Another year has passed and another wonderful year of stories have entered into existence. This year brought on a wonderful amount of scores that were a pure joy to experience. What is interesting is that every year certain trends seem to surface. One year this list was mostly dominated by indie films, and another year it was full of big budget studio films. Looking at 2015, the surprise here were the amount of incredible action scores that took us on amazing thrill rides. Action is usually a genre that is considered "escapist" or purely just for entertainment. However, there is a true art to a perfect action film and one of the major ingredients is music. You'll find a few key action films made the list this year, and like previous years we are doing a top 15. So let the countdown begin!
As every year with our "Best" list and all our reviews, scores are ultimately judged by their effectiveness within the film's narrative and not by their standalone album experience.
15. Desert Dancer by Benjamin Wallfisch
Benjamin Wallfisch is a brilliant writer and storyteller, and I hope more people discover his music. Desert Dancer is a perfect example of the aching beauty and emotional nuances he is capable of as a composer. The emotions here build from a deep starting point so that when the arcs finally reach a peak, we get to experience a rush of this warmth and beauty. Desert Dancer is a terrific effort and one of the year’s best.
14. Jupiter Ascending by Michael Giacchino
The Wachowski’s latest box office flop sees them reuniting with Michael Giacchino for the stylistic science fiction epic that is Jupiter Ascending. The film has its issues, but is not as bad as the reviews say, and one of the reasons it holds so well is Giacchino’s magnificent score. Working in reverse order, Giacchino composed a full score for the the directors to use prior to shooting. He then wen’t in and made adjustments to make it fit. The result is a score that is grand, operatic, thematic and simply stunning at times. It’s one of the best space adventure scores you’ll hear that doesn’t have “Star” or “Wars” in the title.
13. Cartel Land by H. Scott Salinas & Jackson Greenberg
Cartel Land is a fine example of a documentary score delivering more than what is expected it from it. Instead of going the generic route, the composing duo crafted an intense and intriguing thriller. Dramatic builds will send chills and establish dread all the while echoing the emotions of the situation.
12. Loin Des Hommes by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’ film music work is nothing short of phenomenal. Even though the duo are more well known for their work with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, it’s in their film scores where a truly original and powerful voice has emerged. While Loin Des Hommes may not hold the emotional gravitas as The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, The Road or The Proposition, it still manages to craft deeply powerful story. Loin Des Hommes echoes pain and beauty in equal measure, making for a memorable score that resonates deep.
11. Above And Beyond by Lorne Balfe
If you’re looking at sheer output of work from a composer, then sitting up at the top is composer Lorne Balfe who has worked on 9 projects in 2015 alone (10 including Above And Beyond which was made in 2014 and released in 2015). Thankfully this is not an example of quantity over quality. Lorne has demonstrated a masterful handling on his voice and style, as well as ability to tell a story through music. Looking back, I found his score to the WW2 documentary Above And Beyond to speak ever so loudly long after I initially heard it. It’s simply a beautiful and powerful score with so much emotional resonance. It really stands out above other doc scores mainly because it doesn’t feel like the “expected” doc score.
10. Rams by Atli Örvarsson
Rams is a small minimalist score from Atli Örvarsson. It’s a brilliant character study that manages to pinpoint everything it needs to. The sound, style and instrumentation echo the cold open landscapes and isolation depicted in this Icelandic film. Atli has wowed us with his impressive studio scores and his work with Hans Zimmer, but here he is able to truly write from his voice as a composer. The score is cold and stark while it carries a tone of foreboding tragedy. It’s one of his finest accomplishments as a storyteller and fits the film perfectly.
9. The Man From U.N.C.L.E by Daniel Pemberton
The film was ignored and bombed hard, but left in the rubble of monetary loss for Warner Brothers was an absolutely excellent film adaptation from Guy Ritchie and a super fantastic score by Daniel Pemberton. The score is a towering tribute in many ways to the style of 60’s scoring, but it’s also very modern in its approach. Pemberton infuses his style to make the music explode off the screen. The music is highly melodic and thematic, making perfect building blocks for Guy Ritchie to shape sequences over.
