The 25 Best Film Scores of the Decade

Hear, hear! We assembled the best of the best original soundtracks from 2010 to 2019.

Best Film Scores of the Decade

9. Oneohtrix Point Never, Good Time

Good Time

Rhythmic, pulsating, and completely anxiety-inducing, Daniel Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never‘s synth score is the perfect accompaniment for this hypnotic, New York neo(n)-noir. The electronic tracks are alluring and enticing, drawing us further into Good Time‘s nightmare odyssey. The music has a frenzied atmosphere that perfectly matches the manic energy of the film’s protagonist, Connie (Robert Pattinson). At certain moments, the synth rhythms take on an ethereal quality, as if suspended outside of time and space, particularly in “Connie.” The rumbling music resonates and shakes deeply, with an assaultive element that would be unbearable were it not magical. (Anna Swanson)


8. Jimmy LaValle, Spring

Spring

Jimmy LaValle is perhaps best known as the main member of The Album Leaf, but he’s a multi-talented genius whose musical output extends to film scores as well. Like LaValle’s main project, his score for Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Spring combines tranquil beauty with a droning sense of melancholy, which makes for a listening experience that’s both relaxing and haunting. Much like the film itself, LaValle’s score finds beauty in darkness, and the track “Louise” is one of the most perfect pieces of music ever recorded. (Kieran Fisher)


7. Dario Marianelli, Paddington 2

Paddington

Exciting, charming, and deeply resonant, Dario Marianelli‘s Paddington 2 score perfectly captures the spirit of the film and its eponymous bear. Each note feels teeming with heart, sincerity, and a joie de vivre. From the most delicate of percussion beats of “The Pop-Up Book” to the enchanting “Madame Kozlova’s Story,” the score has a liveliness that is infectious. Not to mention that we can replace the Turing test with a check to see if someone tears up listening to “Happy Birthday Aunt Lucy.” The best scores are the ones that perfectly accompany the films they’re in and inspire you to keep listening. Of all the scores on this list, this is the one that brings the most delight when listening to the music on its own. As Paddington’s philosophy goes, if you’re kind and polite the world will be right. The score’s palpable heart and its vivacious spirit is a small way to carry that do-good attitude with you; it’s the musical equivalent of sunshine on a cloudy day. (Anna Swanson)


6. Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could Talk Cover

The music composed by Nicholas Britell for If Beale Street Could Talk is the most whole expression of what it is to feel bittersweet. The score is classically melodic and tender, and it has an open-hearted quality. It ties the love story and the story of racist, systemic violence into one indescribable feeling that may as well be played on heartstrings. The music wells up your eyes for you, and each note seems to resonate on a slightly different strain of emotion. Britell titled certain tracks on the album after different Greek words for specific kinds of love, such as Eros, Agape, and Philia. The score evokes exactly what happens onscreen, a symphony of these forms of love. Gently, Britell’s score infuses a warmth into each frame that feels impossible under the circumstances. (Margaret Pereira)


5. Hans Zimmer, Dunkirk

Dunkirk

Fun fact: choosing Dunkirk was contentious. My trusted advisors (Meg and Ciara) each made compelling cases for Interstellar to take its place, and if this list were a top 30, Interstellar would be here. But it isn’t, so it isn’t. With only so many spots on this list, my preference is to highlight that Dunkirk isn’t only a riveting score, it also builds on the collaborative efforts between Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer while bringing something new to the table. It takes the nerve-wracking clock ticking effect that was present in Interstellar and dials it up to 11, capturing the war drama’s singular obsession with time. It’s also worth noting that it’s thunderous and immersive in similar ways to the highly-influential Inception score, but here it takes over the soundscape in a manner that sneaks up on you. The score is an intimidating and unpredictable presence, an analogous representation of war-time paranoia. Dunkirk‘s score is the film’s unsung hero, it’s the key that unlocks Nolan’s magnum opus, and it’s a wonder to behold.


