My Top 5 Movie Scores of 2014

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Those that know me well know that I am a HUGE score buff and that movie scores are one of my favourite genres.  Some of the first scores I ever remember hearing and noticing in a film were Danny Elfman’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, James Horner’s Casper, and Randy Newman’s Toy Story.  Ever since then, scores truly make a movie for me.  If the score isn’t good, the movie just isn’t as good.  Whether I am listening to a quirky Alexandre Desplat score or a tear jerking John William’s score, I simply just enjoy the music of films.

I have to admit that although there were many excellent films from 2014, there weren’t the same amount of excellent scores.  Some movies simply didn’t have scores that stuck with me.  I am going to share with you my Top 5 Scores of 2014, and also talk about some honourable mentions at the end of the list.  I would rather give you a Top 5, then a Top 10 in which I struggled to create #’s 10-6.  Let’s do this!

5. Whiplash – Music by Justin Hurwitz

Whiplash was my favourite movie of 2014 and it is no surprise that I enjoyed the score so much!  Whiplash is lower on my list because the score takes a back seat to the music featured in the film, which also happens to be excellent; however, not originally composed for the film.  The actual score composed for the film is fantastic and captures the tension going on between Andrew and Fletcher.  The tension of him running to a jazz concert because he is going to be late, or just even practicing alone at home; the blood flying off his snare as he plays is unreal.  It was upbeat, it was pure jazz, and it suited the movie to a tea.  Whiplash in general struck a ‘chord’ with me because I am a clarinet and saxophone player and I use to perform in jazz bands the same as portrayed in Whiplash.  I never had a teacher like Fletcher, but I know what it’s like to know a competition is coming up and wanting to be the best.  As simple as it may be, one of the best tracks in the film is the ‘Snare Liftoff’ (commonly used in the trailer); the movie starts and the tension has already begun.  Let’s just say the score for Whiplash is so good I would love to actually hear jazz bands perform the original pieces from Whiplash.  I will also add that as a musician and growing up in a musical family, the players in this were DAMN AMAZING.  This movie actually inspired me to dust off the ol’ clarinet and get it going again.  The feeling of being in a band, be it more symphonic or jazz, is simply wonderful – something I can not describe to the fullest.

4. Gone Girl – Music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

The first Trent Reznor and Atticus score I heard was the Social Network back in 2010 and I fell in love with the mechanical and ambient style they used to portray the characters.  They did just this for Gone Girl and it was something magical.  The score to Gone Girl is very creepy, sometimes disturbing, robotic, atmospheric, and at times emotionless.  It perfectly captured the two characters in this film, whom I will not talk about as I do not want to spoil anything.  At times, you feel like time has stopped and you are trapped in a world of just your own thoughts, or perhaps trapped in another world.  Reznor and Ross’s scoring style is very unique and definitely their own.  This is a score that gives you a very euphoric feeling of calmness, like you are floating into nothingness, and then it can make you feel uneasy and unsettled.  This score plays with your emotions in a fantastic way.  Sometimes you feel like you are floating in the clouds, other times you are anxious and manic.  This is definitely a score that needed more recognition at the Academy Awards.

3. Interstellar – Music by Hans Zimmer

Again, we have another winner here.  Interstellar was absolutely beautiful.  It is definitely one of my favourite Hans Zimmer scores, if not my favourite.  The use of fast paced piano somehow perfectly captured space travel (because I would know, right?), and the use of flute and strings made me honestly believe I was out in space.  It actually really reminded me of Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Alien, which I am still unsure if that was done on purpose…or if perhaps I am just hearing that myself.  It is creepy, it is highly emotional, and it is epic.  This score brings a tear to my eye when I hear it because it instantly brings me back to certain emotional parts of the film and makes me think I am about to exit the atmosphere.  I am not kidding when I say that this is one of the best scores to fit a space/adventure movie in a long time.  The feelings, emotions, and actions of the characters can all be felt just by listening to the score.  If I close my eyes, I might as well be in space.  Funny how the right use of piano and flute can make a person feel like they are floating in space, but listen to this score and find out for yourself.

