Mike’s Top Film Scores of the Decade (40-31)
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:
40. Murder on the Orient Express, Patrick Doyle (2017)
It’s funny. In a lot of ways I tend to off-handedly dismiss Doyle as a composer next to some other people on this list (on name alone), because he does a lot of animated fare and his scores always feel like standard ‘family’ fare type stuff. He did Brave, and he did Goblet of Fire. All fine scores, but unless I actually listen to them, I’m usually not fully understanding the great work he puts into the music. And we’ve already seen one of his great scores on the list with Cinderella, and here he is again. I love how melodic this one is, the constant hum of all the early train stuff, sounding like old Windows 95 computer game music. Or like, the music you’d hear when you’re laying out your house in the Sims. And then the score shifts as the mystery unfolds and things maybe aren’t what they seem. But for me, the real moment this score lifts up is when he starts working in the main ‘theme’ of the score, which becomes the end credits song (“Never Forget,” sung by Michelle Pfeiffer, which is quite wonderful). It hits me right in the heart every time I hear those notes, and that, for me, is why I love this score so much. I’ll admit, it’s probably not technically as incredible as some of the other scores at this section of the list, but I just really, really like it a lot. And it’s my list, so I’m able to make that call.
39. Crimson Peak, Fernando Velazquez (2015)
Crimson Peak is definitely the hidden gem of Guillermo Del Toro’s filmography. It’s a film that admittedly may be less than the sum of its parts, but those parts are quite beautiful, from the cinematography to the sets and costume design, to Fernando Velazquez’s sumptuous score. The film is a gothic romance and Velazquez was an incredible choice for composing it. You could hear it in his score for The Impossible. He takes a waltz-type vibe (I don’t know music, so this is me making sense of it as best I can), where it’s this classical, ballroom, people in fancy clothes, kinda vibe but also works in the shades of… Guillermo. The darkness, the monsters, all that stuff. It’s beautiful. At times it’s like listening to a symphony.
38. The Hateful Eight, Ennio Morricone (2015)
It feels like a ‘too obvious’ kind of choice on paper. Because for most film people, Ennio Morricone scoring a Quentin movie is almost something you automatically have to shout out, because it represents everything that got you into movies in the first place. So I’ve always been hesitant to lavish too much praise onto this unless I really believed it. But what I’m finding, the more that time is passing and I have some distance from the film and the score — is that it’s really good. I know that, of course, feels redundant. It’s an Ennio Morricone score after all. I’m guessing this isn’t Quentin’s most rewatched movie and a lot of people probably haven’t seen it in a few years, if they bothered to rewatch it at all since it came out. But put on this score and I guarantee you — it’ll come back to you. It’s a really memorable piece of score that captures that unique air of a Quentin film and the air of mystery and intrigue around the entire plot. So yes, it’s an obvious choice, but also a worthy one. Those do exist.
37. Loving Vincent, Clint Mansell (2017)
One of the most groundbreaking films to come out this decade has one of the best film scores in it. Clint Mansell again, one of our most underrated composers. His third entry on this list and by far his best. This is just a stunning piece of music. He’s got this wonderful epic-melodic style that fits this film perfectly. The draw of the film is the fact that it’s entirely painted. The story is fine, but the visuals are the draw. And the score helps sell that, because you can almost tune out a lot of the dialogue and just focus on images and score a lot of the time. And it’s beautiful. This is one of those perfect scores that I want to listen to on its own. If I were pulling a handful of scores from this decade that I’d have on a rotating playlist, this would be one of them. I love it. And if you love his score for The Fountain (as I do), you’ll definitely hear shades of that in this.
36. You Were Never Really Here, Jonny Greenwood (2018)
I love Jonny Greenwood as a composer. He has such a unique style that’s so different as compared to other composers, and his music fits his films perfectly. Of course, most of the time he’s just scoring Paul Thomas Anderson films. But this is one of his few forays out into something else. And somehow it works. It’s got shades of his other stuff, but here, it’s just a wonderful mix of odds and ends, that fits the unique way the story is told. This is, at its core, a very straightforward little thriller. But Lynne Ramsey injects such an air of style and… depression, is that the way to explain it?… to it that it feels much more elevated than the source material might suggest. It’s like Drive. Drive is a B movie noir, but when you watch it, it feels like its own unique, cool thing. And that’s what this is. And I feel like Greenwood’s score helps that a lot.
35. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Daniel Pemberton (2019)
Here’s Pemberton again. His second of three scores on this list (and number three is coming up real soon). This is the one everyone knows. This is just an awesome score. Apart from the songs from the film (which are also amazing), this is just a fantastic piece of work. It’s the perfect mix of comic book, film score and plain cool. It’s just fun to listen to and is the perfect complement to everything that is this movie. At first I was hesitant about how all over the map this is. But honestly, now that time has passed, I love that about it. At times it feels like a full orchestra is playing some piece of an opera score and other times it feels like a garage band jamming. But really, more than anything, this score just gets my hyped. You can’t put a price on that.
34. Brooklyn, Michael Brook (2015)
This is quietly one of the absolute best films of this entire decade. It’s such a small, unassuming film, and that’s what’s gonna both keep it as something that ends up getting praised the way other films from the decade do but also keep it firmly in that wonderful ‘hidden’ gem category, where people can discover it and feel that real joy of finding something wonderful that isn’t really out there, which allows you to almost feel a sense of ownership toward it. Michael Brook’s score is absolutely perfect for the film, capturing the Irish-American mix while also being a soaring score of hope and opportunity. It captures the spirit of it’s main character and somehow conveys all the feelings of being a first-generation immigrant in a new country — the feel of a new life and possibility mixed with unease and fear and homesickness as well as, somehow, the feeling that even though it’s all kinda scary, everything’s going to be all right. That’s what I hear when I listen to this score and it makes me emotional every time I hear it. It’s a beautiful piece of music.
33. Steve Jobs, Daniel Pemberton (2015)
Told you Pemberton was coming up again soon. I love this score. This is the score that made me (and I imagine a lot of people) first notice him. It’s a great piece of work. The beginning is just odd, ambient tones that sound like they came from a computer. It’s very mechanical. Which is kind of what Steve is in that opening third of the film. Then the second section is very orchestral, which is when Steve is ‘playing the orchestra’ and enacting a plan even when it seems like he’s not. And then the third section is sort of a mix of both, and very futuristic-sounding, hinting at the infinite new world that computers will lead us to. It’s a really fantastic score and so unlike anything else you’ll hear. That’s what I love most about it. It’s not the same old thing, does something new (with different instruments) and also perfectly fits its film (and is great to listen to on its own).
32. The Social Network, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross (2010)
You forget how amazing this score is. Trent fucking Reznor won an Oscar for this score. It’s a stunning piece of music that no one quite knew Reznor had in him, but immediately once you saw the film and heard the score… it all just worked. Movies are this wonderful alchemy where sometimes things come together and create this magic that you can’t describe. Somehow, the moody and foreboding tones of this score fit this narrative perfectly. And I can’t explain why or how, but I can tell you that this is one of the best film scores of this entire decade, and I bet most of you, even if you haven’t consciously listened to and remembered this score as a piece of music, will remember at least one of these tracks purely from seeing the film. That’s the strength of a great film score.
31. Skyfall, Thomas Newman (2012)
Interesting. I’m not sure Thomas Newman has made this list all that much before now (if at all). He’s a great composer, even if his stuff does tend to sound almost the same a lot of the time. And a Bond score for me is usually more of the same stuff — always awesome, always thrilling, but like the films, they’re all part of the same general mold and it’s hard for each one to truly separate itself into something unique. But somehow, this film and Newman’s score both manage to do that. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who’s seen enough Bond movies who doesn’t tell you this is one of the best that’s been made. And I’m sure a lot of that is all the various elements all coming together magically. But Newman’s score is the first time in a long time where I heard a Bond score and went, “Oh wow, that’s quite good.” From that opening Grand Bazaar sequence to the quiet string sections of Bond being old and broken down to even the action scenes, which are quite thrilling. But the one piece of score, to me, that I will never forget, is the one I linked to above, which plays during the sequence where Bond is sprinting through the streets of London as M is giving her speech to Parliament and quoting the Tennyson poem, just before Bardem breaks in to murder her. That, to me, is one of the best needle drops of this entire decade and one of the most perfect score-to-film moments I’ve ever seen. I can just play that two-minute track and relive everything I felt about that moment while seeing it for the first time. It’s rare to have a moment that powerful that comes just from a film score. But that’s the power of film music and one of the reasons why I’m making this list. It’s great when you realize just how important film music can be to one’s emotional reaction to a film or a moment.
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