The 10 best film and TV scores of 2017
From Stranger Things 2 to Good Time.
2017 was a year that sent tremors through Hollywood, the debacle at this February’s Oscars foreshadowing even greater debacles to come as the year unfurled. From the revelations about Harvey Weinstein to Disney’s purchase of Fox all the way to some very big budget box office flops, it was a year full of upheaval and upset for Tinseltown.
But while American cinema was spinning chaotically into farce, things were going swimmingly in the world of TV and movie music. Whether electronic, acoustic or somewhere in between, these shows and films’ scores sent terrified chills down our spines, reduced us to tears and amplified the narratives they accompanied to new levels of emotion, pushing the boundaries of what a soundtrack can do.
Picking a top 10 wasn’t easy: 2017 was such a good year for OSTs, in fact, our most anticipated score of 2017, Blade Runner 2049, failed to make the cut. Here are the best of the best from an incredible, unpredictable year for scores on both the big and small screen.
Channel Zero: No-End House
Jeff Russo is primarily known for his grave orchestral compositions for TV shows like Fargo and The Night Of… and the adventure game What Remains of Edith Finch, one of our favorite soundtracks of the year. In the spring, we heard Russo modify his signature sound with something a little bit more experimental on MCU drama Legion. He then went full oddball throttle for the underrated Syfy Network gem Channel Zero: No-End House, a horror anthology series based on different creepypastas. While No-End House is disturbing in its own right, Russo’s work amplifies the way the show tinkers with reality. CL
Dawson City: Frozen Time
Found-footage documentarian Bill Morrison delivered the best work of his long career with Dawson City: Frozen Time, which compiles 533 previously lost silent films whose reels were buried for 50 years in the faded gold rush town of Dawson, Alaska. One of the great visual journeys of the year, the film was lifted to even greater heights by a sublime score from Alex Somers, best known for his studio wizardry with Sigur Ros and Julianna Barwick. His OST offered the best elements of post-rock, but mostly recalled the endlessly decaying majesty of William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops. Paired with crumbling film reels of dead actors, Somers’ soulful and cathartic melodies elevated this century-spanning tribute to cinema to a near religious experience. MB
Movie-making logic has traditionally dictated that WWII took place in a time before electronic instruments, so scores for films centred on events from that gristly time must be orchestra-driven. Try telling that to Hans Zimmer however, whose nail-biting soundtrack to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk was made up of menacing analog drones, over which strings stab, clocks tick and an ominous sense of dread builds. The film – about the British army’s race-against-time escape from advancing German forces – was given a sense of urgency by a constant ticking sound that continues throughout the movie. Zimmer’s OST neatly interacts with that sound, until the tension is near unbearable. AH
Oneohtrix Point Never
The protagonist of Josh and Benny Safdie’s psychedelic noir Good Time is an emotionally unreliable sociopath, even when he’s not fucked up on every drug he can find. Which makes it even more impressive that Daniel Lopatin’s brilliant score managed to make you relate to him, conveying all the hurt, failure, fear, shame, love and anxiety its anti-hero is incapable of processing. Drawing from landmark Oneohtrix Point Never albums including Rifts, Replica and last year’s Garden Of Delete, Lopatin’s soundtrack offers something new, exciting and unlike anything you’ll encounter in a film score this year. MB
It Comes At Night
Composing for a psychological horror built on fear and dread instead of the classic monsters and gore, Brian McOmber’s score for It Comes At Night embodied the bleak atmosphere of that film with an intensely claustrophobic score, accompanying every narrative twist and turn with taut compositional precision. For the former Dirty Projectors member, who has only recently branched out into the world of film, this meant bringing breathy synths, nails-across-a-chalkboard strings and urgent bass drums to the post-apocalyptic vista, as the audience are left to wonder exactly what is out there in the woods. ACW
Stranger Things 2
Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein
While the overall music direction of Netflix’s eagerly-awaited Stranger Things 2 could be criticized for over-egging – or should that be over-Eggo-ing? – the show’s ’80s vibe, the actual score by S U R V I V E pair Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein was perfect, delivering more of the same analog excellence that made S1 so unique. Alright, so nothing felt as singular and arresting as their ‘Kids’ cue from their first visit to Hawkins, but the likes of the epic ‘Soldier’ captured the ambition and scale of S2 expertly. AH
The Blackcoat’s Daughter
Elvis Perkins is best known for his XL indie-folk band Elvis Perkins in Dearland, but he kicked off 2017 with some of the most sinister music of his career. His score for the haunting The Blackcoat’s Daughter boasts an array of minimalist horror modes made even more distinct by muscular but muted performances by stars Kiernan Shipka and Emma Roberts. It’s also proof that sometimes being spooky runs in the family: Elvis is, of course, son of Psycho star Anthony Perkins. CL
The Shape of Water
Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat, whose previous credits include The Grand Budapest Hotel, The King’s Speech and more, collaborated with American opera singer Renée Fleming on his score for Guillermo del Toro’s aquatic fantasy drama, The Shape of Water. Awash with romance and fairytale magic, Desplat’s score takes on a vibrant life of own in del Toro’s tale about a mute janitor and her amphibious humanoid lover, while his light and bubbly compositions draw you into its watery world and keep you there. ACW
Twin Peaks: The Return
Like the show itself, the music of Twin Peaks: The Return confounded anyone who expected a nostalgic retread of the original series. Angelo Badalamenti’s memorable themes returned alongside with new compositions like ‘Heartbreaking’ and ‘Dark Space Low’, but these were joined by a much darker collection of ambient tracks from Dean Hurley and music from Johnny Jewel, whose ‘Windswept’ soundtracks one of the series’ most touching scenes. The resulting mix of schmaltz and pitch-black dread was a fitting accompaniment to one of the year’s most gut-wrenching and disturbing pieces of television. SW
Hilarious and dark, Danny McBride and Jody Hill’s Vice Principals was the other great 18-episode TV movie of the year. Eastbound & Down composer Joseph Stevens’ synthesizer-heavy score for the show amplified the show’s every surprise turn perfectly, reaching a John Carpenter-inspired climax as the show delved into horror in its epic final chapter. McBride and Hill turn their attention next to a new Halloween and Carpenter is returning to write the score for that, as he should. Had he not been available, Stevens’ Vice Principals suggests he’d have been a more than capable stand-in. MB