8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens by John Williams
John Williams’ return to the Star Wars universe has finally come and gone. After reflecting on it, it truly was a magical and wondrous experience seeing how well the master was able to craft something new from a franchise he’s written 6 scores to. Rey’s theme is pure Williams goodness, and his style fit perfectly to J.J. Abrams’ modern vision for the iconic saga. The score never relied on old themes too much therefore making it one of the most exciting and emotional action/adventure scores of the year.
7. Cinderella by Patrick Doyle
Patrick Doyle’s absolutely gorgeous score to Kenneth Branagh’s live-action take on Cinderella is some of the most magical writing you’ll find all year. The score is lush and alive, it flourishes with life yet still crafts a thrilling character journey for Cinderella. It’s organic, moving and lifting all the while embracing the lavishness of the fairytale genre.
6. Mad Max: Fury Road by Tom Holkenborg
Mad Max: Fury Road is a premiere example of how to score action. Holkenborg embraces certain action stylings of the past and infuses his own voice into it by crafting a score that can be both tremendously bombastic yet sweepingly majestic as well. The score has multiple diegetic elements such as the tribal percussions of the drummers and the roaring guitar solos of the flame-throwing guitar-playing Doof Warrior. The score is action perfection and has a main theme that perfectly represents a spiraling decent into madness.
5. The Hateful Eight by Ennio Morricone
If you ignore all the media attention this score has gotten because it’s “Tarantino’s first original score!” and “Morricone’s first western in 40 years!” then you’ll be pleased find that there truly is a score that perfectly captures the mood and momentum of this snowy stylized Western about tension and paranoia. Morricone captures this progression moving towards the film’s eruption of violence towards the end. It’s dark and brooding yet basked in Morricone’s signature stylings. The subtle glance of a character, the wide shots of a horse-drawn wagon moving across the white landscape like a shark’s fin cutting through water, and the sharp dialogue punching through every scene is all enhanced by this amazing score.
4. Carol by Carter Burwell
Carol is an amazing representation of Burwell embracing his voice as an auteur, while beautifully crafting a score that pinpoints the emotional swirls of the forbidden love story at the heart of Carol. Everything about this score is very “Burwell”, but it manages to find the heart of the film so effortlessly that the score becomes one of the shining beacons of the film as a whole. The main theme is the heart of the music, and it fleshes out the characters beautifully to echo a deep human story that resonates long after you've experienced it.
3. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation by Joe Kraemer
Joe Kraemer showed us how perfect an action score can be with Rogue Nation. This fully orchestral score stood above the rest not just in the action genre, but in the Mission Impossible series as well. Instead of shying away from the original themes, he broke them down and used them in ways we never experienced before. It may have outrageously gotten him disqualified from Oscar contention, but if you ignore the Academy’s stupid rules then this becomes one of the year’s top efforts. Kraemer's talents and capabilities are on full display here, and the 5th film in the franchise shows no signs of fatigue because of them.
2. Inside Out by Michael Giacchino
Michael Giacchino is no stranger to animation, and is one of Pixar’s top collaborators. Inside Out is a challenging concept, but it’s made so accessible thanks to Giacchino’s beautiful score. Wonderful themes and melodies hit the story beats with perfection and flesh out the characters and emotions superbly. It may not be one of his most showy scores, but it’s one of his best. The music here is a perfect example of how we need sadness to know what joy is.
1. Sicario by Jóhann Jóhannsson
Sicario is a deep and dark score that is crafted with tremendous precision. The pounding percussion and bone-chilling descending strings work hand in hand with the edit and the shot composition to build an unsurmountable amount of dread. This is a master example of suspense scoring done with perfection in a way we really haven’t experienced before. Jóhannsson leaves us shaken to the core and shows us how to make image and sound work in harmony. The music is such an integral part of what makes the movie work and your heart will be racing long after it ends. Sicario is an example what music is meant to do, and Jóhannsson does it oh so well.