For all the ways that 2016 failed us, it was a great year for cinema, and there was some truly incredible work done to bring the year’s best films to life through music. With such a large pool of tremendous work to choose from it’s not easy, or even possible, to whittle any end of year list down to only a few. So we won’t call these the definitive best film scores of 2016, but these seven selections all absolutely belong in the conversation.
10 Cloverfield Lane – Bear McCreary
10 Cloverfield Lane ended up being much more of a psychological thriller than the big budget city-destroying disaster film some may have been expecting when it was announced that a new film bearing the Cloverfield name was being produced. Bear McCreary’s pitch-perfect, Bernard Herrmann-influenced accompaniment subtly reinforced the film’s Hitchcockian overtones to chilling effect.
Green Room – Various Artists
In order for Green Room’s story of a Pacific Northwest hardcore punk band that find themselves in over their heads when they agree to play a gig for some backwater neo nazis to work, it had to feel authentic. The original music created for the film’s band The Ain’t Rights captured that particular sound expertly, but their cover of the Dead Kennedys’ “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” provides one of Green Room’s signature moments.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – Michael Giacchino
Michael Giacchino had the unenviable task of taking over for none other than John Williams here, and he absolutely filled in admirably. His resulting work might not have reached quite the same iconic highs of previous soundtracks in franchise history, but Giacchino’s propulsive and triumphant score was fundamental in setting a different tone to the film and helping it stand out as a unique entry into the canon.
The VVitch – Mark Korven
Robert Eggers’ breakout horror film was an utter masterclass in slowly building dread, and Mark Korven’s score was an integral part of it. Korven perfectly captured The VVitch’s period elements to create the almost unbearably foreboding textures that accompany the film’s family of 17th century New England puritans on their dark descent.
Arrival – Jóhann Jóhannsson
Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival was one of the most talked-about science fiction films of the year, and Jóhann Jóhannsson surreal, minimalist score was the perfect compliment to the journey into the unknown that the film represents (with an assist from Max Richter’s impossibly gorgeous piece “On The Nature of Daylight,” which is used to stunning effect – even if it did disqualify the film’s score from the Oscars).
Swiss Army Man – Andy Hull and Robert McDowell
Even if one found the somewhat insane, farting-corpse buddy film not to their liking, the inventive score for Swiss Army Man is an absolute revelation. Created by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of Manchester Orchestra, featuring contributions from stars Paul Dano and Danielle Radcliffe, and seemingly plucked magically from a pleasant daydream of Brian Wilson (who Dano portrayed in Love & Mercy), this score is an honest-to-goodness triumph.
Stranger Things – Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein
It’s true that Stranger Things wasn’t a film, but its Amblin-influenced style was so inherently cinematic, and its score so instantly iconic, that it ripped a hole through the fabric of spacetime and ended up here regardless. It was fitting that series creators Matt and Ross Duffer came from seemingly out of nowhere with the launch of the series, as composers Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin band SURVIVE seemingly did as well, creating something both heavily referential yet truly timeless.