Ahoy there ladies and gentlemen! Time for another annual tradition of mine. This is, as you might have guessed, my yearly look at the best scores and soundtracks that the film world had to offer. 2015 was a bit of a down year for me, both in terms of scores and soundtracks. There are tons of solid examples of both, but less that I’ve fell in love with than previously. The last couple of 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 Interstellar, The Master, and The Place Beyond the Pines as my number one pick, with Django Unchained, The Fault in Our Stars, and Inside Llewyn Davis my number one soundtracks), though last year was pretty even. Honestly, I usually have soundtracks that I prefer to scores, but this year was the other way around. Even so, there was plenty to choose from on both sides of the coin, even leaving me with 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. The End of the Tour – By and large, I haven’t been blown away by composer Danny Elfman in some time (probably even going all the way back to Big Fish), but he does some of his best work in a while here in this two hander. The mellow score is able to enhance the conversation being witnessed by us as audience members. It’s a score that won’t call much attention to itself, but it does give us some quality Elfman tunes.
9. Youth – One of the many components fueling the dreamlike and hypnotic feel of this flick is the score from David Lang. Everything about this work is European, for lack of a better word, but I mean that as a compliment. Essentially, Fellini would have loved this one, and while the music isn’t quite what that filmmaker would have used, I do think that Lang’s choices enhance this already incredibly compelling arthouse effort. Throw in his original song and this was an easy choice for a spot on my list.
8. Creed – The movie constantly pays homage to the past while carving out its own unique place in the world, with Ludwig Göransson‘s score perfectly doing the same. He holds his own with original work most of the time, but when Göransson decides to break out the classic sounds of the Rocky franchise, it literally does make you feel like you can fly. It’s a brilliant choice and not getting the accolades that it deserves.
7. Steve Jobs – The box office failure of this one has clouded just how good so much of it is, with the score by Daniel Pemberton chief among its technical successes. Being able to keep up with the rapid fire dialogue on the screen without calling attention to yourself yet delivering something worthwhile musically is no easy task, but Pemberton was more than up to the challenge. This is a very underrated score.
6. Love & Mercy – As much as the music of Brian Wilson is rightly cited when talking about the sound of this film, you’d be remiss not to talk about the score by Atticus Ross as well. It superbly meshes with the story, helping to depict Wilson’s mental crumbling and then rebirth of sorts years later. It’s not a very flashy score from Ross, but it’s still quite good. It also happens to perfectly fit with the soundtrack, which I’ll be referencing later on in this piece.
5. Anomalisa – Composer Carter Burwell has had an excellent year (also doing the score to Carol), but this might be his best work to date. He helps make this unique animated story among the most human cinematic endeavors of 2015. That’s been consistently praised about the film, and it really does hold true. Burwell deserves every accolade coming his way. Factor in as just a bonus that the sequence involving one character sing Girls Just Want to Have Fun and this was one of the best uses of music this year.
4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens – As soon as I heard the work that John Williams did on Episode VII last week I knew he’d have a spot on this list. Williams doesn’t overly rely on the original tracks that are ingrained in our consciousness either, so this a whole new lot of Star Wars music! I was giddy all throughout this event picture, with the score being one of the reasons that I felt like a kid again. Is it on par with some of his best work? Not quite, but this is still noteworthy work from an absolute master.
3. Sicario – Quietly, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson is really becoming the best in the business. Whether he’s being incredibly haunting or incredibly emotional, he has a brilliant handle on how to enhance a film with music. Jóhannsson is very much focusing on the former here, helping to keep you on the edge of your seat for just about two hours. This man is going to have multiple Academy Awards in the very near future, trust me there.
2. It Follows – The flick has one of the most unsettling scores of 2015, bar none, by Rich Vreeland (credited as Disasterpeace). Vreeland/Disasterpeace fuels the haunting nature of this fright flick, always making sure that you’re far from comfortable. Had this been a prestige movie and not a genre effort, I believe that it would have been in Oscar contention, the score is just that good. If nothing else, it’s probably already an instant classic horror score.
1. The Hateful Eight – Whenever the legendary Ennio Morricone does a movie’s score, you know you’re in for something special. What Morricone does for this ridiculously fun picture is unlike anything you’d have expected from him. Sure, there are some sounds that you’d recognize, but he treats it almost like a genre thriller, which only makes the score even better. For me, it’s the cream of the 2015 crop, without question.
Honorable Mentions: Carol, Inside Out, Lost River, Mistress America, and Spotlight