2. The Grand Budapest Hotel – Music by Alexandre Desplat

What we have here is a typical Desplat/Anderson mash-up and man is it awesome.  I love whimsical and silly scores, and this one definitely earns that cred.  Desplat is one of my favourite composers of all time and he rarely disappoints.  He actually scored several movies in 2014, two of which were extremely excellent (The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game).  The music to The Grand Budapest Hotel was another score that was rather euphoric to me; it was enchanting, dreamy, and just plain delightful.  Desplat seems to know how to capture the silliness of Wes Anderson films perfectly whether it is a ridiculous chase scene, or a quirky train ride.  The bounciness of the main theme makes you just want to nod your head side to side in unison with the beat and perhaps go on a strange adventure of your own.  I love scores that are very…’strange’, yet want to make you smile.  Don’t get me wrong, I love serious scores and action heavy scores, but there is something fantastic about a score that is funny, mischievous, and off the wall.  The score to The Grand Budapest Hotel almost took the #1 spot on my list, but there was something else that just got to my emotions a little more…

1. The Theory of Everything – Music by Johann Johannsson

Wow.  It is really difficult to describe just how beautiful and moving this score was.  I have a soft soft for movies about geeks and outcasts, but music that portrays that really gets to me.  This score was like a perfectly blended mix of Phillip Glass and Alexandre Desplat.  It was score perfection.  Just listening to it brings tears to my eyes and you can feel the pain that Stephen Hawking was going through – the emotional pain.  Now, I generally don’t like to listen to sad scores that bring you down, but that’s the wonderful thing about this score: it doesn’t bring you down.  It’s so uplifting and moving, just like the film.  The way Johannsson uses the strings incredibly fast makes me think of how fast the motor neurone disease is getting worse for Hawking, but it also portrayed the struggled that Jane Hawking was going through.  There is a scene in the film where Hawking finally has his IBM speech synthesizer and it is one of the most dreamy and moving tracks in the film.  The Theory of Everything was very waltz-like, which is a big thumbs up for me when it comes to scores; in fact, a large majority of this score is in 3/4 time.  Waltz’s, when using diminished chords, can be extremely effective, especially for montages.  My boyfriend and I joke when I have said, “This music accurately describes a struggling genius”…well, of course it does, because that is what it is trying to portray.  All jokes aside, if someone was actually solving equations on a chalkboard intensely…this score would be played.  Seriously.  This score was my favourite; it is beautiful, listen to it.

I will say, besides Whiplash, most of the scores (and my preference for scores in general) I liked from 2014 have similar qualities to them in the sense that they all give me the sense that I am high, or in a dream-like state.  This may sound creepy to some, but I love creepy music!!!  I love music that makes me feel like I am experiencing ecstasy.  I truly get lost in scores like the ones above.  Minor and diminished chords are my favourite along with scores where I can listen to them at home, and instantly be transferred back into the film.

There were a few other scores that were fantastic, but didn’t make my Top 5.  The Imitation Game (Alexandre Desplat) was excellent and had that creepy whimsical Desplat style and man, he does not disappoint.  The track ‘Crosswords’ is HIGHLY recommended.  The score to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Michael Giacchino) is powerful, disturbing, and kind of scary.  I recommend it because it is a throwback to the scores of the 60s.  At times, it really sounds like something right out of the 60s.  There was a distinct scoring style in film before, let’s say…the 1970s, and Giacchino nails it.  I would have put The Tale of Princess Kaguya here, but it is technically a 2013 movie, so I will not include it (you all still must listen to it though!).

I highly recommend that you check out all of the scores that I mentioned!  For all you Birdman fans out there, yes, the score to Birdman by Antonio Sanchez was very unique and interesting, but it wouldn’t make my list.  What were your favourite scores of 2014?  Don’t normally listen to scores?  I urge you to start!

Photo Credit: http://www.welchmusic.com/portals/0/skins/welch/assets/img/content/sheet-music-home-page.jpg

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