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While the average audience member might not automatically process this, the overall sound of a film is pivotal to our enjoyment. When it comes to composers, it's almost as if they're engineering their own films away from the filmmakers, with elevated action, moody drama and swooning romance. What's unique is hearing the music of the film, then heading home and hearing it on your own. The mark of a great composition is that it complements the movie perfectly, but on an independent listen, it creates new images all its own inside your head.
This week, we're halfway through 2014, and the sounds of the year have made their presence known. I've decided to parse through the year's offerings and find my five favorite scores, the one I've been listening to all year, the ones that both enhance the films they accompany, but also stand on their own wonderfully. If I've missed any, comment below.
Honorable Mention: Alexandre Desplat, Godzilla & Monuments Men & The Grand Budapest Hotel; Dickon Hinchcliffe, Locke; Victor Reyes, Grand Piano; Antony Partos, The Rover
Dishonorable Mention: Pedro Bromfman, Robocop.
5. Hans Zimmer And The Magnificent Six's The Amazing Spider-Man 2The summer's most disappointing film features a schizophrenic score that earned several catcalls when it debuted, mixing aggressive dubstep with operatic symphonies. But Zimmer and his dream team, which included Pharrell Williams, Johnny Marr and Junkie XL, produced the year's most ambitious mainstream score. Skipping between genres, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 at the very least as a pop sensibility absent to the Raimi pictures, a youthful energy that finally provides a signature sound to a world of superhero adaptations thus far lacking definition.
4. Junkie XL's 300: Rise Of An EmpireTaking off where Tyler Bates left on in the first film, Junkie XL's compositions for this action sequel are surprisingly dense, propulsive anthems. Utilizing the Middle Eastern riffs of the first film, Mr. XL's utilization of the year's most massive percussion section provides an all-encompassing sound that very gradually crescendos into an anthem of gladiator victory that proved a rousing accompaniment to Noam Murro's surprisingly nimble follow-up.
3. Jeff Grace's Cold In JulyThis endlessly inventive independent film is, on its own, an engaging potboiler about a man (Michael C. Hall) involved in a loopy murder investigation that keeps going sideways. Rather than a more conventional thriller score, Grace's semi-electronic synth score harkens back to the era of John Carpenter, creating an eerie standalone soundscape that infuses Jim Mickle's neo-noir with a sinister, suffocating fear.
2. Clint Mansell's NoahYou hear Mansell's typically-massive score before Darren Aronofsky's Biblical tale even begins to visually entrance you. It almost feels like a gauntlet thrown down from one artist to another. Mansell's guitars boil, so Aronofsky introduces rock monsters. Mansell introduces an evil staccato string assault, and Aronofsky counters with Noah's flood. It almost feels as if Mansell is trying to top his iconic work on The Fountain, and the result is not subtle: it does, however, become the topsy turvy soundtrack of Noah's mind, to the point where those who loved Noah will have a hard time not thinking of the score next time they see Russell Crowe in action.
1. Mica Levi, Under The SkinJonathan Glazer's sparse, nightmarish vision of alien life is one of the year's most distinct movies. Appropriate, it has a nightmare score that drills into your brain, one that begins as a dirge as Scarlett Johansson slowly lures men to their deaths. The effect is playful, until it is not, a slow kick-drum that yields to a clarion siren, unnerving and displacing you. The rest of Levi's score kind of hangs around in the background, threatening to pounce at any moment, until an unexpected third act turns the music warm, but tellingly synthetic. It's score as storytelling, and it's immaculate.