Everybody loves themselves some Top 10s at the end of the year and like every year, 2016 had its up and downs, which is especially true for the film music community. Some eagerly awaited scores hit home, while other fell flat on their faces while yet other ones came out of nowhere.
Following are Top 10 soundtracks of 2016. This list is a sort of combination of “best” and “favorites”, so don’t decapitate me for certain picks.
10. BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE – HANS ZIMMER, JUNKIEXL, A WHOLE LOT OF THE USUAL RC-INTERNS
This will probably already infuriate many readers and it’s exactly what I meant in my opening statement. Objectively, this one belongs nowhere near an actual “Best Of” list, no matter how many entries the list allows, but it is one of my favorites. I can’t deny, that I listened to “Batman v Superman” many times since it got released and this has to count for something. Now, I also listened a lot to “Mad Max: Fury Road” during 2015 and would never consider it for a best-list.
The difference is, that “Mad Max” was just a cool album, but as a film score, it’s one of the dumbest and most brainless I have ever encountered. “Con Air” by Mancina and Rabin had more depth to it.
“Batman v Superman” is not a great score. The stupidity of the action music which is devoid of thematic interplay prevents it from that praise. But it’s not terrible either. The themes it has, are great, I like the group of themes for Batman, I totally get a kick out of Wonder Woman’s theme and I absolutely LOVE Lex Luthor’s theme and in the film, there are quite a few moments of thematic narrative and I want to acknowledge that. “Black And Blue” and “Is She With You?” will go down as two of the biggest missed opportunities in film music history, but there is good stuff to be found. The style is also deeply fitting, with the drums and synths – not everyone’s cup of tea, but a perfect company for Snyder’s vision of the iconic superhero-brawl! This score is no masterpiece, but it deserves much more credit than it gets!
9. WARCRAFT – RAMIN DJAWADI
This is one of those scores that needs to grow on you. Initially, I was disappointed, because I was hoping for Djawadi to channel the leitmotific intricacy of “Pacific Rim” only in a more “Game Of Thrones”-like soundscape. Well, I got the latter, but the former was nowhere to be found it first. A few re-listens, and suddenly everything clicked. The main theme is a wonderful earworm and then, Djawadi throws in a few sub-themes and minor motifs, which form a very good overall piece. “Forest Ambush” is especially fun and “Victory And Defeat” has some truly stunning moments! Even the quieter tracks convince, with many subtle thematic statements!
8. THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR – JAMES NEWTON HOWARD
One of the most underrated films of the year also got one of the most underrated scores of the year. In 2012, “Snow White And The Huntsman” was already only mildly well received. Howard got praise for some beautiful highlights, but criticized for highly processed action music.
For this year’s sequel, the big choral highlights disappeared totally and thus, everyone forgot about the score, which is a real shame, because Howard proved again, how masterfully he handles subtle moments. “Winter’s War” might be even better than the first one. Yes, a strong cue like “White Hart” is to be missed but when you get over that fact, you will find subtle gorgeousness in “You Shouldn’t Walk In Shadows”, “Where’s My Horse?” or “Ravenna’s Embrace”.
Meanwhile, the action is still focused on percussion, but better! “Tavern Brawl” has a nice epic string movement and the trio of Goblin-related cues are wonderful! This score feels like what JNH would have done if he got the “Game Of Thrones” gig. It has a similar vibe to that series’ score, but with more variety in instrumentation, for he uses more than just drums and a cello.
7. FOSSIL ECHO – JOHN ROBERT MATZ (Review)
One of those gems that come out of nowhere. Matz provided a simple, yet effective game with a wonderfully beautiful soundtrack. The themes and their applications are masterfully done and the woodwind work is tear jerking! Much more people should turn their attention to this score, for it really lifts you into another world. It’s mind-blowing!
6. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY – MICHAEL GIACCHINO (Review)
In only four weeks Michael Giacchino managed to replace acclaimed composer Alexandre Desplat and conjure up a wonderful new Star Wars score. It has great new themes, respectful nods to the familiar themes, splendid orchestrations and countless emotional highlights!
Some themes are better than others, some remind of preexisting themes and sometimes one theme gets more spotlight than it deserves, while the more fitting theme gets forgotten, unfortunate missteps, but forgivable ones.
Just check it out!
5. THE JUNGLE BOOK – JOHN DEBNEY
An almost full-CGI remake of a beloved classic? That couldn’t possibly go well!
But yet it did! The film wasn’t just good, it improved upon the original and John Debney was clearly very inspired by it, for he gave us one of his best scores in recent years for it. The main theme might be a tad too close to a certain Star Trek theme, but the overall package makes up for that.
The strongest part are indeed the interpolations of the classic songs, most notably “Bare Necessities” in “Mowgli Wins The Race” and my personal favorite: “I Wanna Be Like You” turned into a scary chase-motif in “Cold Lair Chase”, this is melodic variation at its best!
4. 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE – BEAR MCCREARY
This film surprised audiences and the score surprised film music fans. Bear McCreary has shown his talents in countless TV shows, but 2016 was his year for feature films. “10 Cloverfield Lane” was a passion project for the composer and it shows. McCreary went nuts with the orchestrations, utilizing a tanbur and of course the blasterbeam.
Often, thrillers get boring scores, which just consist of the usual suspenseful string figures, but here, McCreary gave us a few amazing themes, most important, the one for Elizabeth, which you won’t get out of your head afterwards!
3. GODS OF EGYPT – MARCO BELTRAMI
As had to be expected, one of the most hated films of the year happened to get one of the best soundtracks of the year. Marco Beltrami took the ambitious concept and wrote a big, colossal and epic orchestral score, full of great themes while providing us with the best Egyptian soundscape since Goldsmith’s and Silvestri’s work for the Mummy franchise.
It may take a few spins to really grasp the themes, for they are no “instant earworms”, but their complexity and brilliance are astounding. When the choir comes to show, all doubts will vanish.
2. ABZÛ – AUSTIN WINTORY (Review)
Music doesn’t get much better than this, whether it’s for movies, games or anything else. Austin Wintory followed up my personal favorite of his (and favorite game score in general) “Assassin’s Creed Syndicate” and delivered pure beauty, for ABZÛ is nothing else. The celestial sounds of this album never cease to enchant me.
Just get this one immediately. Please.
1. STRANGER THINGS – KYLE DIXON & MICHAEL STEIN
Well, this is the peak of film scoring! The way the music tells the story, the themes and the… oh dear, I can’t keep it up.
All jokes aside, here’s my No. 1:
1. FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM – JAMES NEWTON HOWARD (Review)
If you know me at all, you knew that this was coming since the day it was announced, that James Newton Howard would compose this film. There is only one flaw in the entire score and that is the underuse of the main theme “A Man And His Beasts”. It’s one of the best themes in recent years and clearly one of the best of Howard’s whole career and it should have cemented itself as the new main identity for the franchise.Aside from that little miscalculation, we have a perfect piece of film music. The themes are beyond countless and each and every one of them is amazing, from the uplifting Newt
Aside from that little miscalculation, we have a perfect piece of film music. The themes are beyond countless and each and every one of them is amazing, from the uplifting Newt theme, to the swashbuckling hero theme or the cheeky Kowalski Rag. The jazz is just the icing on the cake.