I love doing this article every year even though I always leave myself mountains of work to be done in very little time. Fortunately this year I started compiling scores two months in advance, started listening to them just after New Year’s, had a rudimentary version of this list by the end of January and even finished writing this article two weeks ago. Which is way better than how things usually go with me. Usually a month out I’m like, “Oh shit, I need to do scores.” And then I rush and get everything and the whole thing is done in the span of like, three weeks. But I do it because I love listening to film scores. I have almost 40 gigs of film scores on my computer. I’m not bullshitting you. I really do like this stuff. That’s part of the reason I started writing this article.
The other part is because, when I would look up what the best film scores of the year were, I’d only ever find one of two lists: the list that’s just mainstream movies and designed to get people to engage with the site and doesn’t remotely care about the scores themselves, or the ‘cool kids’ list that’s almost exclusively festival darlings, one or two really obvious foreign films and then scores by underground indie music artists that you’d know about if you lived in Bushwick. And sometimes, god help you, you got the third list, which is when a site would lump a staff of 3-4 people in one article and have them talk through their favorites. So you’d end up with some weird mutant stepchild version of lists A and B, but worse, because it would be in paragraphs, so now you’re skimming through trying to figure out where the fuck one entry ends and the other begins. And on top of all of this? There are only like seven total lists! Maybe things have gotten better since I stopped looking and just started doing it myself, but at the time there were only a couple of actual lists and everyone else parroting those. And they all had the same scores on them. To the point where you just felt like no one was actually listening to the scores. So I said ‘fuck it. I’ll do it myself’. Because I’m doing this stuff anyway. Maybe it would’ve been 40% less than it is now, but I still would’ve done it. And unlike everyone else, I don’t give a fuck if anyone reads this. I’m in this for love of the game.
I’m very up front about how I do this. I don’t know much of anything about music except knowing what I like. Sometimes I can say something smart but a lot of the time it’s just simply liking stuff. I have no idea how similar or different my list ends up being to everyone else’s but at least I know that I did listen to a broad spectrum of stuff (this year was 73 scores, which is a lot for someone who doesn’t make that their primary duty as a filmgoer and probably 50-60 more than most people who put out a scores article), actively considered each one on its own merits and picked the ones that sounded the best to me, based solely on my own ears and my own opinions.
In a year where movies generally fell by the wayside given all the real-world stuff going on, film scores for sure were gonna get overlooked. So here’s a bunch that I felt are worth a listen. Here are my favorite film scores of 2020: (more…)
I usually try to post this article as late as possible, just because there’s so much work involved in it and I want to give each score a proper listen. So usually it becomes the last thing I post before every day becomes about Oscar categories. But this year, everything is so early, I couldn’t even get 80% of the Release Calendar up before that happened. So this is the first article you get post-Oscars.
I listened to 89 different scores for this article over the past five weeks. Typically how I work is, I realize this article is coming around November and start compiling as many scores as I can. Then January starts and the Top Ten list is over and I start looking to what the big workload articles are gonna be. Which invariably begins with this one. So I start doing quick listens of all the scores to get an idea of what my general ‘pool’ is gonna be. And then I ignore it for about a month until I realize, “Oh shit, that’s going up in a week.” Then I frantically listen to every score, come up with a list of 25 and write everything up in the span of about four days.
You’d think I’d know better, but on the other hand, you’d think we’d have properly studied for all our tests and done all our papers and projects on time in school. Sometimes that’s just how we work. So yeah. I listened to all those scores and picked my favorites. I am by no means someone who understands the intricacies of music. I’m just listening for stuff I like, and I do my best to explain why I liked it. That’s pretty much it.
Here are my favorite film scores of 2019: (more…)
I both greatly look forward to and dread this article every year. I look forward to it because it’s amazing and fun to do and gets me to listen to film scores. I dread it just because I know film scores are not something I keep up with throughout the year, other than a mental note here and there of ones that really stood out during the initial watch. So usually I have to do the first deep dive in December, pulling everything I can and compiling it all, and then I just have to spend the next month sampling and whittling down to a workable number until I can hone a list. It’s more work than you think. Still, having this article makes it worth it.
I say the movie poster is a lost art. I feel like film music is something that, while not lost, has lost its way. So much of film scores now is underscoring, so you never notice it and it’s never interesting. Here’s an example: you get a tense moment in a movie now, and they draw everything back and there’s the undertone of “dread” and then staccato violins and stuff. You know what I mean? And compare that to a John Williams Star Wars theme. Sure, one doesn’t call attention to itself, but the other one you remember 40 years later. That’s my only point there. So I like to look at which scores are particularly good pieces of music, especially since, if I just pulled the films on the list below and said, “What do you remember of their scores?” I bet a lot of people would go, “I don’t even remember a score from that.” Most people don’t necessarily listen for it.
So yeah, this is just me listening to a bunch of stuff and picking my favorites. I am by no means someone who knows anything about music. In fact, I know nothing about music. I have no ear for it, I don’t know what pitch is, I couldn’t tell you anything other than a general, “Oh that sounds nice.” So that’s how I pick my choices. Generally I have the composers I like, and sometimes a new one comes along that does something cool and it allows me to track what they score from there on out. You never know. Also, scores, not soundtracks. So A Star Is Born will not be on this list. And also, since this is my list, it will probably differ from what a lot of other people will have on theirs. I don’t care what’s trendy or will get clicks. I like what I like.
Here are my favorite film scores of 2018: (more…)
I make it a point to write this article every year because it forces me to listen to film scores. Like the movie poster, the art of film music writing is something that has been slowly deteriorating over the past twenty years. Now, it feels like so many of the scores sound exactly the same. There’s always a handful of really good ones, but by and large it all feels homogenized and by-the-book.
