Despite the fact that we are often not even fully aware of its presence, the score is an absolutely integral part of a feature film.
A good one can be the difference between a movie being quickly forgotten or remembered forever. Would Star Wars have made the same cultural impact without John Williams’ iconic theme? Would 1974’s ridiculous Sean Connery-starring Zardoz be seen in a different light with an unforgettable score that’s still played at professional sports games or in commercials?
2015 was a great year for scores across the spectrum from small indie films all the way to the biggest Hollywood blockbusters. Here are five of the very best.
Ex Machina wasn’t exactly a movie that called for a big, sweeping, emotional, Hans Zimmer-style theme. Instead, the subtle, understated synths by Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury perfectly complement the dark, futuristic mystery taking place on the screen. This score makes the chilling crescendos in both story and music all the more effective when they do happen.
The visual aesthetic of It Follows is firmly rooted in the 1980s, and the relentless, pulsing electronic score by Disasterpeace (a.k.a. Richard Vreeland) fits that mold perfectly. As the agonizingly slow buildup of tension reaches unbearable levels, the musical accompaniment only intensifies the growing feelings of dread and play a key role in making It Follows the horror film of the year.
A perfectly executed score should wordlessly mirror the theme of the movie it is attached to. Michael Giacchino’s theme to Pixar’s emotional epic Inside Out does exactly this, effortlessly conveying both childlike joy and melancholic sadness simultaneously, with just a few simple, sparse piano notes.
Mad Max: Fury Road
With the myriad of ways director George Miller knocked Mad Max: Fury Road out of the park, it’s no surprise that the score from Junkie XL (a.k.a. Tom Holkenborg) is also incredibly kickass. Most apocalyptic cinema has a sense of retro-futurism baked directly into the storytelling, and the percussive score of Fury Road combines with modern, electronic/dubstep elements to sonically invade the same territory. A perfect accompaniment to the breakneck pace and stylistically-inventive visuals Miller employed to such great effect.
While We’re Young
Since LCD Soundsystem is no longer with us, the soundtrack to indie auteur Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young is one of the only available sources for new music from former frontman James Murphy. This was Murphy’s second collaboration with Baumbach after 2010’s Greenberg, and his apparent level of comfort with the medium seems to have grown exponentially, resulting in some of the most powerful music to appear on a soundtrack this year.