Mike’s Top Film Scores of the Decade (80-71)
Film scores are one of my favorite things to listen to and the list of my top ones is one of the articles I get most excited for each year. I put way much more effort into that than I really ought to. I go deep, listening to some scores that I probably shouldn’t even bother with. And it’s because I love that aspect of film so much. The care that goes into all those notes. Think about how many films there are each year and how many have true, dedicated scores to them. Now consider that, despite there only being a handful of notes out there, each of them is utterly unique in its own way. It’s crazy to think about.
So when I was considering lists to talk about for this past decade, this one was one I couldn’t wait to get into. I know most people won’t rush to put a score on, but if you’re gonna go in for one, these are some of the best that have come out these past ten years:
80. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (2011)
This is a score I absolutely cannot listen to on its own. It’s way too moody and atmospheric as a whole for me. But it works really terrifically in the context of the film. Really subtly and wonderfully. You almost don’t notice how well it’s working. One of the times I was rewatching the film I really tweaked to it, and it was a nice discovery. There are some terrific melodic passages in this score, though. And I felt that it was worth shouting out, even if, as I said, I can’t listen to this just as a score as much as I could a lot of other films on this list. But this list isn’t just about how much I like the piece of music. It’s about how well it works within the film as well, and this definitely does that.
79. Logan, Marco Beltrami (2017)
I love this score. That main title theme is so unexpectedly great. Starting with the low piano theme and building up with more instruments little by little. And then that harmonica kicks in, giving it a low key Ennio Morricone feel. It’s fantastic. As a pure piece of music, it’s better suited for the film than it is for listening, but there’s some really wonderful stuff in there that’s a lot more melodic than you might think.
78. Black Panther, Ludwig Göransson (2018)
I mean — it’s one of the most iconic pieces of music from this entire decade. Everyone immediately understands that Wakanda theme. You can’t hate on it. It does its job. Really, really well. I like that the film is rooted in African musical tradition without feeling exploitative in any way. It’s a bit… much… for me to want to rank higher. But it is a really terrific piece of work that trumps literally everything else Marvel has ever done in the way of score by a wide margin.
77. The Great Gatsby, Craig Armstrong (2013)
Armstrong is an interesting composer. You don’t really see his name on a lot of films, but once in a while he pops up with some really great stuff. For example: you know that one bit of score from Love Actually that everyone knows when the kid is running through the airport? That’s Craig Armstrong. That’s probably his most famous bit of score, next to this. This score is built around the songs that were written for the film. But since they were written for the film, Armstrong is able to weave them all into the score pretty seamlessly. It’s like how each Bond movie weaves the main theme into the score at different times. Though here — everyone knows how Luhrmann makes his films, so the fact that all the songs also end up in the score just helps the bold expressiveness of the entire film. I chose one of the pieces of score that’s not entirely built around one of the songs just to show that it is a solid score in its own right even before you get into the parts that tie onto the soundtrack.
76. Black Swan, Clint Mansell (2010)
This was never going to win any awards because of how much Swan Lake is used within it, but it had to. I’m not gonna begrudge it at all for using those great Tchaikovsky melodies in it. Plus that allowed it to weave it in and out and sour the notes a bit to hint at Portman’s current mental state. It’s a beautiful score that does exactly what it need to in the context of its film. You can’t ask for anything more than that.
75. Mad Max: Fury Road, Junkie XL (2015)
An odd choice for a composer at the time, but now that he’s gone on to create that Wonder Woman theme, it’s not that weird in hindsight. This score… I mean, I think we all understand how incredible this is as a film score. It’s basically just cranking shit up to 14 and giving you a constant barrage of drum beats and loud noises to complement the action, right? Not right. There are actually a lot of quiet moments in this score, more than you might think. This is not a film score I want to listen to at all outside of the movie (because I assume if I did, I’d be on so much cocaine and Red Bull and that would be the only explanation), but certain tracks are quite beautiful in their own way. But still — how this works within the film is why we’re here. It’s a perfect score for the film it’s in. Simple as that.
74. A Most Violent Year, Alexander Ebert (2014)
A quiet score from a seemingly forgotten film. The score in this film is a big piece of building that atmosphere, of violence and tension. It’s a sparse score, all things considered, but I love it. I think it does its job really, really well.
73. The Old Man & the Gun, Daniel Hart (2018)
I love a good low key, classy jazz score. This is the kind of score you just want to throw on as you cook dinner or something. It’s wonderful. And it fits the film. Redford as an actor and as a character — he’s old, he’s laid back, he’s not your typical bank robber. He smooth jazz’s his way into the bank, he doesn’t Mad Max score. There are no big, tense explosive score moments here. It’s got that smooth charm that Redford and the film has. It was a wonderful choice and provides one of the more memorable and lovely scores of the decade.
72. The Wind Rises, Joe Hisaishi (2013)
I love Ghibli scores in general, but this one is something else. It’s so whimsical and perfectly fits the tone for a movie about aviation. It’s just such a beautiful piece of work, and in a way, this is a spot for every piece of Ghibli score that’s out there. Because it’s all wonderful.
71. The King, Nicholas Britell (2019)
Is this our first Britell score? I think it is. This dude is already on my list of favorite composers and he’s just getting started. He’s a genius. His first feature score was in 2012 and he’s, to this point, only composed the scores for ten features. Offhand, I believe four of them are on this list. Do you know what kind of a ratio that is for someone? That’s insane. Most people know his Succession theme song, and I’m sure other stuff he’s done too that I don’t even know about. But it’s the film scores that won me over. This one is actually kinda tame for him as compared to the other ones he has coming. It’s a departure for him based on the other ones, but I think that’s just him. He does what’s right for each picture. I love how classical the score is. I always thought about it as the kind of music a king like Hal would listen to. And I love that it’s not built on ‘war’ music, either. Since a strong portion of the film takes place in and around battles. And Britell doesn’t go in for that obvious ‘action’ stuff, which only makes the whole thing better for me. We’re only just getting started with his stuff on this list, but oh my god is he one of those people I’d recommend for people wanting to get into scores. Just listen to everything he’s done, because he’s already one of the best current working composers out there.
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