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Saturday, February 11, 2017

My Top (Nine) Film Scores/Soundtracks of 2016

            **for my Top 10 Films list for 2016, click here**

            I have a particular penchant for looking at the use of music in film, whereas many others often quip that the best soundtracks are the ones you don’t hear at all (or that simply feature the most generic collection of rock hits imaginable).  For me, the right score is what can push a good film to greatness and make an otherwise uneven or passable one good.  So looking back at 2016, what were the films that had the best original music and made the best use of it?  These are my picks. 

9. Star Trek: Beyond (Michael Giacchino)

            For all its ups and downs, the music has been one of the most consistently excellent parts of the Star Trek reboot, and the latest (and by far best) of the trilogy is no exception.  And not only was the score good, the soundtrack gets an extra point for featuring a musical call-back to the very start of the first movie way back in 2009, one that I might have been the only person to catch. 

8. Kung Fu Panda 3 (Hans Zimmer)

            Since this had the misfortune to come out in the Dreg Month of February, not many people saw this one, and it was all but forgotten by year’s end, but the consistent excellence of Dreamworks when it comes to making good sequels continued here, and like the first two movies in the franchise featured a fitting original score by Hans Zimmer, one of the finest composers working in film today. 

7. Moana (Mark Mancina, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i)

            While Disney still isn’t quite back to Beauty and the Beast/Hunchback/Lion King levels in terms of its animated musicals, Moana was the best step in that direction yet taken, the first of them since Princess and the Frog to have both a score and song set that actually heard and felt like they were written for each other for the film.  We all know how awesome Lin-Manuel Miranda is, but Mark Mancina and Opetaia Foa’i deserve equal credit for coming together to collectively create the most solid musical of the year (yes, substantially better than that other one). 

6. Midnight Special (David Wingo)

            Another early-year release that most people seem to have forgotten about already, this gripping little thriller about a boy possibly possessing deity-like powers and being pursued by both the government and a religious cult is not just a great underrated movie everyone should see right now, it also had a beautifully ambient score to accompany its sharp visual style. 

5. The Handmaiden (Cho Young-wuk)

            As fittingly-crafted as the film’s writing and visuals, the score by NAME is another one of the key puzzle pieces that came together perfectly with the others to make this masterpiece a reality. 

4. Arrival (Johann Johannsson and Max Richter)

            Featuring a score by two of my favorite film composers (you may notice this isn’t the first time Johannsson has appeared on these lists), this movie has arguably the best sound design of any film that came out this year, perfectly tuning in the music to unsettle, elevate, calm, or sadden a given scene as needed. 

3. Kubo and the Two Strings (Dario Marianelli)

            A good fantasy film always calls for a good, old-school orchestral score to match its soaring emotions, the danger and intensity of its action, and the strength of its quieter moments, and Marianelli’s work for the latest work by Laika delivers in every way it had to, especially in how it works in the instrument the main character specializes in playing and the melodies he calls upon to cast his powerful magic. 

2. The Nightmare (Steffen Kahles and Christoph Blaser)

            With its thumping beats, dubstep-style aesthetic and furious pace, the score for this twisted psychothriller makes the audience feel every bit as harried and pursued as the main character does as she tries to find out the truth behind a creature sneaking around her house, and whether or not her basic grasp of reality has slipped away entirely.  Like the film, its harsh tone must be set to LOUD to have the proper effect, and boy, does it work. 

1. Swiss Army Man (Andy Hull and Robert McDowell)

            Easily one of the oddest scores of the year, Swiss Army Man’s music is almost entirely acapella, featuring only the chanting/humming/muttering voices of its two lead actors (Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe).  It’s mostly quiet, reflective, almost meditative in its sadness and somberness, but with one key exception; the montage track, used to excellent effect several times over the course of the movie (and featured in the trailer), is easily the most exuberant, joyful, and fist-pumpingly inspirational bits of music to come out in a time and place that desperately needed (and still needs) more joyful energy.  For this, and for the wonderful creativity and uniqueness of each of its tracks, Swiss Army Man gets my vote as the best film score of 2016. 

            A brief apology for not being able to my more silly awards this year- time simply has not allowed it, especially if I am to get my Oscar post out before the ceremony itself.  Hopefully it will make a grand and spectacular return next year. 

-Noah Franc 

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