It would be easy to present a list of the top 10 film scores of the year but that doesn’t always feel hugely representative – sometimes a particular track may leap out of an otherwise decent but not great album and stick with you.
Therefore, I’m going to present my top 10 tracks from film scores across 2018. Many of these albums are worth listening to in their entirety, but these are the pieces that really stood out from the crowd.
To start with, here is my first five, from #10 down to #6…
10. ‘Overture’ (Red Sparrow – James Newton Howard)
Jennifer Lawrence-starring espionage thriller Red Sparrow came and went without a great deal of fanfare, despite being a reunion with The Hunger Games director Francis Lawrence. It was a bit of a misfire; often leaden in terms of pace, unnecessarily vicious in tone, not even a spirited performance by J-Law could prevent this coming off as an inferior take on TV show The Americans.
James Newton Howard’s score may well enter the pantheon of ‘Good Scores to Bad Movies’, given how he manages to create an elegant, resolutely classical set of strings to Red Sparrow‘s orchestra. The opening, 11-minute ‘Overture’ recollects hints of Tchaikovsky in its Russian violins and woodwind, establishing a tragic palette on which to cast the story of Lawrence’s ballerina turned spy. It’s a bravura opening which sees Howard deploying a broad, epic range of instrumentation.
Skip the film but definitely give the score a listen.
9. ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ (The Cloverfield Paradox – Bear McCreary)
You’ve forgotten The Cloverfield Paradox already, right? Released on Netflix as a surprise on the night of the Super Bowl, Julius Onah’s film from the JJ Abrams stable, the third picture in the Cloverfield franchise, it was universally panned as a weak imitation of Event Horizon by way of Alien. You can read more detailed thoughts from me here but, suffice to say, it was pretty much D.O.A. The score, however, from Bear McCreary, doesn’t deserve to be forgotten in a hurry.
McCreary’s strings never quite match his excellent work on 2016’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, where he blended Hitchcockian suspense with monster thrills, building off the Godzilla take that was Michael Giacchino’s ‘Roar’ on the original Cloverfield, but the opening suite ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ deploys a full orchestra of choral voices, jagged violin strings, and rumbling bass to suggest the kind of science-fiction epic adventure the film itself could and should have been.
Quietly one of the most consistently strong composing voices out there, McCreary’s work on this otherwise poor effort deserves recognition.
8. ‘End Title Suite’ – (Mary Poppins Returns – Marc Shaiman)
Let’s be honest – you could put the entire Mary Poppins Returns score on this list. Marc Shaiman’s work on the sequel to the classic Disney film is crammed from top to bottom with joy, filled with songs that are instantly in danger of becoming as iconic as the originals. It will be a film known for those show tunes but Shaiman deserves plaudits for his solo score material for scenes between those songs.
‘End Title Suite’ is a heady blend of both, with a choral reprise of several of the principal songs across the picture, such as the rousing finale ‘Nowhere to Go But Up’, not to mention weaving in refrains from many of the themes carried across the picture. Shaiman does a quite marvellous job of unifying not just the new themes and songs, but many of the original, legendary pieces of music from Mary Poppins, and this final suite gives you a melodious sample of them all.
Mary Poppins Returns is a marvellous album of music which recalls the delight of the movie itself, which I go into more depth about here. Shaiman truly outdoes himself here.
7. ‘Lando’s Closet’ (Solo: A Star Wars Story – John Powell)
Now the obvious, immediate go-to when championing the score to Solo: A Star Wars Story, which almost everyone would agree is stronger than the fairly average Ron Howard film we ended up with, is to herald John Williams’ contribution ‘The Adventures of Han’. That’s a great piece of music to kick off the album, and a fitting tribute to Han Solo from the master, but ‘Lando’s Closet’ is a sumptuous, romantic piece of Star Wars music which really stands out.
I remember film score aficionados were very excited to learn John Powell was scoring a Star Wars movie. Powell has delivered some bravura scores over the years – several brilliant Bourne film pieces, X-Men: The Last Stand (the film is rubbish, the score fantastic) – and he does Solo justice with a score which uses the range of instrumentation Williams often deploys to capture the grandeur and excitement of such an epic universe. Solo is like a composer in a musical sweet shop and ‘Lando’s Closet’ is a beautiful example of it.
Solo may have been a creative misfire to an extent, but it’s worth it for the score alone.
6. ‘House of Woodcock’ (Phantom Thread – Jonny Greenwood)
Paul Thomas Anderson now seems to have found his composing muse in Jonny Greenwood, who has found a second career as cinematic composer after serving as lead guitarist in rock band Radiohead for many years. While he has produced some great work for PTA in There Will Be Blood and The Master, his melodic, elegant, classical work on Phantom Thread, itself a beautiful old-fashioned picture, may be his finest work yet.
‘House of Woodcock’ is the kind of music you could dance a waltz too, its heady blend of piano, etherial and at times mournful violin, lifting you off your feet with glee. Greenwood very much conveys the haunting playfulness of the tailoring outfit ran by Daniel Day Lewis’ egocentric clothing artist Reynolds Woodcock, not to mention underscoring many of the central emotional themes of the picture.
It’s a gorgeous piece from a gorgeous score to, in all honesty, quite a gorgeous movie.
Check back soon for my Top 5 Film Score pieces of 2018. Next up though, the first five of my Top 10 Films…