Friday, January 19, 2018

My Top Ten Film Scores of 2017

            Another year has ended, and the retrospectives have now begun!  We begin this year with a look back at the top original film scores of 2017, those movies where original music broke new ground and made good or even great films ever better. 

            Ever since my first viewing of Amadeus awakened a deep, powerful love of great filmmaking and great music within me simultaneously, the use of the audio arts in a movie have consistently been one of the most important factors in whether I love, like, or hate a film.  As many popular musical genres have declined in quality and relevance in recent decades, more and more of the really interesting and groundbreaking music out there resides in the realm of the cinematic score.  As such, I deliberately focused these posts on entirely original scores written specifically for the movies they are in (or that include continued themes from long-running franchises, like Star Wars).  This means that soundtracks filled with various rock and pop classics are not considered here, since even the biggest cinematic hacks can put together a decent party playlist. 

            Props must be given, however, to Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Baby Driver, Call Me By Your Name, and I, Tonya, whose soundtrack selections were particularly excellent parts of what were all particularly excellent films.  Credit must be given where it’s due. 

10. Your Name (Radwimps)

            While it does suffer in consistency a bit due to a few odd transition montages centered around pop songs, Radwimps’ moving work for one of the year’s biggest international breakouts is quiet and moving in a way that enhances the wistful yearning and sadness of the latest, excellent work by Makoto Shinkai.  

9. The Shape of Water (Alexandre Desplat)

            Del Toro’s latest film creates such a singularly unique world that its tale about woman-on-fish romance actually felt most bizarre when it cut to scenes of “typical” 50’s family life.  Desplat’s magnificent score perfectly doubles down on this, balancing perfectly between being just whimsical enough to feel familiar, but also otherworldly enough to feel new without being too alienating.  It’s a perfect mirror to this singularly bizarre cinematic creation. 

8. Wonder Woman (Rupert Gregson-Williams)

            Big, out there, and in-your-face, this film’s music was everything it needed to be to help elevate one of the year’s most essential films.  Above all else, though, it gave us one of the most awesome, fist-pumping, instantly-recognizable superhero themes since Zimmer’s Batman work. 

7. Boys For Sale (Kazaguruma)

            Documentaries are usually not known for having particularly noticeable music, but this unforgettable film about a little-known part of the Japanese sex trade also happens to have some of the most interesting original music scores of the year as well.  Featuring a band playing an assortment of Japanese instruments, the makers of the film made the unusual choice of mixing together the actual written score with the musician’s improvisational warm-up recordings.  While the band was understandably apprehensive about this, they needn’t have worried, because the end result was a remarkably fitting sound unlike anything else I heard all year.    

6. Blade Runner 2049 (Hans Zimmer/Benjamin Wallfisch)

            Much like the film itself, this score goes well beyond being just an artful imitation of its classic counterpart.  It revisits the style and vibe of the original, but then deepens and expands them to create something built on the past, yes, but still very much its own new creation.  This was one of the most ambient experiences I had in the theater all year. 

5. Thor: Ragnarok (Mark Mothersbaugh)

            Slipping back in time to a funky 80’s vibe, the best Marvel movie yet (no, not up for discussion) brought us the most iconic and memorable score of them all, the Avengers main theme excepted.  So far the villains and samey music have been the most consistent bugbears of this particular cinematic empire, so it was nice to finally have one break the mold in a really meaningful way. 

            And plus, it’s never wrong to use “Immigrant Song” in your action scene.  Ever. 

4. Dunkirk (Hans Zimmer)

            There are a lot of people out there who really hate Hans Zimmer, who find his style repetitive an grating, overly loud and bombastic, or just hilariously overdone.  

            Those people are wrong.  But I’ll delve into that another time.  For now, let’s give Dunkirk the its proper due, as it was not only one of the best films of 2017 and Nolan’s career, but also had Zimmer at his finest, providing a score that equaled the movie’s frenetic pacing and the energy of the characters desperately racing against time in a fight to survive. 

3. A Ghost Story (Daniel Hart)

            Haunting.  This is, without any hint of irony, the best possible word that encapsulates both this film and Daniel Hart’s tragic, reverberative score.  It fills out the edges of this meditation on existence and its purpose (or lack thereof).  The air of wistful tragedy within the music enhances the lonely clarity of the film’s sparse imagery, following a lone soul wandering back and forth through time (though not, crucially, space). 

            Damnit, John Williams is, and shall always be, the man.  The classical Star Wars opening theme remains one of the great pinnacles of human endeavor, but part of what’s made the newest trilogy such a treat is seeing how well Williams has turned a third trip to this particular well into something every bit as fresh as the scores he’s given us for the past two trilogies. 

            Easily the most moving parts this time around are where he re-works Leia’s traditional theme into a few key scenes.  They are moments of such fine musical deft that I feel they would have resonated even if Carrie Fisher hadn’t passed away before the film’s release, thus turning The Last Jedi into something of a final testament to the legacy and endurance of our Queen. 

1. A Silent Voice (Kensuke Ushio) 

            No film of 2017, except perhaps Dunkirk, used music and sound design to such remarkable effect as this animated movie about bullying, depression, and suicide.  The film constantly raises, lowers, and distorts the sounds and score to reflect the many different ways one can be both physically and mentally deaf.  This makes the scenes of true clarity, where the score’s searing main theme comes in full-force, all the more majestic in its impact.  It is a beautiful work befitting the beautiful film it accompanies, and is my favorite original film score of 2017. 

-Noah Franc 

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