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Are These the Best Movie Soundtracks of the Past Year?

Music from ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Coco,’ and multiple movies scored by Jóhann Jóhannsson are among top contenders.
Black Panther Album
By  · Published on August 16th, 2018

Music from ‘Black Panther,’ ‘Coco,’ and multiple movies scored by Jóhann Jóhannsson are among top contenders.

The annual World Soundtrack Awards may not garner as much attention as higher profile events like the Oscars, but they have an important purpose. Their goal — and the goal of the institution behind the awards, The World Soundtrack Academy — is to honor an often forgotten component of film. Music sets the tone and atmosphere of a movie and can even help alter an audience’s entire viewing experience.

Motion picture soundtracks and scores should be celebrated, and this past year’s crop is especially outstanding. The WSA nominations for Best Film Composer of the Year and Best Original Song Written for a Film are as follows:

Best Film Composer of the Year

Carter Burwell for Goodbye Christopher Robin and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Alexandre Desplat for Isle of Dogs and The Shape of Water

Jonny Greenwood for Phantom Thread

Jóhann Jóhannsson for Last and First MenMandyThe MercyMary Magdalene (co-composed with Hildur Guðnadóttir), and The Butcher, the Whore, and the One-Eyed Man

John Williams for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Post

Best Original Song Written Directly for a Film

“Black Panther” from Black Panther

“Never Forget” from Murder on the Orient Express

“Remember Me” from Coco

“Stand Up for Something” from Marshall

“This is Me” from The Greatest Showman

The most notable nominations are, of course, Coco‘s Academy Award winner “Remember Me” and Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Panther,” both for Best Original Song. Their immense popularity is especially significant in terms of the themes of each film juxtaposed with the year’s socio-political climate. A children’s movie about Mexican families and identities that centers around honoring their history felt crucial going into 2018. Furthermore, a superhero blockbuster with a majority black cast and lead characters felt all the more historic.

As “Remember Me” has already won big at the Oscars, further recognition from the World Soundtrack Academy would help cement it as the year’s highest achieving song in a film. Its impact as a song goes beyond the cultural significance, as well, as it was written to embody the idea that music can have the power to bring others to life — literally and figuratively.

For Black Panther, Kendrick Lamar is one of the larger pieces that make up its success. His nominated song, “Black Panther”, along with the rest of the Marvel film’s soundtrack produced by Ludwig Göransson, debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart. The Black Panther soundtrack album is almost as addictive as it is accomplished. Every song is able to stand on its own and has a dynamic quality that evokes the plot and character struggles in the movie. It would be hard to deny that this is the best soundtrack of the past year.

In the Best Composer category, several artists and scores are getting the recognition they deserve as well. Particularly the work of Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, who unfortunately passed away this year, leaving behind an impressive musical legacy. His song “The Beast” from Sicario sent chills up audiences’ spines back in 2015. And he won Best Composer last year for his score for Arrival.

He continued to impress this past year, composing for a whopping total of five films. Jóhannsson brought poignant tones to the Australian film The Mercy — his music almost acting as a supporting actor or character with how big a presence it has. It’s a welcome presence, as well. The seasoned talent of Jóhannsson would make him a shoe-in for best composer of the year; and it could even be argued that separating his compositions by film for best song or soundtrack awards would be a major mistake, as his body of work as a whole is deserving of recognition.

How do Jóhannsson’s scores match up against the work of more recent Academy Award-nominated composers like Carter Burwell (who won in 2016), Alexandre Desplat (who won in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2014), and Jonny Greenwood, though? Well, when it comes to this year’s movie music, some are able to keep pace with Jóhannsson while others lag a bit behind.

For example, Burwell’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri score may in truth become a little lost in the film’s engrossing and oftentimes painfully severe dialogue. Perhaps his Goodbye, Christopher Robin soundtrack left more of an impression. This is not to say Burwell did not create something exceptional in Three Billboards, though. The music itself has roots in Westerns and accurately echoes the loss felt by Frances McDormand’s main character. There are simply more striking events unfolding throughout the film that pushes its musical prowess to the back of your mind.

Although Desplat’s The Shape of Water music won Best Original Score at the Oscars, the question remains if this alone makes him the best composer of the year. The Shape of Water score is no doubt mysterious and whimsical, but it has no real punch emotionally. The music fits the film perfectly, but when put alongside Greenwood’s haunting Phantom Thread score it becomes less certain whether Desplat truly deserves the title from the WSA. Hans Zimmer’s anxiety-inducing score for Dunkirk also feels more worthy.

Great movie music highlights the film’s storyline while still standing out on its own as a separate accomplishment. The past year boasts an abundance of terrific movie music, but when judging the best soundtracks, fan favorites and Oscar nominations may not be enough. The most dynamic and engaging, such as the Black Panther album and the work of Jóhann Jóhannsson, will always stand out above the rest.

The 18th World Soundtrack Awards and concert will be held on October 17th at the Capitole Ghent in Belgium, and music for television will also be honored. Fans can also nominate their favorite score by voting for the Public Choice Award until September 7th.

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Kendall is a recent graduate and San Diego native who is passionate about the environment, writing, and above all else Keanu Reeves.