Hi, everybody! My list of my top ten best films of 2014 will be unveiled this Saturday, but in the meantime, I thought I’d add a new annual feature to my blog. In celebration of the upcoming IFMCA nominations in two days, I decided to post my list of the top ten best film scores of 2014.
I adore film music! I’m practically spoiled on the classics by John Williams, and nowadays, my appreciation for orchestral scores and the like have still remained just as strong. If you’re willing to look hard enough, you can usually find a spectacular score even in the worst films, and this is one reason why I admire the IFMCA’s so dearly. They judge film music exactly how it should be judged, basing their final verdicts on how the scores work just as well on a separate album experience as they do in the film (an inspired change from the Oscars always equating Best Score to Best Movie).
So, for my list, I’ll be basing my rankings based on how well they work outside of the film, and how well they work in context. For this reason, you won’t be seeing Gone Girl on my list, for while it may compliment David Fincher’s atmosphere fine, on its own it’s simply deplorable, grating, and lacking any cohesion and thematic development.
So, with all that established, let’s proceed with the actual list.
Admittedly this score is more memorable for its interesting usage of instruments rather than its themes, but that still doesn’t detract too much from it. Elfman channels his inner Thomas Newman, giving us his most restrained film score since Big Fish, and leaning back and forth between the light percussion of the film’s business side, and the lovelier string-centric accompaniment of Margaret.
In one of the more unique and unconventional uses of music this year, the score by Sanchez effectively works its way into the background like a musician tuning his instruments before a big stage show, complimenting Innaritu’s seamless one-take camera work brilliantly. I love how he transfers so smoothly between slower and jauntier tempos for more relaxed segments, while more heated and tense moments feature more aggressive variations.
Guardians of the Galaxy
While Star-Lord's hit mix of classic 60’s-70’s songs may be awesome indeed, this score by Bates has generally – and unfairly - gotten quite the short stick in the process. Marvel’s films are usually hit or miss in regards to their music, but Bates fuels the film with such a bulky, fast paced listening experience that delivers on gorgeous trance-like instrumentation for space without sacrificing its core thematic identity (Cliff Martinez, take note), especially well represented in the action sequences. The main theme for the Guardians themselves is incredibly addicting.
The Theory of Everything
An incredibly lovely score that’s easy to get wrapped up in, the film’s representation of both Stephen Hawking’s genius and touching love story are beautifully complimented by Johannsson’s very classically based score. Its themes may not always register, but I love this score for its unabashed sense of wonder, and its sweeping crescendos that never teeter into the overly sentimental, and that leave me in goose bumps.
A Million Ways to Die in the West
Say what you will about Seth MacFarlane, but the man has exquisite musical taste, and his collaboration with Joel McNeely for this film proved nothing short of inspired. While MacFarlane’s film may have faltered in satirizing its classic western influences, McNeely never suffered in his gleeful homage to classic Elmer Bernstein. He tackled every cliché in the western genre in a way that made appropriate jabs, but also showed a respectable and humble appreciation for everything that made those scores the hits they are today, and that’s what the best parody scores are to me.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Confessedly, when I first watched this movie, I completely overlooked the music. Listening to it on album, I realized what a charming work it was. Desplat compliments Wes Anderson’s old-fashioned stylistics and quirks with his own. It’s unmistakably Desplat, but this score sees him at perhaps his most playful and experimental, never afraid to go utterly zany while still keeping a narrowed focus on central themes and structure. I especially love his usage of marching rhythms and percussion, as well as his usage of the organ.
It's already been established that I’m not a fan of this film, but like I said before, if you’re willing to look deep enough, you’ll find gems worth noticing. Such is the case with The Boxtrolls, which stands as Marianelli’s best score since Atonement. I love how delightfully zany and wickedly fun this score is from beginning to end, whether it be matched with the more mischievous and playful Boxtroll orchestrations, the aggressive brass and timpani accompaniment to the villains, right down to the music box that effectively conveys Egg’s longing for the truth of his own identity.
The Imitation Game
That's right! With not one, but two inclusions on this list, Desplat – who also has Godzilla and Unbroken to his credit - is unquestionably the composer of the year. It’s not too dissimilar to the kind of prestige scores we’ve heard Desplat tackle in the past, but in its execution and thematic core, it’s one of his greatest. The score is the perfect ode to the film’s core figure Alan Turing, effectively translating both his genius and his deep-rooted emotional distress. The interplay between the piano and the string section is just beautiful!
James Newton Howard
Hate the film all you wish, but no matter how many strikes the film has against it, the decision to hire James Newton Howard as its composer wasn’t one of them. Howard’s exceptional craft and skill in the fantasy genre served him well with previous efforts like Lady in the Water, and his work here is no less stellar. He wisely chooses not to veer too often into the same vein as the old Tchaikovsky ballet of the animated Sleeping Beauty, making the score his own, using gorgeous choirs to compliment Aurora, and effortlessly nailing (this movie's version of) Maleficent’s motherly tenderness, as well as her scorned and sinister desire for vengeance. The film may have been a dud, but this score was fittingly grand and sweeping.
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Absolutely no one should be surprised by this. Powell’s work on the first film was already the greatest score ever composed for an animated feature, so for this score to match it in quality and quantity was no easy feat. Powell manages to work in every classic theme that we already know and love, but rather than this score feeling like a tired rehash with nothing new to it, Powell compliments all the old pieces with at least ten new themes at play, and there's not a single weak link among them. His Gaelic and Highlands flavor is every bit as rich and layered as it always was, but I also love Powell’s further experimentation with different styles, such as an interesting Arabian influence on the film’s villain, Drago Bludvist. The most impressive aspect, however, is Powell’s arrangement of choirs, fitting the wondrous grandeur of the film. Especially in the track “Flying with Mother” that sees both Powell and the score at the peak of their abilities.
And thus concludes my rundown of my favorite scores of the year. Hopefully plenty of them will be recognized by the IFMCA’s, and I hope you’ll join me this Saturday for the list of my top ten best films this year. See you then…