Best Music | The Best of 2015

It’s unfathomable to look back on film history and to imagine its greatest moments play out without their soundtracks. From Lawrence of Arabia to Jaws, a movie can be as identifiable by its musical themes as by its imagery, and the two together work in a way more mysterious and magical than either element would on its own. 2015 was an unprecedented year for music, with lifetime greats putting forth incredibly potent late-career works and newcomers defining their own sounds right as they defined their film’s.

It's unfathomable to look back on film history and to imagine its greatest moments play out without their soundtracks. From Lawrence of Arabia to Jaws, a movie can be as identifiable by its musical themes as by its imagery, and the two together work in a way more mysterious and magical than either element would on its own. 2015 was an unprecedented year for music, with lifetime greats putting forth incredibly potent late-career works and newcomers defining their own sounds right as they defined their film's.


10. Ludwig Goransson
Creed

"The first piece of music I wrote was the final fight cues because that was the first scene they cut. I didn’t have any other scenes from the movie. I scored that whole 30-minute fight scene with ambient soundscapes. The only music I had was the old Rocky musical cue when Creed stands up and is like, 'I’m gonna go knock that son of a bitch down.'"
I’m told that if you just run in a sweat suit while listening to this score, then you become buff. You don’t even need to touch the weights. Or get the living hell beat out of you. – Brian Urrutia

9. Michael Brook
Brooklyn

"I think maybe one of the most universal aspects of the film that people can identify with is that in the modern world so many of us are immigrants. It seems to be a huge part of contemporary life. And although we achieve greater self-realization, perhaps we also pay a price for that as we are separated from our families and I think there’s a fundamental human need to be around family and community. Perhaps a great deal of contemporary angst comes from that separation that goes against our human nature."
Michael Brook's score works so well for the traditional Irish elements that blend with new ideas and instrumentation, often reflecting the tearing apart and rebuilding of Eilis's identity from that of a homesick Irish immigrant to what could truly be called an American. – Jeff Pearson

8. Michael Giacchino
Jurassic World

"I was instantly sort of terrified and was questioning my sanity for even saying yes to it, but my excitement for working with [director Colin Trevorrow] and working on a Jurassic movie after so many years sort of overtook that [fear] and got the better of me."
Michael Giacchino is at the top of his game. He created two of the best scores of the year with Inside Out and Jurassic World. He probably holds such a special place in my heart because he reminds me so much of John Williams. He is seen here in Jurassic World doing his best John Williams impression and he nails it. He doesn’t create much new stuff that I enjoy but his variation on Williams’ old themes are nostalgia-inducing and wonderful. It makes me badly want to see what he could do with a Star Wars score (that is if John Williams is not composing them). Giacchino’s score is the best part of this underrated Jurassic World movie. – Anders Oster

7. Johann Johannsson
Sicario

"It’s a very intense film and has this relentless intensity to it. That was something that I felt the music needed to emphasize and support. So, the idea of using percussion and rhythmical elements came very early on. But then, there was also the sense of feeling the loneliness of the desert and this kind of sadness of the border areas and the melancholy of the border."
Johann Johannsson's score is the perfect accompinment to a film as visceral and tense as Sicario. Colored by dark orchestral swells, the score maximizes its minimalism and gives backdrop to the dark and twisted drug trafficking underworld between American and Mexico, closely resembling the tunnel in which one the film's tensest moments occurs. Johannsson, the man so nice they named him twice, proves that much can be done with only a little, as long as the little is completely terrifying. – JP

6. Ryuichi Sakamoto, Alva Moto, and Bryce Dessner
The Revenant

"And I, actually, about one piece of music in the middle of the film, we had a serious argument. I literally wrote an email to him, you know, 'Trust me, trust me, my music is better than this temp music. Let me record it with real musicians, you'll hear it.' And I won."
The Revenant was one of the best movies of the year and I think it has 30 minutes of total dialogue. Rather than dialogue, this is a story told by music and images and dirty beards. – BU

