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The 10 greatest film scores of 2018

The sheer breadth of large canvas blockbusters and memorable dramas in 2018 made for one of the most diverse arrays of score in years. Across a host of genres, from action to horror and romance, it was a fine year for both established composers and rising stars, and picking a final list was harder than ever. Nevertheless, after much whittling down, here are the 10 greatest scores of 2018. (This list encompasses scores released between 1st January and 31st December 2018 in the UK.) Listen to Sean's top 10 scores of 2018 on Spotify.

10. Ghost Stories (Frank Ilfman)

Frank Ilfman: Ghost Stories - album cover Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson's ghoulish stage smash Ghost Stories survived intact on its way to the big screen in this year's creepy anthology horror. Bolstered by a cast of British scene stealers including Martin Freeman, Paul Whitehouse and Alex Lawther, the movie possesses the requisite bleak atmosphere vital for any spooky chiller. Key to the movie's impact is the enjoyably Gothic spectacle of Frank Ilfman's terrific score, which mixes a multitude of themes with choir and unusual instrumentation (including sampled children's toys) to make the film's atmosphere all the more foreboding. The score of "Ghost Stories" is available at these links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.


9. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Carter Burwell)

Carter Burwell: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - album cover Carter Burwell's enduring collaboration with the Coen Brothers continues to stake out fresh terrain with this six part Western anthology movie. In typical Coen style it's a mixture of the blackly comic, the shockingly violent and the melancholy, and Burwell's longing, atmospheric score encapsulates the heart of the old American West, where the only constant was death. It's a typically varied soundscape, ranging from the lilting to the amusing (actor Tim Blake Nelson's singing as the title character stands out), and one of Burwell's best for a Coen movie. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is available at these links at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.


8. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Michael Giacchino)

Michael Giacchino - Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, album cover Another composer who had a fabulous 2018, Michael Giacchino mainly drew plaudits this year for his snazzily energetic Incredibles 2. But it's Jurassic World sequel Fallen Kingdom that offers the more diverse canvas. If 2015's Jurassic World score was a fine merger between the worlds of John Williams and Giacchino, the mutation storyline at the heart of the sequel allows Giacchino to push the music into more lavishly operatic horror territory, befitting the usual approach of director J.A. Bayona. It's a textbook example of how to stay true musically to the origins of a franchise while also pushing it in dynamic new directions. The album of music from "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" is available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.


7. The Shape Of Water (Alexandre Desplat)

Alexandre Desplat: The Shape Of Water - album cover Alexandre Desplat scooped his second Oscar in his first collaboration with director Guillermo Del Toro, a filmmaker whose affinity for the romantic and the fantastical plays brilliantly to the composer's strengths. Desplat's characteristic blend of flutes and strings (this time augmented with gentle tango accordion) lend an appropriately shimmering and delicate quality to Del Toro's hybrid of Splash and Creature from the Black Lagoon, fashioning a real sense of empathy for the eccentric love story at the film's heart. Dark when it needs to be, but above all gorgeous and supple, it's a Desplat career high. The album of The Shape of Water can be found at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.


6. Phantom Thread (Jonny Greenwood)

Jonny Greenwood: Phantom Thread - album cover Jonny Greenwood's development from Radiohead guitarist into classical composer du jour is surely one of the most fascinating in modern music. Largely through his association with director Paul Thomas Anderson, Greenwood has developed into a neo-classical master, from the astringent, disturbing strings of There Will Be Blood to the more lushly romantic approach of Phantom Thread. The composer graces what is (reportedly) Daniel Day-Lewis' final film with his most beautiful and accessible score so far, one rippling with melancholic overtones that, rather appropriately, fit the material like a perfectly tailored dress. The Phantom Thread score is available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.


5. Ready Player One (Alan Silvestri)

Alan Silvestri: Ready Player One - album cover Alan Silvestri was an inspired choice to score Steven Spielberg's virtual reality adventure. After all, it's a feature length love letter to 80s pop culture, including Back to the Future, and Silvestri's groundbreaking symphonic score was at the heart of the latter. The composer riffs on his 1985 masterpiece, and indeed the warm tone of his other classic scores, to craft a delightfully nostalgic, warm-hearted soundscape. No mere pastiche of eighties family scores, this is the genuine article from one of the format's original pioneers - in what’s been an excellent year for Silvestri (Avengers: Infinity War and Welcome to Marwen also feature prominently), this is his crowning achievement. Silvestri's score for Ready Player One is available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.


4. Black Panther (Ludwig Goransson)

Ludwig Goransson: Black Panther - album cover Contrary to popular belief, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has yielded several memorable scores, from the rousing patriotism of Alan Silvestri's Captain America: The First Avenger to Christopher Beck's sly, caper-infused Ant-Man. Even so, it’s Ludwig Goransson's Black Panther that has made MCU history, being the first score in the franchise to scoop a Golden Globe nomination, and deservedly so. Mixing up traditional symphonic power with authentically researched Senegalese instrumentation and trap hip hop, it's one of the most compelling and idiosyncratic superhero scores in recent memory. Black Panther can be found at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.


3. Mary Poppins Returns (Marc Shaiman)

Marc Shaiman: Mary Poppins Returns - album cover It's no mean feat living up to the formidable legacy of Disney's Mary Poppins and its composers, the Sherman brothers. But Marc Shaiman, the man tasked with making sure Mary Poppins Returns slips down like a spoonful of sugar, is a dab hand at melody and beauty. The American President Oscar nominee deploys his penchant for warm harmony and acute spotting to accentuate the wit and wonder of Emily Blunt's take on Poppins. Meanwhile the new songs, composed with lyricist Scott Wittman, are a delight, varying from crazed Eastern European jazz ("Turning Turtle") to raucous vaudeville pastiche ("A Cover is not the Book"). The song and score album for Mary Poppins Returns can be found at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.


2. First Man (Justin Hurwitz)

Justin Hurwitz: First Man - album cover Damien Chazelle's engrossing, near-documentary look at Neil Armstrong's famed voyage to the moon was a box office flop, and has been largely shut out of the awards race. However this shouldn't blind people to its many qualities, not least of which is the subtle score by La La Land Oscar winner Justin Hurwitz. For the most part, the score takes its cue from Ryan Gosling's introspective lead performance, subtle electronics only occasionally giving way to balletic beauty. But in the end, the staggering Landing cue, arguably the finest of any movie this year, erupts in a cathartic, ecstatic homage to John Barry and Jerry Goldsmith, reinforcing the magnitude of Armstrong's achievement. The "First Man" score album is available at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.


1. Solo: A Star Wars Story (John Powell)

John Powell - Solo: A Star Wars Story, album cover For the first time, John Powell applies his rambunctious sense of energy to a Star Wars canvas, and the results are spectacular. While John Williams contributes the main Han Solo theme, it's Powell's permutations of said theme, bolstered by dazzlingly intricate orchestrations during the action sequences, that brings the score soaring to life. Solo is one of the most thematically rich and entertaining Star Wars scores in recent memory - the new themes for Chewbacca, the Enfys Nest marauders and Han's love interest Qi'Ra are all wonderful - and proof positive they do indeed still write them like they used to. The score for "Solo: A Star Wars Story" can be found at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.


Author: Sean Wilson