2014 was a rich year for song-driven soundtracks (particularly thinking of Wild, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, and Boyhood) but there have also been some gems in original scores.
Here are some of my favorites.
This was one of the more riskier scores (and movies) of the year. Basically a crashing melee of splashy drums and subtle moments of background stringscapes (the movie also includes some well-known classical pieces). The music continuously halts and jerks around to the chaos of a theater production and the pitter patter of the main character's turmoil and roiling psyche.
Touches of menace and mystery abound in this rich orchestral score of bass dirges, winds (clarinets weave in and out), prickly, rubbery string sounds (spiders are a visual motif), and the hits of timpanis and oddball percussion.
Here's a score that is pretty much perfection and because the film is so shifty tonally, likely exceptionally tricky to have composed. The muted marimbas and itchy static distortions in "Sugar Storm" and the clue unraveling scenes are now familiar Reznor & Ross territory, but I was struck in particular by the pretty swaths of slow chord changes in the flashbacks that recalled the vibe of Angelo Badalamenti, especially "Twin Peaks." When a grisly murder scene occurs, the repetition of loud, devilish drone tones synced with blazing fade-out edits, brilliantly becomes an aural and visual shock to the senses in a score and film that is otherwise so quietly sly.
It's pretty remarkable how productive Desplat has been over the last decade and a half. His music for milquetoast flicks (like this year's The Imitation Game) is always quietly sturdy and reliable, but his recent collaborations with Wes Anderson seem to shake loose something in him that gives way to more adventurous instrumentation and melodies. His score for Grand Budapest Hotel is super sprightly, winsome, and madcap (love the little snare drum moments) and perfectly pitched to Anderson's painterly pastel mis-en-scene.
I've never been a huge fan of Howard's usually too-on-the-nose, intrusive (and often, melodically unmemorable) movie scores. As expected, I ran hot and cold with his work on Nightcrawler which was often too loud, frenetic, cloying and more apt for his defining decade of 90s action flick film music than what this moody thriller needed. But he may have been the perfect choice to offer up a darkly comic main theme (thrumming electric guitar and all) that recalls the simultaneously urgent and uplifting cheese of local news music.
The main theme from this movie has been going through my head since I've seen it. The fragile music box melodic strain mimics the lead character's starlet dreams and the electro tuned 80s VHS horror vibes are well-suited to the movie's aura. Luckily, Waxwork is planning an album release. This week I reviewed this underrated horror indie here.
Joe Hisaishi's gorgeous music adds intensely to the joy and deep melancholy of this elegantly animated Studio Ghibli fable. The often plaintive score ultimately bursts into a soaring, major-keyed song of "Celestial Beings"--a stirring resolution to this film's unique journey.
Like Enemy, Under the Skin relies more on imagery and atmosphere than dialogue. Levi's mesmerizing score provides a swirly, unbalanced background of distorted strings and synth beds and in the surrealistic "death" sequences, slides into the creepiest, crawliest violin riffs since Herrmann's Psycho.