5. Ennio Morricone
The Hateful Eight

"Tarantino considers this film a Western; for me, this is not a Western. I wanted to do something that was totally different from any Western music I had composed in the past."
Sitting in the theater for the 70mm Roadshow of The Hateful Eight when the lights went out, no trailers played, but a black screen was serenaded by Ennio Morricone's amazing music is one of the greatest movie moments one could experience in 2015. While his score is cobbled together from The Thing outtakes and new material, the dark, two-note motif gives the film its terrifying pulse throughout and matches the chaotically close quarters of Minnie's Haberdashery. – JP

4. Rich Vreeland
It Follows

"And [It Follows] was also a horror film that I felt like had a heart. It wasn't just arbitrarily dark and twisted. I want the things I work on to have a heart, so I was attracted to that."
One of the most striking features of David Robert Mitchell's film It Follows, the aspect that brings so much of the felt terror when watching, is composer Rich Vreeland's (Disasterpeace's) score. Every moment's intensity is brought to near unbearable levels thanks to his sonic assualt of synthesizers, making the entire thing feel like a crisper, modernized Halloween. In fact, this modernization is among the most affecting aspects of Vreeland's score; like the film itself, it's the dizzying confusion of eras in his music that makes the whole aural experience feel so displaced and haunting. The moment that "Title" plays as Mitchell shows the exterior of the Detroit high school pool is one that promises the terrifying climax that ensues in a way that no other music could. – JP

3. Michael Giacchino
Inside Out

"It’s when you’re dealing with emotional situations for me, I tend to believe less is more. The simplest thing you can do is just be simple and it’s always the hardest thing to do as well because the tendency is, for an emotional moment, is to pour on more and more and more but I learned over the years that it’s actually the opposite. It’s much like when you’re talking to a friend who just went through some sort of trauma, you’re not going to yell at them, you’re going to be as quiet and as supportive and just be there with them, and that’s how I like the music to be there in those moments, it’s almost as if a friend is there being with the character."
Michael Giacchino’s score for Inside Out evokes more emotions than its prepubescent protagonist. – Jarryd Baxter

2. Daniel Pemberton
Steve Jobs

"There was such a belief in technology during this time that it felt like the future was arriving. I wanted to reflect that in the music. I wanted to use equipment from 1984, so I used old synthesizers. I wanted to work on this section in a way people would’ve worked on music in 1984. Composers had massive limitations we don’t have now. They used to have synthesizers that went out of tune because the heating was on. You had to play everything by hand and if you had a bad take, you’d have to do it again. With computers these days, we’re not used to that. That forced me to work differently for the first act. Those kinds of limitations can be very effective."
Daniel Pemberton’s score is subtle, inspiring, and the perfect accompaniment to Sorkin’s writing. He’s the best musician in his row for Danny Boyle’s humming orchestra of a movie. – JB

1. John Williams
Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens

"I felt that he had made [the film] consistently and organically related to George Lucas’ incredibly original vision. At the same time, I felt a renewed energy, and a vitality, and a freshness that did not estrange any of the characters or material from the texture and fabric of Lucas’ creation — but revivified it."
What can I say? John Williams is an actual Jedi. He has more to do with the success of the Star Wars franchise and the feel of the force than George Lucas himself. Perhaps this is an overstatement. But the fact that there’s a chance that it’s not is a testament to the genius of John Williams. He gathered his 50th Oscar nomination with The Force Awakens score. While I don’t think this is his best score of the franchise or even the best score of the year, it is my favorite score of the year and one that is worth several listens. He creates some really beautiful and powerful new themes, such as "Rey’s Theme," "The Starkiller," and "Kylo Ren’s Arrival theme," while also expounding upon some of his old themes. The scene where Rey grabs the lightsaber from Kylo Ren at the end of the movie hit me in the feels harder than any other cinematic moment this year, and it was thanks to a classic Star Wars theme that Williams employs perfectly. Also, during the final scene of the movie where Rey travels to Luke’s hidden island and confronts him, not a single word is spoken. The entire scene is spoken for eloquently by John Williams’ seamless score and leaves you on a high note wanting more. – AO
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