This is my yearly look at the best scores and soundtracks that the film world had to offer. 2014 was a year that was very solid, both in terms of scores and soundtracks. The last few years, I’ve found one side of the coin to be stronger than the other (and if you’re wondering what I’ve cited in the past, I’ve crowned scores like The Master and The Place Beyond the Pines as my number one, with Django Unchained and Inside Llewyn Davis my number one soundtracks), but this year is fairly even to me. As such, there was plenty to choose from, even leaving more than a few snubs. Below you’ll be able to see my choices for the best of both worlds when it comes to cinematic music. I’ll be rather keen to find out your favorites in the comments section afterwards, but for now, let’s go ahead and get the (audio) show on the road for this year.
10. Noah – I’m always going to enjoy a Clint Mansell score, that much has become clear to me over the years, particularly when he collaborates with Darren Aronofsky. This more fantastical than usual score is no exception at all, even if their prior team-ups (particularly The Fountain) affected me far more and felt more groundbreaking. It’s still one of the ten best scores of the year in my eyes, so there’s that. Mansell is overdue an Oscar nomination, so perhaps he’ll finally break through this year for what might be his most widely heard score yet.
9. A Most Violent Year – Composer Alex Ebert is quietly becoming a major force in the industry, with this score being his best to date. It’s very subtle and never as on the nose as a score for this kind of a film could be, and that’s a real credit to Ebert. He’s going to blow us away with a score pretty soon, I just know it. Mark this name down…he’s a future Oscar winner folks, no doubt in my mind, especially if he keeps working with J.C. Chandor going forward.
8. Breathe In – Quickly, Dustin O’Halloran is turning into one of my favorite composers in the business. It certainly helps that he’s working with a real strong filmmaker in Drake Doremus, but even on his own O’Halloran is a composer to be reckoned with. Here, he almost works in colors, matching the blues on the screen with the sounds coming from his piano. It’s almost deceptively simple, but it effectively hints at everything to come in this melodrama. I really loved the unique sound of this one, along with admiring the movie more than most.
7. Inherent Vice – Musical icon Johnny Greenwood always delivers top notch compositions, with this time around being no exception. Ironically, this more unique score than usual for a Paul Thomas Anderson collaboration is actually eligible for a Best Original Score nomination. I have no clue if voters will actually go for Greenwood, but they’ll hopefully give him a chance and discover the hazy yet clear eyed work from this film. The score helps to really create a mindset while watching the movie. PTA did his part, of course, and so did Greenwood.
6. Birdman – This sadly Academy ineligible score is one of 2014’s best uses of drums, that’s for sure. Hell, Antonio Sanchez brings such rhythm to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film that it matches with Emmanuel Lubezki‘s cinematography to really make the movie a dance. Even someone like me who wasn’t blown away by the work can really appreciate what Sanchez pulled off here. Too bad Oscar voters didn’t. Still, there are no shortage of fans of Sanchez’s work in the film, myself and most of the AC staff included.
5. Under the Skin – I don’t think any other score this year was as hypnotic to me as this one was. Mica Levi is immediately now a composer I want to hear more from, as she brought forth some deep humanity as well as a necessary otherworldly quality in the flick. This is genuinely a film that was enhanced by its score in a big way. It’s complex and the type of work that you find yourself listening to over and over again, just like Jonathan Glazer‘s film makes you want to keep watching it again and again. I can’t way to see (or should I say hear) what Levi does next. She’s definitely got the chops to be a musical star in this business.
4. Whiplash – The use of drums and jazz here, though not always as an original score (the other work will be in my soundtrack section below), is still captivating and just as thrilling as the rest of the film. What Justin Hurwitz accomplishes with filmmaker Damien Chazelle is just brilliant, crafting original jazz that you’d never guess wasn’t classic standards. It’s probably one of the most underrated scores of the year, if not the most underrated one out there. It’s damn near a modern classic to me.
3. The Theory of Everything – You expect a prestige biopic like this one to have a solid score, but it was a shock just how powerful this one was, without ever becoming overwhelming either. Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson really crafts a lot of emotion out of his instruments, conveying the weight of the love on the screen while never particularly going over the top. That’s hard, but Jóhannsson is able to ace it with aplomb. He might even have an Academy Award coming his way because of it (along with potentially other members of James Marsh‘s crew). Stay tuned to find out about that…
2. Gone Girl – It’s almost a foregone conclusion that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross will deliver top notch work, but their latest score is one of their best yet. Both lighter at times than we’re used to from the duo, but also as pitch black as they’ve ever gone, Reznor and Ross perfectly mesh with David Fincher once again here. It’s damn near flawless work, I must say. One sound can often transition to another in their work, never more clearly and enjoyable than here though. It’s a score that will be hard to top, though I’m sure they’ll gladly accept that challenge from Fincher in the near future. I know I’m not just speaking for myself when I say that that’s a boon to the entire cinematic world.
