Mike’s Top Film Scores of the Decade (60-51)
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:
60. Jackie, Mica Levi (2016)
Mica Levi has only done five films scores. This was her second. Her first, Under the Skin, will appear on most people’s lists of favorite scores of the decade. This is her second. For me, this is the one I prefer of those two. This score is so good. It somehow captures the social status of its protagonist as well as the air of grief and death that hangs over the film. The melancholy of old money under hardship. That’s what this score feels like to me. And it works in tandem with the way Pablo Larrain shot the film to really create this beautiful, intimate portrait of this woman during this time. This movie has always resonated deeply with me in a lot of ways, and I suspect the score has a large part to do with it. Since there’s a version of this movie (a lot of versions of this movie) that do not work as well as the one we got does.
59. Her, Arcade Fire (2013)
A weirdly perfect score for the film. Sonic and atmospheric, it somehow captures the slightly futuristic landscape of the film as well as the resounding loneliness of the protagonist. And then it has these really uplifting moments when he starts to be happy for a change. I love a good synth score, and while this score isn’t an all-out synth score, there are definitely some nice shades of it throughout. It works for the film.
58. Honey Boy, Alex Somers (2019)
I get so emotional when I hear this score. It’s so moving. That first track, even though it’s a minute long, is one of my favorite single tracks from this entire decade. Somehow this score feels like childhood to me. It evokes certain memories of being younger and what it was like at that age. Which, of course, is what the film is trying to be, in a certain way. And while it’s not as consistent a score as maybe I’d have wanted (though it works really well for the film itself. I’m just talking in terms of wanting to put it higher on this list, not that rankings particularly matter, since it’s all great), I really can’t talk this one up enough. It’s a beautiful piece of music.
57. Manchester by the Sea, Lesley Barber (2016)
There’s something about the austere nature of the score, with the choir and the strings, that perfectly juxtaposes the heart-wrenching tragedy we watch the characters go through. There’s a really beautiful score here, one that might not immediately spring to mind when you think about scores or even consider this film having a score. But it’s a really lovely piece of music and at times represents all the emotion that’s not being shown by the characters. Almost like a divine hand of fate or something. Life marching on while they go through all this awful stuff.
56. At Eternity’s Gate, Tatiana Lisovkaia (2018)
God, do I love this score. It’s just on a solo piano for half of it. And it feels like they did it on the kind of piano that might have existed in the place where Vincent was staying when he died. It feels almost like a silent film score at times, or rather like the lazy playing of chords on a sunny afternoon that you hear through a window while you’re out painting in the fields. Sneakily this is one of the best film scores out there from this decade, and is truly one of my favorites.
55. The Grand Budapest Hotel, Alexandre Desplat (2014)
This is what, our third Desplat/Anderson collaboration at this point on the list? I think you get it. This is the apex of their work together. It’s the one that you sort of hear in your head when you think of their collaboration together. It most closely reminds me of the Fantastic Mr. Fox score that I love so much, and as such it’s my favorite of their collaborations from this decade. But also, just hit play on that video up there. You’ll remember why you love this. It’s just such a lovely piece of work and it’ll immediately take you back to all the reasons why you love this movie.
54. Ford v Ferrari, Marco Beltrami & Buck Sanders (2019)
That central theme is just so great, and every time I hear it in the film I get excited, because it’s just such a thrilling piece of music. This is such a throwback kind of film score, but also kind of a modern one, because it’s kinda varied in its own way, and really only focuses on the parts of the score it needs to tell the story rather than trying to be some sustained piece of music. But I love it. I think it works absolutely perfectly within the film, and next time you watch this (and I must have seen this like five times by now even though it’s only been out half a year), pay attention to the music. You’ll realize how perfect it is for the film and how well it’s used.
53. Solo: A Star Wars Story, John Powell (2018)
This is blockbuster action film scoring. It’s Star Wars without trying to be Star Wars. If anything, it’s closer to what modern blockbusters would be. But I kinda like that, somehow. It’s not trying to be John Williams, but it’s also apart from what Marvel and other franchises do, with loud, bass-heavy noise scores that just simply convey whatever emotion the action is trying to convey. This feels like a piece of music. And I suspect that’s due to John Powell being the composer. He’s secretly one of those composers who is great but never quite gets his proper due. And I think it’s because he’s largely worked in animation the past decade-plus. His How to Train Your Dragon score is the one everyone knows. Or maybe his Jungle Book score. But otherwise, he’s largely doing animated scores. So him jumping back to live action for this — and for this to be so great (truly, listen to this entire score. It’s thrilling. It’s an adventure in and of itself) — is really wonderful to see.
52. The King’s Speech, Alexandre Desplat (2010)
One of the few ‘no brainer’ film scores on this list. Desplat is the best working composer and this is him doing classical scoring for a really classy picture. It’s not his sexiest film score out there, but it’s wonderful and shows how great he is as a composer. I’ll admit this isn’t the first (or fifth) of his scores I’ll run to put on, but my respect for it is also greater than maybe some of the other ones I’ll put on over it, if that makes sense. It’s one of his better pieces of work. It’s the right score for the right film.
51. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Jonathan Kirkscey (2018)
I feel like there’s only gonna be about two documentary scores on this list, and this one is purely because Kirkscey creates a score that brings me back to being a child and watching Mr. Rogers on TV. Simple as that. This one’s not about it being a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ score than anything else. This one’s purely about what I feel when I listen to it. And that’s fine.
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