Filmmaking is a collaborative medium. There are many, many moving parts that must come together just right to create a cohesive moviegoing experience, and when key aspects of the filmmaking team excel, the final product is all the better for it. This is especially apparent in the world of film composing. There were a number of original scores this year that were notable for one reason or another, and so whittling it down to a list of the 10 best scores was no easy task. The final compilation is as eclectic as it is impressive, which just goes to show there’s no one right way to score a movie. Check out my Top 10 film scores of 2014 after the jump.
10. The Guest
For their follow-up act to the excellent horror film You’re Next, director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett decided to go old school with an 80s throwback thriller called The Guest. The film is a wildly entertaining experience in the vein of classic John Carpenter with Downton Abbey alum Dan Stevens playing a Terminator-esque “good bad guy” taking refuge in a small town. Key to the film’s success is composer Steve Moore’s original score, which is fittingly throwback in nature as well, complete with pulsating synth and plenty of 808 drums. The score not only drives the film’s action; it helps define the movie’s tone. While disturbing and somewhat scary at times, Moore’s music helps to convey that, above all, The Guest is so much fun.
9. Only Lovers Left Alive
Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch’s drama about bored vampires is wonderfully entrancing, and for the score to the meandering picture, Jarmusch turned to a collaboration between his band SQÜRL and composer Jozef Van Wissem. It’s a fruitful partnership, and in light of Tom Hiddleston’s character’s fascination with rock music, the guitar-heavy score provides an excellent backdrop for the ensuing character interplay. Only Lovers Left Alive isn’t particularly plot driven, which is part of the film’s charm. It’s an intense, longing gaze into the existence of two people who’ve seen it all, and the brooding, humming score fits perfectly.
Based on the sheer quantity of original scores he’s able to pump out (he appears on this list three times), it would appear that composer Alexandre Desplat is superhuman. But the fact that his large body of work is consistently so good is what makes him special. With Godzilla, Desplat takes on his first massive blockbuster (Deathly Hallows is more operatic than blockbuster-ish, I’d argue), and the results are appropriately bombastic. From the opening credits it’s clear that Desplat has honed in on something special here, a score that evokes the monstrosity of the titular creature without being too on the nose. The heavy use of horns aids in making the major set pieces feel unique—a tall order in light of how many similar blockbusters flood the marketplace these days—and it fits wonderfully with director Gareth Edwards’ distinctive spin on the tentpole formula.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never really been particularly taken with any of James Newton Howard’s scores. It’s not that they’re bad; they just never really made a strong impression. With the terrific psychological thriller Nightcrawler, however, Howard has put together something that’s truly memorable. Dark, muddled tones mirror the uneasiness the audience feels when faced with Jake Gylleenhaal’s Lou Bloom, a psychopath for the ages, but Newton brilliantly plays into the character’s inherent charm with something surprising: a hero’s theme. It’s a wonderfully ironic touch, as the twisted, heroic guitar riff evokes the way Lou sees himself, giving the creepiest character of the year his own theme song.
6. Inherent Vice
After putting together two striking, prickly scores for Paul Thomas Anderson’s last couple of films—There Will Be Blood and The Master—composer Jonny Greenwood offers something completely different in his score for Inherent Vice, Anderson’s loose and colorful pothead detective story. PTA’s film sucks viewers in and takes them on a mesmerizing, drug-fueled trip, and the journey is made all the more enticing by Greenwood’s hazy score, which eases viewers into the world and moves them from one crazy scenario to the next. Greenwood also pays homage to classic film noir, serving as a perfect juxtaposition on PTA’s riff on the structure structure.