Here are my picks for the best scores of 2014.
UNDER THE SKIN
For the year's boldest film, first time film composer Mica Levi crafted the year's boldest score. It's a terrifying, sometimes atonal, yet strangely beautiful collection of sounds and textures that works its way under your skin and sets your teeth on edge. A perfectly singular accompaniment to Jonathan Glazer's masterful film about an alien disguised a human preying on lonely humans.
For a film with such a radical blend of live action and animation, Max Richter lends the film a deep sense of humanity even in its most abstract moments. In a world where everything is a fabrication, Richter deftly reminds us what's real. It's the most moving score of the year.
Hans Zimmer's name has become synonymous with a certain kind of big, epic score. So his minimalistic approach to Christopher Nolan's Interstellar is a refreshing change of pace. Sure it gets loud, but Zimmer's use of Philip Glass inspired rhythms and an old fashioned organ bring this giant space epic home.
HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2
John Powell actually improves upon his Oscar nominated score for the original How To Train Your Dragon with this lushly thematic sequel, featuring some of the year's best choral writing. In a world of generic scores for kids movies, Powell's bewitching Dragon scores stand head and shoulders above the rest.
For Tommy Lee Jones' feminist reworking of Western mythology, Marco Beltrami delivers a harsh yet tenderly beautiful score that perfectly captures the understated longing and tragedy that courses through the film.
THE TALE OF PRINCESS KAGUYA
Hisaishi's scores for Studio Ghibli films are a treasure, and his score to The Tale of Princess Kaguya is no exception. Who but Hisaishi could make such cheerful music sound so achingly sad? It's a deeply impressive achievement.
THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING
Johann Johannson managed to beat Alexandre Desplat at his own game, stepping away from the minimalism that has defined much of his cinematic output up to this point (see his excellent work for The Miners' Hymns and Prisoners), for a lovely, classically inspired score that gives The Theory of Everything its heart. Even when the film steps into generic biopic territory, Johannson consistently elevates it.
THE MONUMENTS MEN
Speaking of Desplat, the man had a stellar year with scores for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Godzilla, The Imitation Game, and Unbroken. But my favorite Desplat score this year was for George Clooney's severely underappreciated WWII dramedy, The Monuments Men. Channeling the Americana optimism of John Williams, Desplat delivers a jaunty, infectious score that feels like something out of another era.
(Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross)
The creative collaboration between director David Fincher and composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross continues to yield some of the most fascinating and groundbreaking music coming out of Hollywood. For Gone Girl, Reznor and Ross deliver their most melodic, yet most unsettling, work yet, highlighting the rot beneath the veneer of a seemingly perfect marriage.
2014 was a great year to be a teenager on film. Gia Coppola's Palo Alto is a haunting look at high school life, as well as the sometimes devastating emotional and psychological damage those years can bring. Devonte Hynes' ambient score, along with the many original songs composed for the film, capture that fleeting innocence tinged with melancholy that so define the emotional tumult of being a teenager.
FURY (Steven Price), THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (Howard Shore), MALEFICENT (James Newton Howard), THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (Alexandre Desplat), THE IMITATION GAME (Alexandre Desplat), NOAH (Clint Mansell), A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (Joel McNeely), BIRDMAN (Antonio Sanchez), RAGNAROK (Magnus Beite)