Mike’s Top Ten Film Scores of 2013
We’re talking scores and not soundtracks here today.
Which means that Inside Llewyn Davis is out, and Frozen has to get in purely on its score merits and not on the songs. I would like to shout out those two soundtracks, though, since the songs on them were quite good, and I’ve been listening to them a bunch over the past two months. And also a shout out to Broken Circle Breakdown‘s soundtrack, which actually made me appreciate bluegrass music for once. Who knew Belgium could made such good country music?
But anyway, today I’ll be going over my favorite film scores of the year. I’ll let you know now — this year hasn’t been a great one for me and film scores. Most of them really aren’t. I’m not a particular film score junkie. I don’t know music, I don’t have an ear for melodies and such. I just listen to film scores, and what I like, I like. (I imagine I’m the person real film score people would hate. Since I’m sure I gravitate to the most mainstream stuff. But hey — I don’t claim to know music. I just like listening to it.) I won’t get into my absolute favorite scores now (maybe another time, when I can really write them up), but let’s just say — the film score is something I like to listen to, to see if it’s something I can really like and listen to more often. And while there are always good ones from each year, I don’t know how many of these will be ones I’ll be listening to a whole lot after this article.
So here are my favorite scores from 2013:
First, let’s do a quick rundown of an unofficial #20-16, since I did manage to have 20 of them this year:
20. Mud (David Wingo) — Love the first track, “Opening,” as well as “Snakebite,” and like the rest of it, but wasn’t overly blown away by this the way some people were. Still, though, props here. Nice score.
19. 12 Years a Slave (Hans Zimmer) — I think this is cheating a bit. Since the only score on the official soundtrack is the main theme (called “Solomon”). But, honestly, I like the theme. I can’t remember a damn bit of the rest of the score and don’t remember it being played much in the film, but since the theme is really strong, and that’s the part of the score most people remember anyhow, I’ll put it on here. It’s just a mention, really, anyway, so whatever. It’s a good theme.
18. Man of Steel (Hans Zimmer) — Solid score. Sounds a lot like his Dark Knight score, but it’s still solid. (Listen to “If You Love These People” for the best and worst of it. It’s a good track, but it starts off exactly like the Dark Knight score and veers into typical Hans Zimmer “action movie” score. Hell, you can even hear a little Lion King in there. But it’s still a solid track. That’s pretty much how this score is.) Props, though. He’ll never overtake the original Superman score, but at least he did his own thing with it, and I respect that. Because at least it wasn’t generic. It was just — Hans Zimmer sounding like Hans Zimmer.
17. Oz the Great and Powerful (Danny Elfman) — It’s Danny Elfman, and I usually like his stuff. This is no different. It’s a fun score with a lot of energy, and was real easy to listen to. It just sounds a lot like Danny Elfman’s stuff, and has too much of studio hallmarks on it. Which leads me to believe they made him go more toward standard movie score stuff rather than let him do his thing. Or not. But either way, I liked this score, but didn’t love it. It’s definitely something I can listen to easily, though. So that’s a plus. Danny Elfman is great.
16. Prince Avalanche (Explosions in the Sky & David Wingo) — This is a really great fucking score. Holy shit. Have you guys heard this? It’s terrific. It’s so well done. Check out this score, since you probably don’t know it exists and it’s really good. (And the film’s pretty good too.)
And now for some honorable mentions, 15-11:
15. The Place Beyond the Pines (Mike Patton)
Very interesting score. It’s completely unique. It sounds like nothing else I’ve heard in a while, and the other thing it does that I enjoyed — every track is different. It feels like every track is trying to be what’s right for the story in that particular moment, rather than trying to have unifying themes or melodies. It’s very interesting. I can’t say I loved it in terms of, “I’m gonna listen to that over and over,” but I can say that it was definitely one of the most unique scores of 2013 that I liked quite a bit.
14. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (Daniel Hart)
Another great score that’s completely under the radar for a film that’s also under the radar. Great, great stuff here. It’s so good. Plus it’s a western (kind of. But also… sure), which makes me even more excited about it. Love me some western scores. Love ’em.
13. Oblivion (M83)
Joseph Kosinski knows how important music is to a film. So few people making big budget movies know that nowadays. All those scores are retreads on retreads, or they get the same composers, whose scores basically sound the same every time. Listen to any J.J. Abrams movie. It has a Michael Giacchino score, that sounds like a Michael Giacchino score mixed with your typical action movie musical tropes. Same for Hans Zimmer (which we already said in this article), and all those composers. Or shit — look at the Captain Phillips score. Henry Jackman did it, but it sounds exactly like if John Powell did a Bourne score. Same exact shit. It’s all the same beats, and all the same type of music. There’s never anything interesting. And Kosinski knows that. So, in his two films, he got Daft Punk (their Tron Legacy score was hands down the best of 2010. With True Grit a close second. and M83 to score his films. However, unlike the Tron score, M83 didn’t go and do their own thing with the score. Either the studio reigned them in or they just did it naturally like that. There are a lot of tracks on the album that sound like action movie tracks. Though I will say — there are a lot of tracks on this album, whereas the Tron score took out a lot of those “movie” tracks. There are quite a few tracks on here that are very, very good. Most of them revolve around the Oblivion “theme,” if you will. The one featured on the backing for the title track (which is amazing, by the way). So, I guess I won’t downgrade them for having too many tracks. But the score, on the whole, doesn’t stand out to me the way the Tron score stood out. So it’s not making the top ten, but it’s definitely a score I can recommend highly. And I hope Kosinski keeps doing stuff like this, because honestly, I like when people take a chance with a score and when the score is actually its own thing and not just there to underscore the action.
