The 10 Best Film Scores of 2017

5. Michael Abels – Get Out

It’s really easy to praise just about every aspect of Get Out. From the inspired screenplay to the thought-provoking themes, the film is undoubtedly one of 2017’s crowning cinematic achievements. Those who have grown tired of the Get Out praise will unfortunately have to endure it again with its inclusion in this article. Frankly, it would be unfair to ignore the haunting and mesmerizing score composed by Michael Abels. Like the rest of the movie, it’s equally arresting and unique.

As a standalone listening experience, the soundtrack is hit or miss. Due how short the cues tend to be, it’s hard to justify listening to the entire album outside of the film. Tracks like Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga and Hypnosis are able to stand own their own, but the abundance of cues under a minute long often exist to set up specific scares within the movie. In other words, they don’t necessarily work by themselves. However, with 43 tracks to choose from, listeners are bound to find a several cues worth listening to on a rainy day.

The high placement on this list instead results from how well the cues work alongside the movie. Get Out isn’t exactly a terrifying movie, but the music definitely helps make the average viewer’s skin crawl. Certain scenes simply wouldn’t be the same without the music Abels contributes. The cues may be alarmingly short, but it’s hardly noticeable when the movie is able to draw viewers in the way it does. Horror movie scores don’t get much better than this.

Highlights: Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga (Main Title), The Sunken Place, Surgery Prep


4. Alexandre Desplat – The Shape of Water

Looking for the Best Original Score frontrunner? Look no further. Alexandre Desplat is the one to beat this year, and for good reason. Desplat, who already has an Academy Award win under his belt for The Grand Budapest Hotel, is something of a composing guru with ten Academy Award nominations under his belt as well as several BAFTA, Golden Globe, and Grammy nominations. In other words, Desplat knows a thing or two about making music. With all of this experience, it may be surprising to hear that his work in The Shape of Water ranks among his very best.

It’s a tough call whether or not it tops his work in The Grand Budapest Hotel or Rust and Bone, but it’s certainly one of several career highlights. The childlike cues pair perfectly with the film’s fantastical elements. Since Del Toro’s aim was to create something of a sci-fi fairy tale, it’s only appropriate that the music can convey that. The tracks are generally light and whimsical in a way that transports viewers into Del Toro’s stunning cinematic fairy tale.

However, The Shape of Water isn’t completely whimsical in tone which means that Desplat needs to make some tonal shifts in order to bring the darker elements to life. The lighter cues would feel out of place during scenes where Michael Shannon is chasing after the protagonist with a gun. Tracks like Egg and This Isn’t Good appropriately match up with the more downbeat mood of certain scenes. These songs are able to pull viewers out of the pleasant fairytale environment created by other cues. Desplat’s ability to keep up with tonal shifts means that the score offers a necessary balance.

So yes, it’s wonderful that the music matches with the tone, but it’s easy to appreciate in other ways. Above all, the composer creates music that’s a joy to listen to. The 26 songs all manage to be memorable in one way or another. Because of these factors, don’t be surprised if Desplat picks up his second Academy Award this March.

Highlights: The Shape of Water, Elisa’s Theme, The Silence of Love


3. Daniel Hart – A Ghost Story

How can a movie so light on actual plot break your heart? To say that David Lowery’s low-budget supernatural drama features a bare-bones narrative would be an understatement, but it somehow manages to offer up poignant and engrossing ruminations about loss regardless.

There are long stretches of time where not a single line of dialogue is spoken, so how is the audience supposed to pick up on the more prominent themes? Lowery tells his story not through lengthy conversations but through a combination of strong imagery and powerful music composed by Daniel Hart

Although the notorious pie scene lacks a single second of music, every other scene that’s light on dialogue benefits from Hart’s melancholy cues. The Secret in the Wall, for example, conveys the protagonist’s grief in a way that dialogue simply couldn’t. Paired with the beautiful visuals, Hart’s music is able to tell Lowery’s story in its own special way. There are few films that rely on music as much as this one. The score is so easy to shower with praise because the cues are an integral part of the storytelling process.

It’s so prominent that it’s likely to stick with the viewer long after the credits roll. It’s the type of music that will have people rushing to their computers or phones to hear it again. Even by itself, the music is able to tell a story. That’s the mark of a phenomenal score.

Highlights: Little Notes, Post Pie, The Secret in the Wall


2. Jonny Greenwood – Phantom Thread

Thank goodness Paul Thomas Anderson and company reached out to Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood back in 2007. Every collaboration between the two auteurs has been downright enchanting.

Anderson has always understood that music is more than just background noise when it comes to cinema. The sound of a screeching violin creates a different scene compared to the melodious tapping of piano keys. Anderson is aware that he needs a composer who knows a thing or two about musical worldbuilding, and Greenwood has consistently been that composer.

Simplicity is not on Jonny Greenwood’s agenda. The 60-piece orchestra composes dense music that assaults the senses. Each cue has countless layers piled onto it which inevitably results in a score that’s anything but restrained. This is ambitious stuff, which means that it’s hard to enjoy passively.

Within the context of the film, Greenwood’s thunderous score makes every scene feel urgent. It’s nearly impossible to ignore a cue like Phantom Thread III because it booms with intensity. These songs work outside of the film as well, but only if the listener sets aside time to soak everything in. This isn’t background noise to put on during a relaxing reading session.

The score’s epic scale seems to have hit all the right notes for awards season voters. Fourth time’s the charm for Jonny Greenwood because he finally picked up an Oscar nomination this year. Although many people considered his There Will Be Blood score to be an Oscar frontrunner, it was unfortunately ruled ineligible due to the use of existing music.

Now, a decade later, he’s getting his chance at redemption. Competition may be stiff, but even if he doesn’t win, he can still claim he has one more Oscar nomination than Thom Yorke. That has to count for something.

Highlights: The Hem, Phantom Thread III, House of Woodcock


1. Oneohtrix Point Never – Good Time

The soundtrack for Good Time got about as much positive buzz as the movie itself. It’s rare for movie scores to get reviews outside of Pitchfork and websites specifically dedicated to reviewing movie scores, but the Good Time OST currently has fifteen glowing reviews on Metacritic. That’s because Oneohtrix Point Never has put together something really special with his score. Part Cliff Martinez, part Clint Mansell, and part Jóhann Jóhannsson, the score successfully borrows from similar composers while also sprinkling in plenty of new ideas.

Actually, it’s kind of unfair to compare the movie’s score to anything. While there’s obviously inspiration taken from other movies, this score is wholly original. The ambient sounds, heavy synth, and buzzing electric guitars may bring to mind other composers, but this is still the product of one very creative musician. This tension-ratcheting music hits listeners over the head with undeniable ferocity. It’s simply invigorating.

Perhaps the abundant number of reviews results from the fact that it’s so easy to listen to by itself. The soundtrack for Good Time doesn’t necessarily feel like a movie score. Sure, it pairs perfectly with the movie, but it’s equally enjoyable as an experimental electronic album. The title track in particular is catchy enough to be listened to on repeat.

If there’s a problem with the music in this movie, this author hasn’t found it. Oneohtrix Point Never composed a soundtrack with staying power. It wouldn’t be all that surprising to hear about it again years down the road. It’s just that good. This guy may be relatively new to the composing world, but his future is bright.

Highlights: Good Time, Flashback, The Acid Hits

Author Bio: Justin is a paraprofessional teaching assistant and full-time film enthusiast with a degree in English. When he’s not writing about films, he’s probably watching them in his spare time.