I am by no means someone who understands the complexities of music, but I do enjoy a good film score. The really good ones I tend to spot during the film. I’ll catch the score doing something interesting and make a mental note of it. But that happens so rarely now, because so many of the scores are underscoring the action rather than working alongside the action. To my point, name me one new movie theme you found yourself humming after you left a theater.
So I do this article to see where the good stuff is. I feel like, if we all individually listened to a bunch of scores on their own, without comparing notes, and then came back and listed our favorite ones, we’d all generally have the same group. And then we each have our own preferences on top of that. I don’t fanboy over Michael Giacchino the way others do, while I think Alexandre Desplat is the best working composer today and regularly have at least two of his scores on my list every year.
As I said, I’m no music expert, nor do I claim to know anything about music. I just pick whichever films scores sounded the best to me. Also — scores, not soundtracks. Because, yeah, we get it, Baby Driver had a lot of cool songs on it. That’s not a film score.
Anyway, let’s get into the picks. Here are my favorite film scores of 2017: (more…)
The reason I do this every year is because it forces me to listen to film scores, which is something I don’t do enough of. I appreciate film music, but so rarely do I actually sit down and listen to a film score. Usually what I’m doing is complaining about certain scores not getting nominated and wondering why that is. Or complaining about the decay of good film music. Quick, name one memorable theme from any of the Marvel movies. (Right? Almost all movies are like that now.)
So I use this space as an opportunity to talk about what I liked, and because of that, I have to listen to enough scores to actually have something to say. It works out very nicely.
I’ll put a disclaimer on this: I know nothing about music nor do I claim to. I’m just picking which scores were most aurally appealing to me. I’m sure people who know about music will think much differently. That’s fair. Oh, and I also am only dealing with scores and not soundtracks. (Because if we’re talking soundtracks — Sing Street, man.)
I always have my top ten list of scores, but after that, there’s no cap. If I don’t have more than ten that I liked, I’ll only talk about those ten. If there’s 20, I’ll put 20. I really only want to mention the scores that made me go, “Oh, that was good.” I’m not putting ones on there just to fill out a list. This will go as high or as low as need be.
Here are my favorite film scores of 2016: (more…)
The reason I do this every year is because it forces me to listen to film scores, which is something I don’t do enough. I appreciate film music, but so rarely do I actually sit down and listen to a film score. Usually what I’m doing is complaining about certain scores not getting nominated and wondering why that is. So I use this space as an opportunity to talk about what I liked, and because of that, I have to listen to enough scores to actually have something to say. It works out very nicely.
I’ll put a disclaimer on this: I know nothing about music nor do I claim to. I’m just picking which scores were most aurally appealing to me. I’m sure people who know about music will think much differently. That’s fair. Oh, and I also am only dealing with scores and not soundtracks.
In terms of how the list goes, there’s definitely always a top ten list of scores. I don’t put a cap on it though. I really only want to talk about the scores from the year that actually made me take note and go, “I really liked that.” Sometimes a score is deceiving because it has a really good main theme, but the rest of it isn’t anything other than standard scoring. So there’s a minimum of ten, and it’ll go as high as there are things to talk about.
Here are my favorite film scores of 2015: (more…)
I’ve started doing this every year. Because I always feel like I’m on that weird level where I’m extolling specific film scores that never get any awards attention, while also not listening to enough scores on their own. So I’ve started forcing myself to actually listen to the scores on their own on top of in the movies to see which ones I actually liked best.
Every other year, this has been a top ten list. Last year, I managed to get to 20. This year, I’m expanding it to as many as I felt truly made me go, “All right, that was pretty good.” The ultimate goal here is to point out great film scores, and to give credit to one of the parts of a movie that often gets far too little credit.
Also keep in mind, I’m talking film scores here, and not soundtracks. So all the musicals and movies with great songs in them don’t count. We’re talking score, and score only. Because even though the iconic scores like Jaws and The Adventures of Robin Hood are few and far between, I still need to be on the look out for the modern day greats.
So here are my favorite film scores of 2014: (more…)
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: (more…)
Today I’m gonna talk about my favorite film scores of 2012.
Film scores are a lot like cinematography for me — I love when they’re done well. I love a film score that works well within its film, is noticeable enough that I hear it and go, “Oh man, that’s a great score,” and can be able to listen to that score on its own, outside the film. Something like the Dark Knight Rises score — it’s good, but I’m never gonna listen to that as a score. And most scores nowadays are basically the same things. The only real difference between a lot of them is who the composer is, and even then you can pick out who did it by their normal tropes. (If you can’t hear a score and go, “That’s a Danny Elfman,” or “That’s a Hans Zimmer,” then we really need to have a talk about how you watch movies.)
And just so we’re clear on my tastes going into this thing, here are some of the film scores I’ve listened to most from the pas couple years: From last year, the film scores I listen to most are The Artist, Hugo and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. From 2010, the ones I listen to a lot are Tron: Legacy and True Grit. 2009, I love the Fantastic Mr. Fox score. 2008, I love the Let the Right One In score. And of course Slumdog. 2007, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. And Sunshine. And Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. 2006, The Fountain. And The Departed. And of course Casino Royale. No joke, at any given time, on my iPod, there will be at least a couple tracks from The Artist, Hugo, Tron: Legacy, True Grit, Let the Right One In, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, The Fountain and The Assassination of Jesse James. And I’m pretty sure I still have the entire albums of True Grit and Assassination of Jesse James on there.
So those are the kind of scores I like. I’m by no means an expert on the subject, but I do know what I like, and this is gonna be a list of what I liked this year. Here are my top ten film scores of 2012: (more…)