12. Side Effects (Thomas Newman)
What a great score. It’s so unique, doesn’t seem to suit the film at all, yet totally works at the same time, and you can listen to it on its own and it’s really solid. Huge fan of this one. Definitely one of the scores from 2013 that’s really good that not a lot of people have talked about.
11. Frozen (Christophe Beck)
Because I want to build a snowman.
And now for my official selection of Top Ten Film Scores of 2013:
10. The Book Thief (John Williams)
I’m liking this toned down John Williams we’ve been getting in recent years. I thought Lincoln was a particularly jaunty score, and we had a nice mix in 2011 when he had the toned down and reverential War Horse score to go along with the fun Adventures of Tintin score. Here, he tones himself down, but retains that childlike feeling that he had in scores like Hook and Home Alone — ones about childhood and children. But there are such great melodies here. Apparently Williams sought this one out. He wanted to do this score. So you know he was bringing his A game. You gotta love this man — 50 years and 49 Oscar nominations later, dude’s still churning out amazing scores. Dude’s 82. What a treasure he is. Here’s hoping he’s got another 20 years left in him, composing music.
9. The Great Gatsby (Craig Armstrong)
I was a huge fan of this one, from that first oboe sound over the studio logo. It’s a sweeping, romantic score that never gets too crazy, and also interpolates some of the original songs from the film (well… mostly two. And I think we all agree that they use way more Lana Del Rey than is necessary. Though I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing). I think this is easily one of the best scores of the year. (Craig Armstrong is also no stranger to sweeping, romantic scores. He did the “PM’s love theme” from Love Actually — you know the one I’m talking about. The one playing as Sam runs through the airport, that makes all of us feel really happy when it plays. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about.)
8. Prisoners (Johann Johannsson)
What a beautiful, haunting score this is. It’s so perfect for the film. You may not have noticed it while watching the film, but give it a listen on its own. It’s so beautiful. This is a score that should have been nominated for the Oscar. This and a score that’ll appear later on this list are the two scores that I feel were most snubbed by the Academy this year. This one — wow. Just give it a listen. You’ll hear what I mean.
7. The Best Offer (Ennio Morricone)
It’s an Ennio Morricone score! How did this one slip under everyone’s radar? How did this FILM slip under everyone’s radar?! But Ennio Morricone did this, and it sounds like a Morricone score, which makes my insides all tingly. It’s such a beautiful score, too. Just listen to it. It’s Ennio Morricone. You’re listening to a master composer at work. It’ll make you want to listen to all his other stuff. And go see this movie, too. It’s really good, and I know most of you don’t even know this exists outside of me shouting about it all the time.
6. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Howard Shore)
Look, I’m not gonna have to justify this one. It’s Howard Shore scoring Middle Earth. Every single one of these has been on my list of favorite scores from the year. It’s just something I love. I think Shore’s Lord of the Rings scores are some of the best scores ever put to film. I still like these as well. Of course I like them most when they call back to those other scores, but on their own, I still like them. They make me feel happy, and I want to listen to them because they evoke all the feelings that make me remember why I love movies. Sometimes you just listen to a score because it makes you happy. It fills you with all those magical feelings that you feel when you’re in the theater and seeing something incredible. That’s why these Hobbit scores will always be in my top ten list. They make me happy.
5. Philomena (Alexandre Desplat)
Alexandre Desplat is such a great composer. He wasn’t really on anybody’s radar until 2006. He scored The Painted Veil, for which he won the Golden Globe (that’s when I knew who he was, because I remembered Hugh Grant really enunciating his name when he said it and for some reason that stuck with me), and he also did The Queen, for which he was nominated for the Oscar. And then in 2007, he scored Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, which is (legit) one of my favorite movies ever, and one of my favorite scores ever. And then he did The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which is a score that I love dearly. It would have won the Oscar if not for Slumdog sweeping everything. And then he did Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Ghost Writer AND The King’s Speech in 2010. All of which were on my top ten list, and two of which were nominated for Oscars. (Oh yeah, he also scored Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that year. As well as New Moon the year before.) He did Tree of Life in 2011, along with The Ides of March, and last year, he did Moonrise Kingdom and Argo. So basically, if you want your Best Picture nominee/winner scored, Alexandre Desplat is your man. These are all great scores at that. (He also did Zero Dark Thirty, just in case you thought he didn’t have his bases covered.) And this year, he has Philomena, which might be, technically, the best score of the year. It’s such a beautiful score and, composition-wise, probably should win the Oscar. Thought I’m not a music person, so I couldn’t make that call. I’m just thinking that, of the nominees, this is the one that sounded the most beautiful. Other ones I just like better because of melodies and stuff. The dude’s just amazing. It’s great score after great score. And he composes such great melodies in his stuff, and you can always just listen to the scores on their own (and I do. I have tracks from at least three of his scores on my iPod at all times. But this score is really beautiful and has to be a top five for the year. It’s too good. It’s amazing to me he hasn’t won an Oscar yet (and probably still won’t have one after this year). (Though, also, I will say — next year, he has Monuments Men, Grand Budapest Hotel, Godzilla, Suite Française and The Little Prince. And I feel like that last one might garner a nomination. Though it seems like, based on his track record, it’s gonna take a slam dunk Best Picture winner for him to win the big one. Because how do you not win with that resume?)
