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the whole year at the theater and the score was one of the reasons for that.  Patrick Doyle is a composer I have been familiar with for a long time and I have often found his scores enjoyable, but I think his work on Cinderella ranks as his best ever.  The score is sweeping and romantic, grand and majestic, and most importantly, heartfelt and emotional.  The core concepts of kindness and courage are musically interpreted in Doyle's music via the theme for Cinderella in the movie, which is one of the most pure and innocent themes I've ever heard for a character.  Contrast that with the tragic and calculating theme he wrote for the Evil Stepmother, and you wind up with a very rich and diverse musical landscape that expertly tells this classic fairy tale anew.

1.  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
Anytime there is a new John Williams score, I go bananas.  When it's a new John Williams Star Wars score, I go bananas times a hundred!  Mr. Williams has outdone himself again with The Force Awakens.  It would have been very easily for him to have just relied entirely on the old themes he composed for the Original Trilogy and fans would have gone ape over it, but he didn't do that.  While many of the old themes make an appearance here and there within the score, about 90% of the score is made up of entirely new themes that Mr. Williams wrote just for this movie and its brand spanking new characters.  Rey's theme is instantly iconic, perfectly representing the character's innocence, resilience, and charm, by harking back to a swashbuckling-type feel.  Then there is Kylo Ren's theme, which is itself a mirror of Darth Vader's music, but perhaps a little more ominous with much more chaotic turmoil bubbling underneath its minimal facade.  Then you have the March of the Resistance, which is a militaristic piece that speaks to heroism in the face of danger and yet never mimics any of the other marches that Mr. Williams has written for the other Star Wars movies.  In short, The Force Awakens is a complete home run in every department, with the score being just another perfect element to the movie.  Now the real question is where does The Force Awakens score rank amongst the best of the whole Star Wars saga?  It may take a little more time to figure that out, but I've already integrated the new themes and best music cues from the soundtrack into my Star Wars playlist on iTunes, so that says enough for right now.

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