We got some of our writers to put on their headphones and share their picks of the best scores, songs, and composers of the last decade.
Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Arrival (2016)
The Arrival score and its sound design are an indelible aspect of the film’s sensory experience. To me, Arrival is an incredibly immersive film. Denis Villeneuve successfully takes on the challenge to adapt ideas as dry as language determinism and science fiction physics. The sonic loops, sustained pianos and gentle orchestra composed by Jóhann Jóhannsson convey the tenderness and the eerie puzzle that the characters face. The inclusion of Max Richter’s On The Nature of Daylight was the reason for its disqualification from the Oscars, but the piece opens and closes the movie as an anchor and seals the metaphor about time and memory. The heptapod aliens in the film produce unsettling deep vibration-like sounds to communicate. In contrast, the soundtrack is much lighter and almost airy. However, it’s also definitely dream-like but uncanny enough to never be comforting. The combination is in harmony. This score should be one of the best in the decade as it fills the deep visual and auditory blanks in Arrival’s overall design. It howls for the audience’s attention and gently guides them through to the film’s conclusion.
Howard Shore’s Hugo (2011)
Scorsese’s Hugo was one of 2011’s most enchanting films and it’s score was nothing short of a wand in the process. Traversing through the chaos and crowds of Paris’s Gare Montparnasse railway station alongside the film’s protagonist Hugo, can only be truly captured within the trickling and tapping notes of Howard Shore’s score as Hugo sets out on a mission to fix, find and flourish amongst the mechanics of a clock. Shore’s 21 piece collection strings Hugo’s moments of panic, stress and squire perfectly across the film’s emotional pillars of love, anguish and frustration. The consequent emotional complexity of the film’s music allow it to punctuate and make sense of the action within. The transitions between the musical pieces are effortless and offer a firm wink towards the fickle nature of childhood and relationships as Hugo grows within the confines of clockwork magic, discovers friends amongst a rabble of cruelty, and finds footing amongst his family’s history. Where the music’s cadence falls between moments of tension and frivolity, joy and despair, Shore manages to capture it all. It is hardly controversial to suggest that this film would lack character and persuasion without its compassionate and acute score.
As my number one artist on Spotify for the last 4 years (ie. since I started using the music service), it would be unjust for me not to bring a spotlight onto Thomas Newman as one of the outstanding composers of the decade. Having scored everything from the high-stakes action of Skyfall to the nostalgic trip back into the ocean with Finding Dory, it’s impossible to pick just one score to highlight. Newman casts his net wide, taking on a variety of projects in different genres, and yet his iconic delicacy of style is always notable but never to the detriment of the film. His use of repetition, particularly in the percussion section, alongside the varying instruments that are used prove his versatility and make for soundtracks that call to be re-listened to after the credits roll. It is his unique prowess at creating a sense of immersion, however, that makes him stand out to me this decade. You need only listen to ‘…Shells’ from Finding Dory, ‘Amen’ from The Help or ‘Precious Metals’ from Passengers (but just listen to the OST for that, don’t waste your time watching it!) for instant relaxation, as if you were floating peacefully underwater or dancing through the stars.
Hans Zimmer’s Inception (2010)
Christopher Nolan’s Inception was arguably one of the best movies of not just the decade but of all time, and Hans Zimmer’s score played no small part in this feat. More importantly, this score heavily influenced film scores for the entirety of the decade. The loud hits that first became popular with this score became a great influence to action movie scores. But leaving its unquestionable influence aside, Inception‘s score brilliantly captures the tense and mind-opening essence of the movie, regulating the tone and putting the audience on the edge of their seats. The pieces “Mombasa” and especially “Dream Is Collapsing” perfectly capture what Inception is. The score also has to be given credit for doing the theme of dreams justice. However, Zimmer puts his greatest stamp on the movie and the decade at the very end of the movie with the masterful “Time.” I personally don’t have enough adjectives to praise this piece of music. Inception’s score is a masterpiece, legendary in both its influence and incomparable quality.