Best Scores of 2017
By Kaya Savas & Leo Mayr
February 1, 2018
With 2017 firmly behind us and awards season upon us, it seems only right to once again take a look back on another amazing year of scores across all mediums. For this year’s top scores list, we thought we’d break it down a bit to fairly judge scores across the three mediums of onscreen visual storytelling. While the end goal of every score is the same, sometimes the different mediums can pose challenges and approaches that you will not find in the others. All genres and approaches are considered, but in the end it’s the music that helped tell a story in the most powerful way that ends up being memorable.
2017 was a very good year across the board and we saw scores from big-budget blockbusters all the way to tiny independent productions all create memorable experiences. Characters were brought to life, worlds were built and emotions carried us through the journeys we saw play out on the screens in front of us. Here are Film.Music.Media’s Best Scores Of 2017.
Video games pull in more revenue than any other visual medium, meaning that games are such a huge part of our storytelling culture. For a game score, we are looking at how well does the music not only tell a story, but also compliment the gameplay. A linear shooter will require different needs in comparison to an open-world sandbox game, but in the end it’s finding a balance that makes the music an integral part of the gaming experience. Game music is is such an important aspect of the player's emotional connection. With some games spanning over 100+ hours of gameplay, it's up to the composer and the developers to find a way for the score to become part of that experience.
5. Horizon: Zero Dawn by Joris de Man, Niels van der Leest & The Flight
A post apocalyptic sci-fi stone age game featuring giant robot dinosaur creatures? Yes, please. The score finds just the right balance between synth heavy sci-fi and percussion driven tribal influences to make for a unique and memorable experience. The atmospheric parts beautifully make the game world feel alive, while the more story driven elements add depth to the ever unfolding mystery.
4. Cuphead by Kristofer Maddigan
Cuphead is one of those games you either like or don’t really care about. No matter which group you fall in, it’s undeniable how much work went into the score. The sheer amount of fantastic jazz pieces made specifically for the game is overwhelming and almost makes you forget the game’s crushing difficulty. Almost…
3. DeFormers by Austin Wintory
As ever, Austin Wintory has been quite busy throughout the year, but none of his scores has come close to matching the uniqueness of DeFormers. The score is fun and silly and colourful. And near impossible to describe with words.
2. Assassin’s Creed: Origins by Sarah Schachner
In recent years, Sarah Schachner has proven herself to be more than capable of creating fantastic video game scores, and the latest in Ubisoft's long running franchise might just be her best effort to date. Stunning atmospheric music breathes life into the vast and diverse open world and fun combat music keeps your blood pumping through tense battles.
1. Divide by Chris Tilton
Having been released early in the year, Chris Tilton’s fantastic sci-fi score has somewhat fallen under the radar. Nonetheless, Divide is a spectacular effort. The synth infused orchestral score just works wonderfully, from the stunning main theme to tense atmospheric music and the occasional bursts of exciting action.
Honorable Mentions: Tooth And Tail by Austin Wintory, Call Of Duty: WWII by Wilbert Roget, II, Prey by Mick Gordon, Destiny 2 by Michael Salvatori, Skye Lewin, C Paul Johnson, Rotem Moav & Pieter Schlosser
We constantly hear that we are living in the "golden age" of television, and that is the absolute truth. Many auteur storytellers are leaving film to helm TV series that have become some of the finest forms of visual storytelling. Television saturates our world in the digital age, and it's where we escape to in the comforts of our own home. Television poses a completely different approach for composers, and add on top of that the insane scheduling that becomes the reality for anyone working on a TV series. Yet somehow, composers and their teams overcome the logistical nightmare of scoring television to deliver amazingly powerful scores that cover hours and hours of storytelling.
5. 12 Monkeys: Season 3 by Stephen Barton
Stephen Barton took over for the television adaptation of 12 Monkeys and infused an incredibly detailed musical world to back it up. One could argue that the previous scores from Trevor Rabin and Paul Linford didn’t flesh out the world as much as Barton was able to. Barton’s incredibly detailed soundscape gave everything more life and added weight to the science fiction world.
4. Game Of Thrones: Season 7 by Ramin Djawadi
With the penultimate season of Game Of Thrones, Ramin Djawadi unleashed a score that truly gave Westeros a musical world that is evolving and growing into the final chapter. Our favorite themes have grown so much with the characters that we invest in every week, and Season 7’s score has maintained a momentum that is carrying the show in immense ways. With the show embracing a more cinematic approach in terms of action and storytelling, we're seeing the score continue to go to exciting places.
3. Genius by Lorne Balfe
Genius is exceptional scoring from Balfe who seems to have struck storytelling gold by painting portraits through music. Both this and Churchill are exceptional examples of how to flesh out an iconic historical figure and allow us as an audience to relate to them on an emotional level. As a series, Genius allows the music to really grow and flow with the story more so than a film would have allowed. The score’s structure is really superb, and we get both chill-inducing swells of inspiration as well as smaller intimate emotions. Genius is Lorne firing on all cylinders and should not be missed.
2. The Crown: Season 2 by Rupert Gregson-Williams & Lorne Balfe
Lorne Balfe joins Rupert Gregson-Williams for the second season of the dramatically heavy Netflix series. The score builds off the groundwork that Season 1 laid down, but instead of broad musical strokes like last season we instead get more nuance and a richer narrative. Fragility exists perfectly juxtaposed to big emotional swells for score that makes The Crown: Season 2 one of the best TV scores of the year.
