Elizabeth’s Top 11 Film Scores of 2015

by Elizabeth Stoddard

I’ve had a lifelong love of movie music, whether wearing out my cassette listening to Patrick Doyle’s inspiring St. Crispin’s Day speech accompaniment in Henry V, discovering Leonard Bernstein’s haunting music for On the Waterfront or still getting chills from Marc Shaiman’s opening theme in The American President. As a kid, I once watched Backdraft on TV expecting to hear James Horner’s music from Glory simply because the misleading network used it in their ads for the firefighter movie (I finally saw Glory a few years later in history class).

I continue to believe [see my 2010 & 2014 picks] that a good score doesn’t distract from the action onscreen, yet melds into your memory of a film. And the best movie scores are able to stand on their own as works of art. With that in mind, here are my notable film scores of 2015:

Honorable mention: The Hateful 8
 I haven’t seen the movie (and most likely won’t, but here’s Jon’s review), so I can’t speak to how the music adds to Tarantino’s film. Still, points to the director for asking celebrated composer Ennio Morricone to score his western. His overture uses a minimalist structure, with the repetitive theme building up, then waning.

11. It Follows
 Obviously influenced by 1980s-era horror film scores, Disasterpiece’s music for this film is highly electronic and totally creeptastic. There’s no doubt it helps set the tone for this scary movie.


10. Mad Max: Fury Road
 The percussive, hard rock score by Tom Holkenborg a.k.a. Junkie XL, ornate with strings and electric guitar, accentuates the continuous forward motion of the story.

9. Creed
 Music is constantly flowing throughout Ryan Coogler’s film. The picture is peppered with songs by hop-hop and rap artists along with Tessa Thompson, whose character in the boxing drama is a singer. Underscoring the action is Ludwig Goransson’s score, which provides Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) with his own theme and alludes to (sometimes straight-out quoting) Bill Conti’s original music from Rocky. Goransson infuses electronic beats, huge horns and even a chorus into his work here.

8. Spotlight
 Howard Shore’s cues provide a quiet, intimate pulse for the investigative journalism narrative. The score is never bombastic, pairing well with the subtle style of Tom McCarthy’s film.

7. Brooklyn
 Michael Brook composes emotive chords reminiscent of traditional Irish music, a perfect fit for this film about a young woman torn between her home country of Ireland and the place she’s made for herself in the US. [my review from AFF]

6. Mr. Holmes
 Besides Ian McKellen’s performance, Carter Burwell’s score (his first of two appearances on this list) is the most striking aspect of this mystery directed by Bill Condon. Burwell incorporates a slow, mournful theme, befitting this glimpse into the life of an aged Sherlock Holmes.

5. Room
 The musical cues by Stephen Rennicks for this intensely emotional drama, the best new release I saw in 2015, depict a childlike wonder. Jack’s view of his world — and then the actual world outside that one — is captured in the thoughtful simplicity of the piano-led melodies.

4. Mustang
 Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s striking directorial debut about a group of rebellious sisters in rural Turkey is punctuated with music by Australian artist Warren Ellis. His compositions add a certain rawness and immediacy to the production.

3. Girlhood
 Rihanna’s “Diamonds” occupies a crucial scene in this French film, and the dream pop by electronic producer Para One provides a perfect accompaniment to this story about a girl growing into herself… bad mistakes and all. Weeks after watching the drama (available to stream on Netflix!) I keep returning to the soundtrack. I can’t hear it enough.

2. Carol
 I was still humming the plaintive main theme from Carter Burwell’s composition for this romance hours after leaving the theatre. That’s the sign of a stellar score. As Therese longs for Carol, unresolved chords seek resolution.

  1. Trumbo
     As soon as I heard the prepared piano in the opening credits of this biopic, I was impressed. Theodore Shapiro’s score mixes in elements of jazz — along with the piano as percussive instrument — to give this film a wholly original sound, which accurately reflects the story’s time period. If only the film itself was as notable…

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