What makes a great film score? A score should capture the essence of the scene and elevate the mood of the moment. It should mirror that what we can see with our eyes. When I think of great scores over the years I think of movies like Jurassic Park (1993) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), both of which have scores composed by John Williams. Also, the numerous Star Wars scores by Williams. With these examples is another important point, marriage between characters and music. Try imagining Darth Vader without the imperial march, Indiana Jones without his iconic theme or, maybe above all, the first time we see the Brachiosaurus in Jurassic Park. So, with that said, let’s reflect on some beautiful scores from more recently. Here are the 10 best film scores of the 2010s.
10. Carol – Carter Burwell
Carol (2015) is a film full of emotion and therefore the emotive drama on screen needs to be matched in the music, Carter Burwell achieves just that. Burwell, who also provided the score for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) and Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017) was nominated at the Oscars for Best Original Score but unfortunately didn’t win. Carol is extremely touching and the music elevates Todd Haynes’s drama even more.
9. Arrival – Jóhann Jóhannsson
Jóhann Jóhannsson has an incredible back catalogue, from The Theory of Everything (2015) to Mandy (2018) and his many team ups with director Denis Villeneuve, Arrival (2016) being one of those. Arrival has the perfect sci-fi score, it exacerbates the uneasy nature of dealing with an alien invasion and builds tension consistently throughout. Unfortunately Jóhannsson is no longer with us after his untimely death in 2018 but his legacy will live on.
8. Dunkirk – Hans Zimmer
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said about Hans Zimmer? He is the most famous composer of his generation, yet again striking gold with Dunkirk (2017). Nolan’s second world war tale invokes feelings of despair and hopelessness, forever feeling like a battle against time. This is very much to do with Zimmer’s masterful score which keeps you on the edge of your seat.
7. Her – Arcade Fire
Next on the list is quite the anomaly. The Canadian indie band Arcade Fire composed the score for Her (2013) and it was an instant success. This score is so calming, perfect for the pace and overall feel of the movie. The only problem is that the soundtrack hasn’t been released in digital or physical form yet, seven years later people are still begging Warner. Bros to release it.
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel – Alexandre Desplat
It must be pretty difficult to keep up with Wes Anderson on the surrealist scale. Alexandre Desplat’s score for The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) matches the crazy nature of the film stride for stride, with the particular stand out piece being ‘Mr. Moustafa’ which will get stuck in your head in no time. Desplat also provided a beautiful score for Little Women (2019) last year.
5. Joker – Hildur Guðnadóttir
Hildur Guðnadóttir is on fire right now. Prior to her oscar winning Joker (2019) score, she also provided the music for the hit TV mini-series Chernobyl (2019) which is equally as spine tingling. Of the two best songs, ‘Call Me Joker’ and ‘Bathroom Dance’, the latter changed an entire scene in the movie. Originally Arthur simply walked into the bathroom and disposed of his gun. However, after hearing the music on set, Joaquin Phoenix decided upon the interpretive dance sequence which has gone on to be the most iconic moment in the film, all due to the exceptional score of Guðnadóttir.
4. A Ghost Story – Daniel Hart
As we have all now come to expect from A24, A Ghost Story (2017) is a haunting film that looks amazing, and of course, has a graceful score. The movie has very little dialogue so the emotional punches mostly come from the music’s storytelling. There is one piece of diegetic music in the movie which is ‘I Get Overwhelmed’ by Dark Rooms. Alongside Hart’s instrumentals this song fits perfectly with the tone, pulling right on those heart strings. If you haven’t seen A Ghost Story, I strongly urge you to give it a chance.
3. Moonlight – Nicholas Britell
Another A24 film, Moonlight (2016) which pulls at those heart strings just as hard. I could copy and paste the comments above on A Ghost Story and they wouldn’t look out of place, the score brings this movie to life. A perfect combination is always great cinematography and heartfelt music, Nicholas Britell supplies just that in this superb Oscar winner. Thank heavens for the violin.
2. The Social Network – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
In second place, similar to what Guðnadóttir does for Joker, Reznor and Ross’s score highlights the psychotic behaviour of the main protagonist. The ominous backdrop for the film supplies a feeling of dread throughout and never really lets up, particularly in a piece such as ‘3:14 Every Night’. The soundtrack won both the Golden Globe and the Oscar for Best Original Score.
1. Inception – Hans Zimmer
At number one, it’s the king on this list for a second time, Hans Zimmer. Fresh off of working with Christopher Nolan on The Dark Knight (2008), which is one of my favourite scores of all time, came a masterpiece. The score for Inception (2010) is one of the greatest ever, not just of the decade. The fast paced action and suspenseful dream sequences are expanded on immensely with everything turned up to 11. ‘Dream Is Collapsing’, ‘Dream Within a Dream’ and ‘Time’ are the main songs but in all honestly, the whole album is worth repeat listens. If you never usually listen to film soundtracks, do yourself a big favour, listen to this one.