1. Interstellar – I’d never call myself a fan of Hans Zimmer, but I always appreciate his work. This year though, he blew me away. This is Christopher Nolan‘s most emotional film, and by turn, Zimmer’s most emotional and evocative score. The organs combine with the story on the screen to bring you close to tears on more than one occasion. This is a score that I’ve listened to a lot over the past month or so, and for good reason. It’s basically a perfect composition. Brilliance…sheer brilliance. Just like the film itself. Bravo.
Honorable Mentions: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, Foxcatcher, Fury, Godzilla, Joe, and Nightcrawler
10. Jersey Boys – I’m not wild about the film, but the tunes contained within are some true classics. If you like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, you’ll like the slightly different renditions of their classics found here, though if they never tickled your fancy, I doubt this soundtrack will change your mind. I’ve always been partial to December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night), but that’s just me. Mediocre movie, but a quality soundtrack.
9. Men, Women & Children – A moody and heartbreaking film needs the right kind of songs, and this one from Jason Reitman aced that test. Along with a touching score that just missed my list above, there’s an eclectic mix of tunes here, with one of the best uses of She’s Gone by Hall and Oates ever. I still wish you all would give the movie a chance, but at the very least give the soundtrack a spin. Take a leap of faith.
8. St. Vincent – During my screening of this dramedy, one of the first things aside from Bill Murray that I noticed was the musical selections. Particularly when The National‘s hypnotic ballad Start a War comes in, it really hooked me in. It’s the type of film that is enhanced by its music, and that makes me truly embrace a soundtrack as well. This is a really underrated one, to boot. It just works.
7. Inherent Vice – There was never any doubt that Paul Thomas Anderson would contribute a memorable soundtrack here, but I think it exceeded even some of our wildest expectations, all the while avoiding the obvious tunes for the time period. I’m personally rather fond of the Sam Cooke work within, but there isn’t a false choice to be found. It’s par for the course from PTA, but still…well played sir.
6. Whiplash – The standards used here for dramatic effect as well as musical effect are really quite wonderful. Throw in how they’re intricate in the story and that makes them something truly worth honoring. Calvary and Whiplash obviously are the tracks that really hit you, but they’re all quite good. Particularly when you remember the scenes in the film itself, not to mention how star Miles Teller performed them, the effect can be quite chilling.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy – Probably one of the most crowd pleasing soundtracks of the year, the classic rock hits actually factor into the plot somewhat as well. There’s basically something for everyone here within this collection, though I have to go with Hooked on a Feeling by Blue Suede as the MVP. It’s pretty much a perfect collection of music that you can’t help but smile at, much like the film itself. Well done James Gunn…well done indeed.
4. Boyhood – Perhaps the most underrated part of Richard Linklater‘s likely masterpiece is how subtle his soundtrack is. While there’s obviously some original tunes here as well, on the actual soundtrack you have a collection of period music that helps show off the passage of time. The highlight for me is Hero by Family of the Year, though your mileage may vary, depending on your musical tastes of course. The soundtrack is just another brilliant part of a brilliant work overall.
3. Wish I Was Here – Multi-hyphenate Zach Braff is a soundtrack master, that much is certain now. True, I like his movie more than just about anyone, but I think his musical selections were just as good this time around as well. From Paul Simon‘s The Obvious Child (also used to really great effect in, wait for it…Obvious Child) to a track from The Shins called So What Now (a potential dark horse for a Best Original Song nomination) to the title track from Cat Power and Coldplay, it’s a mellow and immensely enjoyable collection. Again, give this flick a chance, but if not, at least consider listening to the soundtrack. You won’t regret it.
2. Begin Again – No soundtrack this year was as catchy or as married to the actual film it was for than this one here. I know everyone loves Lost Stars as sung by Adam Levine, and it’s rightly the Best Original Song frontrunner, but I’m partial to A Step You Can’t Take Back myself, especially since it uses Keira Knightley for the vocals as well. From the other tunes Levine belts out to the various ones from Knightley too, there’s not a false note struck by anyone. It’s not quite Once, but it’s not far off. John Carney is something else when it comes to music in his movies.
1. The Fault in Our Stars – Part of making an effective melodrama is having the right musical cues. If you just listen to the songs from this movie, they tell an emotional story on their own. Honestly, if I listen to it, I can get choked up just making the association. Throw in the fact that original tracks like Grouplove‘s Let Me In and Birdy‘s Not About Angels deserve Oscar consideration for Best Original Song, and you have a winner here. It’s the best soundtrack of 2014 in my book.
Honorable Mentions: Frank, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Into the Woods, Mommy, Muppets Most Wanted, and Wild
–Thoughts? What are your favorite scores and soundtracks of the year? Discuss in the comments!