4. Carter Burwell, Carol

Carol

Carter Burwell is one of the greatest composers of our time, and his enchanting and spellbinding score for Todd Haynes’ romantic masterwork beautifully showcases his talents. The melodies are at once powerfully resonant and delicate, like the fragile passion of a first love. Burwell pulls inspiration for the 1950s setting but imbues his work with a personal style and a feeling of timelessness. The score is masterfully bittersweet, with piano notes that especially pull at the heartstrings and envelop you into the film’s world. Burwell lingers on his melodies, allowing them to ruminate and repeat, perfectly capturing the feeling of a desire that is forcefully stifled but remarkably powerful. The score is one that lingers with impressions of hope and melancholy in equal measure, a sentiment that impeccably matches Haynes’ film. (Anna Swanson)


3. Mica Levi, Under The Skin

Under The Skin

The only way to accompany a film like Under The Skin is to have an overwhelming, otherworldly score and Mica Levi more than delivered with her first — her fucking first! — composition. While the film is a meditative, slow-burn sensory experience, there’s never a dull moment thanks to Levi’s rhythmic and haunting melodies. The score masterfully builds tension and fills the soundtrack in this film that goes for long stretches without dialogue. The score reaches its most powerful peaks when capturing the transfixing and frightful qualities of a void that Scarlett Johansson’s unnamed alien protagonist lures men to. The strings come in hard and reverberate as if burrowing into your very marrow. Levi’s work here is utterly unforgettable; after all, this wouldn’t be a fitting score if it didn’t get under your skin. (Anna Swanson)


2. Jonny Greenwood, Phantom Thread

Phantom Thread

Is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread the most romantic film ever made? There are many points to be made in the affirmative: the lush setting of the haute couture world of 1950s London, the deliciously twisted relationship between the deceptively naive Alma and the eccentric Reynolds, the care and sentiment that Reynolds puts into making each delicately crafted dress, the crackling fires and carefully prepared meals. But perhaps most importantly, there is Jonny Greenwood’s score. Take a second to think about this question while listening to it, from “House of Woodcock,” to “Alma,” to “Never Cursed,” and let their swelling strings and investment in sincere sweetness and warmth lead you to the correct answer (which, of course, is yes– though, not without an exciting edge). The result of a decades-long collaboration between director and composer — Greenwood has scored every Anderson film since There Will Be Blood in 2007 — the music of Phantom Thread feels like a truly rare and special gem; you can listen to it endlessly and it will never not make you feel the way you felt the first time you entered this world. (Madison Brek)


1. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network

The Social Network

There isn’t a note or a cue out of place in Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross‘ Oscar-winning score for The Social Network. The tracks possess weight and momentum, balancing manic energy with somber resonance. The music feels fresh and alive, possessing both classical and synth elements. “A Familiar Taste,” for example, works especially well in tandem with the film’s editing, drawing together the seemingly disparate settings of a frat party and a nerd blogging in his dorm room. It all becomes intertwined, collapsing traditional distinctions and capturing the coming of a new era of socializing.

While there’s no moment where the score can be faulted, there is a clear standout: “Hand Covers Bruise.” As David Fincher explains during his commentary for the film, the piano-heavy theme kicks up when Mark (Jesse Eisenberg) gets dumped and then repeats twice on the soundtrack. At this introduction, it all feels a little frenetic, almost scratchy and haphazard, but hopeful nonetheless, kind of childlike. When the song is reprised during his deposition, it’s a little different, the song feels hollow, an indicator of how Mark has changed. The last time the song plays, Mark has just been confronted by Eduardo (Andrew Garfield). The track is even more hollow, practically vacant, it’s lost a melodic quality and is now entirely mournful. Subtle differences and slight nuances alter our perception of these key moments. The Social Network score isn’t only chock full of bangers; it’s an illustration of how much musical accompaniment matters and what a score can be at its best. (Anna Swanson)

Horror movie junkie, fan of Old Hollywood, defender of Grease 2.