1. Blue Planet II by Hans Zimmer, Jacob Shea & David Fleming
After a beautifully successful score to Planet Earth II, the Bleeding Fingers team takes on Blue Planet II to give us one of the most painfully beautiful nature documentary scores in the genre. Blue Planet II’s soundscape is a different world than Planet Earth II, and the entire score ebbs and flows like the oceans of our planet. Hans Zimmer’s grand structures along with powerful fleshing out from Jacob Shea and David Fleming turn this nature doc into one of the most emotionally powerful narratives in television. Our aquatic natural world explodes with life and emotion that makes Blue Planet IInot only one of the best TV scores this year, but of the nature documentary genre as a whole.
Honorable Mentions: The Leftovers: Season 3 by Max Richter, Mr. Robot: Volumes 3 & 4 by Mac Quayle, Star Trek: Discovery by Jeff Russo, Mindhunter by Jason Hill
It's been the staple of visual storytelling for over 100 years and it's where audiences find ways to reflect on their own lives by witnessing stories unfold onscreen, or it's where you escape reality for 2 hours with a guilty pleasure. Either way, films are something truly special. Film composers are tasked at creating a musical narrative that fully supports a movie from start to finish, and throughout history we've seen film music become the emotional backbone of what makes audiences fall in love with films that end up becoming part of us. Here are some of the best musical stories that were told in 2017.
5. Wind River by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
If there are two composers who are able to craft a score that is born from the ground that the characters walk on, it’s Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Their scores operate on a different wavelength completely, and they always find a way to support the emotional depths of the films they score. Wind River is a powerful film because of the darkness painted by the music, and within the darkness comes melancholic beauty. There are poetic moments of internal reflection and then pure organic moments of pain and frustration. Wind River isn’t the most cheerful experience you’ll have, but it’s a study of the human condition that shouldn’t be ignored.
4. Only The Brave by Joseph Trapanese
One of the best scores of the year came from one of the best films of the year, and it was a film that nobody saw. On the surface, Only The Braveseems like any other “based on a true story” film about real-life heroes facing certain tragedy, but something about this film was different. From the direction of Joseph Kosinski, the acting of the ensemble cast and of course Joseph Trapanese’s simple yet powerful score, the entire film stands apart from the rest of the genre. So much time is spent on making sure these characters feel like real people and we live their lives through this movie. For a moment we almost forget about the tragic ending that ends this story. This movie doesn’t exploit tragedy for drama, it explores the ups and downs of everyday life and how at any moment that can be cut short. It’s a testament to the job these firefighters do and how they pour themselves into their job and the people around them. All of that, every single ounce of that is captured in the score. Only The Brave is a beautiful and somber score that is able to build an incredible amount of emotional depth and weight. Joseph Trapanese nails the tone of this score from start to finish, and the result is music that builds the characters together as one in an extremely intimate fashion. Moments throughout the score you'll be reminded that the tragic climax to the story is coming, and the music creates a sickening pit in your stomach as you anticipate the end. This score is very much an internal reflection about life in the face of death, and it’s what makes it such a perfect fit for this story.
3. War For The Planet Of The Apes by Michael Giacchino
War For The Planet Of The Apes is Giacchino writing in top form. Many of the blockbuster films he’s been scoring have been great fun distractions, but something about them felt like there was inspiration missing. That inspired feeling returns with War For The Planet Of The Apes. The score is filled with Giacchinoisms, gorgeous themes, powerful melodic structures, rich character detail, and above all an emotional core that grabs you and never lets go. The score is moving, it’s exciting and even quirky at times. It’s a perfect world to get wrapped up and lost in, and it's some of his best writing in a while. This is summer escapism with heart and it doesn't get much better. How often do you get a Morricone-inspired post apocalyptic western with apes vs humans.
2. A Ghost Story by Daniel Hart
A Ghost Story is a score about life and everything that comes with it. It's a very broad description, but it’s the only way to describe how such a poignant and subtle score was able to capture every moment of happiness and heartache of life in one narrative experience. The score is a beautiful ballad about love and loss, and the music has this powerful quality that makes it feel like it’s bleeding out of your soul. Everything here is just such a beautiful and perfect match to David Lowery’s vision that you can’t help but be pulled in by the music. A Ghost Story is an exemplary example of Daniel Hart’s talents as a storyteller, as well as how well he works with director David Lowery. This score is a fascinating and deeply resonating examination of the human condition and shouldn’t be missed.
1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri by Carter Burwell
The theme of this movie is “anger begets more anger”, it’s a simple story that is just brilliantly executed. That masterful tone that the film achieves by balancing funny moments with truly emotional ones is all due to the score and choice of songs throughout. The final act and conclusion leaves an open-ended question to the audience very much like In Bruges, and we are left reflecting back on what we just experienced as an audience. Burwell’s score expertly paints us this story of pain and anger on the outside, with this raw helplessness on the inside that we’ve all felt when something truly makes us mad and we can’t do anything about it. The movie is pure McDonaugh and the score is pure Burwell. Their collaborative power is as strong as Burwell's works with the Coen brothers. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is really just a film examining how we deal with anger and the frustration that brews from that, and the way Burwell’s score accents what’s onscreen is a perfect compliment to the narrative. This is such a fine example of filmmaking and score on the highest level.
Honorable Mentions: Dunkirk by Hans Zimmer, It by Benjamin Wallfisch, Blade Runner 2049 by Benjamin Wallfisch & Hans Zimmer, Get Out by Michael Abels