It’s that time of year again where I pick out my top 10 favourite movie scores of 2016. I really enjoyed the variety of jazz scores that a lot of films used, whether those films were about jazz music or they simply utilised background jazz music.
10. Your Name. (君の名は) – Radwimps.
This eclectic score for the Japanese anime Your Name. (2016) comes from the pen of the Japanese rock band Radwimps. It features a wide score that covers many genres, from rock, acoustic, pop, jazz, easy listening, to orchestral pieces.
The orchestral pieces are beautiful with string compositions. The more intimate moments of the film use delicate piano movements to bring across emotion and characterisation. The rock songs fit well with the anime genre, and they highlight the action and reflect the moments of fun the characters enjoy.
Great instrumentation with a mixture of electronic and orchestral sounds that intertwine to give an immersive experience to the fantasy and humanistic elements of this anime.
9. Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them – James Newton Howard.
We’re back in the wizarding world! And what an era to pick for the return of our favourite magical universe. Howard creates a score that does wonders for this film. It’s quirky, mystical, and perfectly captures the sense of exploring 1920’s New York for the first time from a wizarding perspective.
Howard blends the music in perfectly depending on the scenes. The score is cacophonic during the action sequences, eerie during the creepier parts, intimate during the character moments, and euphoric like every Harry Potter film should be.
What I love most about it is how perfectly Howard captured the essence of the 20’s jazz era. His inclusion of jazz pieces, like “Blind Pig,” during the speakeasy scene, and other tracks throughout the film warmed my heart, because it was that attention to detail that really elevated the score into being an exquisite experience.
8. Sully – Christian Jacob & The Tierney Sutton Band.
I was surprised when I first listened to this score. I was expected a soundscape fitting an action or thriller film. But what we got instead was a soft jazz score filled with easy listening pieces. I adore soft jazz and it’s a shame that it’s often overlooked and considered background or elevator music compared to mainstream jazz or blues. What I love even more is hearing this kind of music in movies as it’s very hard to make soft jazz more than just ambience.
They really achieved a great sound here with the gentle jazz pieces reflecting the precision of the the pilots trying to land the plane in the Hudson, the calmness of the rescuers and all involved in the situation of the flight. It was very daring to strip back the score and create a more light, intimate score that emphasises the humanism of the characters.
The use of female vocals, strings and piano are delicate and are a perfect playlist to relax to.
7. Moonlight – Nicholas Britell.
Another eclectic score with a blend of orchestral, rap, soul, and operatic pieces.
The soul and rap pieces are used reflect the characters stories and immerse the listener into the stories of the characters. They also create a sense of realism with the songs reflecting the contemporary culture of the film and the characters.
The score is filled with pieces with just a lone violin. It’s slightly eerie as the string is being played in a very fragile way. There are also chaotic string pieces that soar into a cacophony of sound. The ambience created throughout the soundscape is tense and really sets the mood for the film.
6. Hell Or High Water – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis.
I liked Cave & Ellis’ work on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007). The pair do another terrific job here at creating a soundscape for this neo-western.
It features Americana, Country and Blues songs that fit the Texan setting of the film quite appropriately.
The score itself is heavy on its use of guitars, bass and strings. The strings reflect the wide landscapes of the Texas plains and cinematography of the film. They soar at certain points during the score and are accompanied by vocals. At other times they are solitary, reflecting the isolation of the rural countryside. During the crime scenes the guitars use distortion to effectively amp up the tension of the film.
5. The Neon Demon – Cliff Martinez.
I adored Cliff Martinez’s work on Drive (2011). He returns here with another intricate electronic score. Although this one is less minimalist, it is still quirky and has large amounts of inflections that make this score a unique listening experience.
He makes use of long electronic sounds that set the scene and cast an eerie tension across the soundscape. He then layers this with his quirky inflections which often reflect whats going on in the film.
At times the eeriness has a retro 80’s vibe, and other times the electronic sounds are almost like a sci-fi film about aliens. There is that artificiality about it which is akin to A.I. Overall, it’s a very pristine and clean score that reflects the perfection that the modelling industry sets out to achieve.
4. Julieta – Alberto Iglesias.
An unexpected but brilliant find from the Spanish film Julieta (2016). Great instrumentation throughout, the score had a very classic cinematic feel to it with its down-tempo beat. It almost felt like it belonged to a film from the 1950’s or 1960’s.
Iglesias really triumphed here with the full sound of the orchestra. He uses a wide array of instruments from woodwind, brass, percussion to strings. There’s great flow to the score, and the movements of sound throughout reflect the sense of drifting and loneliness shown in the characters’ journeys.
There is a good use of light drums and percussion throughout it, especially when played with the oboe. They suggest the character motifs and the internal thoughts of Julieta. In this way, the score is very interesting as it is tied very closely to the psychological journeys of Julieta, and really heightens the unsettling nature of the story.
I really enjoyed the jazz aspects of the score. Iglesias includes a muted trumpet in the score, which is my favourite sound, so it won me over.
3. Nocturnal Animals – Abel Korzeniowski.
Another amazing score from Abel Korzeniowski for his second collaboration with director Tom Ford after A Single Man (2009). For Nocturnal Animals (2016), he created such a rich score filled with many different elements; intimacy, tension, urgency, euphoria. It’s overwhelming, which perfectly suits the film.
“Wayward Sisters” is one of my favourite pieces of all the 2016 scores I’ve heard, and it has to be one of the most enrapturing opening pieces I’ve ever heard. Korzeniowksi has this ability to create music of grandeur, and of a classic feel. He makes great use of the full sound of the orchestra, while also being able to strip it back for the intimate moments.
The scene in which uses “Off The Road” was one of the tensest moments I’ve experienced in the cinema. The score helped to amp up that tension and reflect the sense of danger.
Ultimately, a chilling score that manages to bring together the different elements of the film on a grand scale.
2. Arrival – Jóhann Jóhannsson.
I was obsessed with Jóhannsson’s score for Sicario (2015) last year. He is even more inventive here with Arrival (2016), where he creates a haunting soundscape that is inventive and literally otherworldly. It felt like a nod to John Williams’ work on Sci-Fi films like Close Encounters of The Third Kind (1977) and War Of The Worlds (2005). I definitely picked up on the fog-horn motif in the track “First Encounter.”
It’s such a bone chilling score to listen to. It plays on the theme of The Sublime which you can hear with the light electronic intermittent sounds, and the explosive cacophonies throughout, but especially in “First Encounter.”
The use of creepy vocals through the choirs adds to that sense of alien, especially in the tracks “Heptapod B” and “Principle of Least Time.” There’s a great unease, and unsettling nature throughout the score. Utterly inventive throughout and an immersive experience.
1. La La Land – Justin Hurwitz.
Really, was there any doubt? Justin Hurwitz collaborates again with director Damien Chazelle after his jazz score for Whiplash (2014). There is massive buzz for this film, and also for the music. And can you blame anyone? It’s one of the most exciting and infectious musical scores in years. Personally, I love jazz, so the mixture of up-tempo and slow jazz tunes swept me off my feet.
The music is just so rich with wonderful brass and string instrumentation, and percussion. The dance numbers are fun, they’re toe-tapping, and would make anyone want to get up and dance. The slower songs are sweet, and poignant with piano accompaniment.
What more can I say? The music speaks for itself. My personal favourite tracks are “A Lovely Night” and “Someone In The Crowd.” They’re the perfect motivation boosters!