God Bless whoever created iTunes. A long subway ride or a relatively free weekend are infinitely more bearable with your headphones on. And if you’re like me, film scores always come to your rescue. They not only make an elemental, transformative part of your movie-going experience, but also bring the film back to you in remarkable flashes when you stare outside the car windows or jogging in the park with that soothing/energizing rhythm in your ears.
2016 brought with it many astonishing film scores and became an important part of the conversation surrounding films like ‘La La Land’, a film that practically owes half its success to Justin Hurwitz’s phenomenal original songs, and why shouldn’t it? It’s a musical that happily wears its heart on its sleeve. So without further adieu, let’s discuss this year’s list of top film scores of 2016, ranked in order of purely how enjoyable they were:
Brian McOmber’s somber undertones make for a playfully malicious and dazzlingly horrifying underlining of the nerve racking narrative on which filmmaker Trey Edward Schultz builds his intensely intimate family drama. Not only should ‘Krisha’ put Schultz on the map as a bold, inventive director, but should help McOmber’s unique gift be widely accepted as something to watch out for. We’re so indelibly fortunate that this is just his second feature film score.
Highlight track: “The Woodpecker”.
9. The Neon Demon
The slick, overtly electronic and deliciously corny score for Nicholas Winding Refn’s ‘The Neon Demon’ states in crystal clear terms that the viewer should not take the film too seriously. And yet, because of Refn’s auteur status, most critics all across the globe did, leading to an exceedingly polarized reaction. Cliff Martinez’s romp-like renderings made it evident from the very opening track that the film was just irony-drenched fun and fortunately I viewed it only as such, enjoying its many a triviality with great pizzazz.
Highlight track: “Neon Demon”.
Making the awards season rounds as the most draining tearjerker of the year, Garth Davis’s film features a minimalist, tempered score from Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka whose contemporary calmness is gleefully accompanied by a traditional, overwhelming emotion. It fits the bill of embodying the humanity of the ordinary-yet-extraordinary real-life tale. The piano is exquisite in this one.
Highlight Track: “Mother”.
Icelandic musician Jóhann Jóhannsson has been a force to be reckoned with when it comes to film scores ever since he broke into the mainstream Hollywood scene with ‘The Theory of Everything’ which landed him a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination. He continued his success with Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Sicario’, which got him another Oscar nod. Sadly disqualified from this year’s Oscars because of the Max Richter piece that bookends the film, the score of ‘Arrival’ is another instance of this edgy, genius composer lending the film a hypnotic, original atmosphere.
Highlight Track: “First Encounter”.
6. Nocturnal Animals
Pulsing with old-fashioned melancholy, Abel Korzeniowski’s breathtaking score might feel intrusive to some, but for me plunged the tone of the film into requisite darkness and stylish chic as and when required. It was almost the defining element of the film, with its soft piano and vigorous violin notes accentuated to deviously cinematic sensibilities.
Highlight Track: “Wayward Sisters”.
Nicholas Britell’s poetic, soulful score has a powerful range as it chronicles the coming-of-age tale of an impoverished, black, gay man in the 1980s. It uses bass to highlight the tragedy and the optimism that is essential to a story of growing up in a land of insurmountable prejudice. It’s moving, but entirely unsentimental and works its magic in ways that are less conspicuous as they are subtly lyrical.
Highlight Track: “The Middle of the World’.
4. The Childhood of a Leader
Scott Walker might have composed a score so pitch black and bustling with rage that ‘The Childhood of a Leader’ would probably be a completely ineffective mystery without it. It’s akin to a violent, troubling version of Johnny Greenwood’s score for ‘The Master’ and is utterly spellbinding in how ratchets up a storm in its old-world mannerisms.
Highlight Track: “Opening”.
3. The Handmaiden
Park Chan-wook’s enchanting, devillish little movie is a guilty pleasure from beginning to end. But it’s also heartrending in its artful tenderness, which the score so elegantly establishes. The lush production design, location and period setting are all masterfully woven into Cho Young-wuk’s marvellous notes, with not a moment exaggerated or played down.
Highlight Track: “The Tree from Mount Fuji”.
2. La La Land
Justin Hurwitz created songs for a musical from scratch. That little nugget of truth alone warrants a spot on this list. But aside from the charming and invigorating “Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd” and the amalgamation of the traditional with the new in “City of Stars” and “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”, his background score for the film is utterly magical as well. The film dies and lives on its score and it does the ingenious movie proud, with a steady mix of jazz and soft rock, every step of the way.
Highlight Track: “Epilogue”.
As I was listening to “Vanity” from Mica Levi’s subversive score for ‘Jackie’, the unearthly use of the clarinet, like a bird’s melody, utterly random and yet inexplicably mesmerizing, brought to mind a line from Miloš Forman’s ‘Amadeus’ where Salieri tells the priest, “It was the voice of God.” He was referring to a composition by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose genius time has cemented unquestionably. Mica Levi’s art, illustrated here by the sounds of drums accompanying a violin in “Autopsy”, the haunting, sumptuous tone of “The End” and that astonishing clarinet in “Vanity” among innumerable other achievements, has still to stand the test of time, but has given me unmistakable confidence to rank her among the great composers of all time, not John Williams or Hanz Zimmer or Ennio Morricone, but Vivaldi, Beethoven and Schubert.
Highlight Track: “The End”/ “Vanity”/ “Autopsy”. (It’s impossible to choose one.)
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