6. Johnny Jewel – Lost River
Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut was more or less a disaster. Lost River was torn apart by critics who called the film out for being “insufferably conceited.” In many ways, Gosling’s first feature film failed. The pseudo-arthouse stylings and unrewarding dialog made the film hard to sit through despite the aspects that did work. One such aspect that stands out is the film’s fantastic score done primarily by Johnny Jewel with help from other artists.
If the score reminds you of a Nicolas Winding Refn film, don’t be surprised. Jewel has contributed a couple tracks on the soundtracks of both Drive and Bronson. While Jewel wasn’t the primary composer on either film, the few songs he contributed managed to stand out. Specifically, the song “Tick of the Clock” with his band Chromatics was one of the strongest songs to be featured in Drive. After forming a relationship on the set of Drive, Gosling decided that Jewel would be the perfect fit for his motion picture debut.
While the film is far from a narrative masterpiece, its moody atmosphere is undeniable. Jewel’s score immensely strengthens the atmospheric aspects of the film. The ambient, melodic sounds on display perfectly accent Gosling’s fantastical vision. If there’s one thing that works in Lost River, it’s the score.
• Highlights: Tell Me (Feat. Saoirse Ronan), Echoes, Yes
7. Hans Zimmer – Chappie
Another great score in a bad movie. Chappie seriously hurt Neill Blomkamp’s career after it performed poorly at the box office and even worse in terms of reviews. While it isn’t saying much, Hans Zimmer’s moody, energetic score stood out as one the strongest aspects of the mediocre sci-fi film.
Zimmer is one of the only composers that mainstream filmgoers might be able to recognize, and for good reason. His epic music in films like Inception, Gladiator, and The Thin Red Line has earned him praise across the board. He’s earned nine Oscar nominations (including a win for The Lion King), eleven Grammy nominations, twelve Golden Globe nominations, and even an Emmy nod for The Pacific. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that some people consider him somewhat of a legend.
If Chappie wasn’t so poorly received, the score would likely have earned much more attention. The techno beats and heavy bass work wonderfully to set the tone of the film. Stand-outs like the 8-bit inspired “Illest Gangsta on the Block” can easily be enjoyed outside of the film. This is a score that not only works well in the context of the film, but is easy to listen to on Spotify in your free time. It’s epic, catchy, and unpredictable.
• Highlights: The Only Way Out of This, We Own This Sky, Illest Gangsta on the Block
8. Johann Johannsson – Sicario
As a standalone listening experience, Johann Johannsson’s score for Sicario isn’t worth recommending. In the context of the film, however, it’s a completely different beast. After winning the Golden Globe for his melodic The Theory of Everything score, Johannson delivers a completely different experience this time around. In fact, it’s almost hard to believe it’s the same person. This time around, Johannson delivers something brutal and ominous – something completely different from the lighter music found in The Theory of Everything.
Frankly, the score can most easily be described as “stressful.” If you’ve seen the film however, you’ve probably gathered the fact that the term “stressful” is a compliment. Sicario is a nerve-racking movie, after all. It’s tense, raw, and grisly. The soundtrack perfectly accompanies the dark subject matter and it does so with style.
While the songs on the OST certainly won’t be at the top of your “most played” list on iTunes, they don’t need to be. While it’s great if a score can be listened to outside of a movie, it’s hardly a necessity. Sicario’s score is so powerful because it fits the mood of the movie down to a t. Without Johannsson’s beautiful score, Sicario would feel empty.
• Highlights: The Beast, Desert Music, Night Vision
9. Daniel Pemberton – Steve Jobs
What makes Daniel Pemberton’s score for Steve Jobs so special is the fact that it follows the same structure as the movie. The score, like the film, is essentially broken into three distinct parts. Pemberton sought to make the music match the moods, themes, and time periods found in the three sections.
When the film opens in 1984, Pemberton went synthesizer crazy in an attempt to match the period on display. During the second act, he chose to compose a sort of opera in an attempt to hone in on the theme of revenge and betrayal. The final act of the film is cooler and more relaxed, similar to The Social Network’s score.
This was an interesting experiment for sure, but it was also something that wouldn’t work in the wrong hands. Luckily, Pemberton’s diverse score is consistently impressive. All three acts stand out in their own specific way. It almost feels as if the three parts are composed by different people. That’s what makes it even more impressive. Pemberton proves his flexibility be creating a score that hits all the right notes in a variety of ways.
• Highlights: Change the World, The Skylab Plan, 1998. The New Mac.
10. James Horner – The 33
“Buried Alive” is enough reason to recommend listening to James Horner’s score for The 33. That song is more epic than the movie itself. Luckily, just about every track of James Horner’s score is excellent from start to finish. Intense, emotional, and ambitious are all words that come to mind during a first listen. While the movie can best be described as “perfectly adequate,” the score is on a completely different level.
Though not the last score James Horner recorded, it is the last to be featured in a newly released film. The late composer’s score is honestly the strongest aspect of the film. While The 33 isn’t inherently bad by any means, the breathtaking score is something that would stand out in any film. Horner’s career has spanned several decades. He has always been able to deliver varied, powerful film scores. The music found in The 33 helps verify his status as a composing legend.
• Highlights: To the Heart of the Mountain, Buried Alive, Celebrations
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.