In what has been a topsy-turvy year all round, the world of film music stuck the course and delivered a host of gems from both rising stars and established veterans. From dreamy synths to baroque symphonies, thunderous blockbusters to eerie thrillers, 2016 ultimately proved to be one of the most diverse and brilliant years for film music in recent memory, an exciting indication that there are still many fresh voices and tones to be discovered.
Here are the 10 greatest scores of the year. (This list encompasses scores for movies released between 1st January and 31st December 2016 in the UK; hence the absence of joyously wonderful works like Justin Hurwitz' La La Land.) Listen to the top scores of 2016 here.
Given Michael Giacchino has spent the better part of his career aping John Williams' musical mannerisms, he's the perfect fit for the most celebrated sci-fi saga of all time. The composer's rambunctious and rollicking approximation of Williams' horn trills, woodwind runs and racing strings helps lend nostalgic pleasure to Gareth Edwards' gritty Rogue One prequel, a host of new themes deftly interwoven around carefully placed blasts of the classic franchise material. If not Giacchino's most memorable achievement in terms of its original themes (the likes of Jurassic World take pride of place) Rogue One is an enormous technical accomplishment, made all the more-so by the fact it was composed in a month. The score is available at these links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
The tempestuous, raging spirit of pioneering visionaries like Alex North and Bernard Herrmann is very much alive in this ferociously angry and turbulent score from esteemed singer/songwriter/musician Walker (his first movie soundtrack since 1999's Pola X). Debut director Brady Corbert's disturbing, speculative account of the rise of a fascist leader (key aspects of the fictional movie are drawn from real-life figures) is nothing less than a symphony of evil and allows Walker's gripping, thunderous score to take centre stage throughout. Not so much reinforcing our emotional responses as actively forging them from the essence of the broiling symphony orchestra, it's a fine work. The score for Scott Walker's Childhood of a Leader is available at these links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
Further cementing his position as the blockbuster and action composer du jour, Michael Giacchino delivers another rollicking cracker with his score for Marvel's magical superhero. Befitting the mystical, magical superhero as played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the composer dresses up his richly brassy central theme with a host of psychadelic guitars and sitars to help the score stand out from its MCU brethren (the quality of which varies massively), fashioning a soundscape that is both bracingly heroic and knowingly tongue-in-cheek. Orchestrated with an ear for witty nuance as well as epic sweep, it's up there with Alan Silvestri's Captain America and Christophe Beck's Ant-Man as one of the best scores to have emerged from the Marvel stable. Doctor Strange is available at these links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
Tom Ford's ravishingly designed, if emotionally cold, follow-up to his acclaimed directorial debut A Single Man demanded a score that matched both its effortless sense of style and bubbling undercurrent of malice. Step forward A Single Man composer Abel Korzeniowski who composes a sumptuous symphony of melancholy, regret and tension, a thriller score that manages the tricky feat of sounding compositionally attractive whilst also holding us at an emotional remove. With the massed force of the string section getting under the skin of Amy Adams' central character Susan, it's yet more proof that Korzeniowski is one of our greatest yet least-heralded film score talents. The score of Nocturnal Animals is available at these links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
Nostalgia was a key factor coursing through this year's movies and their accompanying scores. Nowhere was this more apparent than in J.K. Rowling's wizarding Harry Potter prequel, one that soars off the back of James Newton Howard's richest and most engaging score in recent memory. Circulating around at least half a dozen central themes, including two for Eddie Redmayne's hero Newt Scamander, plus several others for the wondrous beasts themselves, it's a score whose tone is absolutely note-perfect for the material in question: whimsical yet robust, laced with moments of melancholy and uplift that bring tears to the eyes. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them looks set to kick off another series in the Harry Potter universe, and is available at these links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
A pastiche score is very hard to get right, especially when it's a certified Disney classic like The Jungle Book casting a massive shadow. Thankfully John Debney is one of the best in the business for amalgamating other composers' styles (think Korngold for 1995's Cutthroat Island), and his score here does a terrific job of honouring not only George Bruns' original work but also seamlessly interweaving the classic songs like The Bare Necessities. Add all this rich material to Debney's own wonderfully rousing themes and one of 2016's most accomplished scoring achievements comes to light: a score that adds an extra layer of magic to Jon Favreau's fantastic Disney reboot. The score for The Jungle Book is a magnificent achievement, and is available at these links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
Robert Eggers' remarkably accomplished feature film debut is quite simply the year's finest horror film, an intelligent and engrossing cauldron of 17th century religious superstition, familial breakdown and bone-chilling supernatural terror. Weaving together the movie's paranoid, unsettling atmosphere is the superbly chilling score from Canadian composer and violinist Mark Korven, whose music distills the very essence of evil itself. Its a bracing mixture of old and new, an intimate musical ensemble for strings that honours the period depicted whilst also acknowledging the groundbreaking influence of Stravinsky and Bartok. Mark Korven's dark and unsettling score for The Witch is available to download or buy at these links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
Director David Lowery's Disney remake came out of nowhere to floor audiences with its mature sense of emotion, beautifully wrought characters and engrossing special effects. Given how the filmmaker acknowledges the likes of Steven Spielberg as an influence, composer Daniel Hart's joyous score follows suit: a full-blooded symphony that does what all great family scores should do, enveloping us in a sense of musical magic in a manner that's unashamedly earnest, old-fashioned and tear-jerking. It also finds time for rustic Americana, lending further richness and texture to one of 2016's finest. Daniel Hart's score for Pete's Dragon is a beautifully rich additional to Disney's existing wealth of soundtracks and is available at these links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
Director Nicolas Winding Refn characteristically divided opinion with his surreal Hollywood beauty satire/vampire movie, one filled to the brim with provocative and unsettling content. However, his opulent visuals and dearth of dialogue offer a plum opportunity to Cliff Martinez, allowing his music to take centre stage and reinforce the story's operatic sense of excess. The end result is one of 2016's most unforgettable scores: a woozy electronic symphony of which the likes of Wendy Carlos and Tangerine Dream would be proud, his music running the gamut from alluring mystery to cold terror. Cliff Martinez has worked with Nicolas Winding Refn on a number of occasions now, and The Neon Demon adds to the musical wealth they have created. The score is available at these links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
Fittingly enough in a year that has seen enough upheaval and discontent to last a lifetime, Clint Mansell's wickedly satirical score for Ben Wheatley's savage J.G. Ballard adaptation captures the spirit of the times. Nothing less than a gloriously powerful symphony of excess, Mansell's score does an outstanding job of reinforcing the dark, animalistic themes of Wheatley's movie, in which society within a London tower block goes into full-on meltdown. As contradictory and unpredictable as the movie it accompanies, ranging from the rousing orchestral theatrics of the main titles to subtly unnerving electronics that act as a harbinger of doom, it's yet another outstanding dramatic work from a composer who gets better and better. High Rise is available at these links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.