4. The Wind Rises (Joe Hisaishi)
Because I love Miyazaki movies and I always love their scores. This one in particular is so beautiful. The opening guitar riffs and laid back melody — it sounds like one of those scores that would open a western. But I love the flying songs. It’s like listening to opera, almost. You can hear the woodwinds and strings and brass very clearly, and it’s just a different style entirely from American music. And I love that. I love the way the Japanese do music. (Even in video games. There are video game soundtracks that are better than any film score out there.) The other thing this score has, that I love, is that it has a final track that’s called “Farewell,” and is such a fitting final track for Miyazaki’s career. It’s so beautiful. Huge, huge fan of this score.
3. Her (Arcade Fire)
What a beautiful score. It took me a few tracks to get into it, but man, this is really something. I’m so glad they got nominated. This score really stands out. It really enhances the film and is just a special piece of music. “Supersymmetry” is such a good track that they took it and MADE THEIR OWN SONG OUT OF IT. They just said, “Man, this is great, let’s put lyrics over this and put it on our album.” What I love most about this score is that it has all that modern, electronic stuff, while also having wonderful piano melodies and classical film score string melodies and all that stuff that lets you know this is a film score, rather than an indie band (you know what I mean) doing their own thing. I think a film score should be a mix of something outside the classical while also having a bit of that classical stuff in there, and this film manages to do that wonderfully.
2. All Is Lost (Alexander Ebert)
Every year, one of my top three film scores is snubbed. Never fails. 2013, it’s this one. It won the Golden Globe. So of course the Academy didn’t nominate it. Last year, my #1 was Cloud Atlas (also nominated for the Globe). Not nominated at the Oscars. Beautiful score. 2011, I’ll admit, they were on point, having The Artist and Hugo on there. But how hard was it to have both of those? But 2010, they missed Tron Legacy, True Grit AND The Ghost Writer. ALL THREE OF THEM. How do you miss ALL THREE of those? 2009, they had a lot of my top ones, but they did miss The Informant! and Where the Wild Things Are (which the Globes nominated). 2008, they missed Let the Right One In (which, admittedly, everyone did. I won’t even get on them about Speed Racer). 2007, though — how the hell do you miss The Assassination of Jesse James? Or Sunshine? Sunshine is so good, THEY USE IT IN MOVIES AND TRAILERS NOW. You’ve heard the Sunshine theme and know it even if you haven’t seen the movie. It’s IN Kick-Ass. That’s how good that score is. They use it in other movies. And, not to mention, other scores from 2007 not nominated: There Will Be Blood, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (listen to that score. Go ahead. I’m telling you it’s terrific. I’m not just saying it because I love the film), Into the Wild. Not nominated. 2006, The Fountain wasn’t nominated (and neither was The Departed, but that one doesn’t hurt as much). The Globes nominated that, but the Academy didn’t. Another score that people regard very highly. Basically, what I’m getting at is — the Academy music branch is fucking crazy. And this is the proof of that for 2013. Listen to this score. It’s absolutely sublime. And it helps carry the entire movie because there’s NO DIALOGUE IN IT. There are probably between 40 and 60 words of dialogue spoken throughout the entire movie. And at least 30% of those words are the same words being repeated multiple times. Score is VERY important to this movie. And this score is actually REALLY good. (We’re going to get to another example of that in a second.) The fact that they didn’t even nominate it is beyond me. Even the song at the end is beautiful and haunting. I cannot believe this isn’t even nominated. This is clearly one of the absolute best scores of the year.
1. Gravity (Steven Price)
Absolutely beautiful. It’s the perfect score. If I wanted to make a statement, I’d put All Is Lost over this, but I can’t. I liked this best. I like how this score starts slow and builds. (Sometimes to a fault, I’ll agree. Like four consecutive tracks end on a crescendo and sudden stop. But still. The tracks are really good.) It’s a beautiful and tense score, and its best work is done in the second half, after all the debris settles. During the quiet moments, when she’s all alone in the ship, trying to get home. The entire last ten minutes of this score are absolute perfection. With her trying to reenter the atmosphere, and those final moments at the very end right before the credits — tell me that last two minutes right before the credits don’t make you want to stand up and applaud. That’s all score. ALL score. This score is going to win the Oscar this year, and it’s going to be well-deserved. And I’m very excited for that.
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So those are my favorite film scores of the year.
Tomorrow, we start going over all the Oscar categories, one by one.