2015 has been a year of looking back on music of the past with soundtracks that sound like they were pulled straight out of the 1980s and 1990s, moving scores that brought some of this year’s best new characters to life, and a deeper look into some iconic musicians of the past.
Movie music can often be considered something that only movie fans enjoy, but this year delivered scores and soundtracks that can easily become a part of anyone’s non-movie music collection. Read on for my picks of the 15 best scores and soundtracks of 2015 ‐ and update your year-round playlists accordingly.
15. Furious 7
The Fast and the Furious franchise suffered an unexpected blow when it lost one of their main actors, Paul Walker. Despite this loss, Furious 7 is another exciting, action packed addition to the series, but one that is full of intense emotion thanks to the knowledge that this would be the last time we would see Brian O’Connor on screen. The soundtrack, driven by Wiz Khalifa’s “See You Again,” captured the hopeful spirit of the film and the sense of family that has made this franchise one that has lived on for the past fourteen (yes, fourteen) years.
14. Jurassic World
While Jurassic World is the first film in the series John Williams did not compose, Michael Giacchino stepped up to the challenge to create a score to fit the updated Jurassic World while still peppering in well placed nods to Williams’ score (and the film that started it all). Williams’ created the sound of Jurassic Park, but Giacchino brings his own sound to the mix, which helps Jurassic World stand on its own. Still grand and melodic, Giacchino’s score drives a slightly more intense edge into the big action set pieces that reinforce the fact that Jurassic World is full of bigger, meaner, (more genetically enhanced) threats than Dr. Alan Grant and his crew could ever imagine.
13. Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) was a showman and as such, he liked to host the announcement of his new tech initiatives in beautiful concert halls ‐ like a conductor taking their place in front of an orchestra, instead of the head of a technology company talking about computers. Daniel Pemberton combines this feeling of a conductor with Jobs’ tech reality through a score that is equal parts bold orchestration and complex electronica.
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Hollywood does not make movies like Brooklyn much anymore and it is a shame because a beautiful film with engaging characters and emotional music is the true essence of why people love going to the movies. Michael Brook‘s score captures the essence of Ellis (Saoirse Ronan) ‐ an Irish girl trying to figure out who she is and where her place is in the world. Simply put, Brooklyn will make you feel and Brook’s music shows that sometimes it is the simplest feeling (of pain, happiness, longing, excitement, sorrow, uncertainty) that can mean the most.
11. The Martian
First Guardians of the Galaxy and now The Martian –there seems to be a clear parallel between futuristic space travel and the music of the 1960s and 1970s. While Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is trapped in space, the only music he has at his disposal is one of his fellow crewmember’s playlists made up of exclusively music from these past decades. This becomes an ongoing joke in the film, but the funky sounds of the ’60s and ’70s actual work to juxtapose the bitter, isolated wasteland Mark is left in and add a needed sense of hope (and connection to earth) throughout the film.
Carter Burwell is the master at composing layered scores that pull at your heartstrings without overwhelming what is happening on screen. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara deliver captivating performances as two people falling in love and Burwell’s music helps create their world without overly influencing it. Carol could be seen as a heart breaking film about two people who cannot be together, but the music reminds us that the act of falling in love is rare and should be celebrated ‐ even if it is during a time when it must be hidden.
The loss of James Horner was a major blow to the film music industry and his score for Southpaw is a reminder of why. A film about the world of professional boxing is a brutal one and Southpaw features fantastic new music from Eminem that goes right along with this hard-hitting sentiment. But it is Horner who infuses the film with a true sense of heart that makes the loss of boxer Billy’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) wife (and his daughter’s mother) devastating and gives you a palpable reason to keep rooting for Billy, even when he is at his worst.
Most of us have heard Amy Winehouse’s music, but Amy takes you behind the scenes into the true nature of the artist and her craft. Amy started out as a jazz singer and these early influences can be heard in every song she has written. A troubled soul, Amy was a undeniably brilliant song writer and the way Amy shows how she crafted her words, and dealt with her demons through them, adds a whole new level of depth and appreciation to her music.
7. Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that does not let up from the moment it begins to the moment it ends. This ride through hell is driven by a score from Junkie XL that sounds more like a hard rock album (not the score for a film) and fits in perfectly here. Having one of the characters ‐ a masked man tied to the front of a rig ‐ playing the screaming guitar riffs helps fold the music into the fabric of Mad Max: Fury Road making it a part of this world, not just something that happens to be along for the ride.
Where Straight Outta Compton takes you behind the scenes of early ’90s hip hop, Dope shows how those listening to the music use it as a life raft as they dealt with the same issues of violence NWA rapped about. Dope does not shy away from violence, but it is handled as another part of life and not something to get down about. Malcom (Shameik Moore) may be obsessed with ’90s hip hop culture, but he uses it (and it’s music) as an escape and shows that he might be surrounded by tough situations (and this music may have been born out of similar situations), but that does not mean you cannot rise above it.
5. Ex Machina
Oscar Isaac’s dancing in Ex Machina should be one of the moments that define 2015 movies. Ex Machina is a strange exploration of human nature and how we relate to one another with Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow’s score taking us into this world in a subtle (but deliberate) way with moments with Isaac’s Nathan dancing to add a bit of fun (and randomness) to the whole endeavor. If you have ever asked yourself how can you make electronica moving ‐ the music of Ex Machina has your answer.
4. Love and Mercy
Who knew such happy music about surfing and chasing girls was driven by such darkness? Fans of Brian Wilson did and Love & Mercy takes the rest of us behind the curtain into the madness that made Wilson such an amazing songwriter and musician (and what caused his lost years). Seeing how Wilson grew from a member of the Beach Boys into the artist who created “Pet Sounds” is transfixing and listening to how his music evolved is the essence of watching a master a work. The way the film presents young (Paul Dano) and older Brian (John Cusack) shows how music has always driven him and makes you realize it is not always a blessing to be given such unbelievable talent.
3. Straight Outta Compton
Whether you are a fan of NWA or not, Straight Outta Compton is necessary viewing for any music fan. Seeing how this group came together and how they used their music as a release creates a surprisingly emotional ride that will bring new meaning to NWA’s already powerful words. It is inspiring to see how a group of kids from the rough streets of Compton could choose to focus on their talent instead of giving in to their surroundings. NWA’s music has long gotten a strong response out of people and Straight Outta Compton shows you why.
2. Paper Towns
The soundtrack for Paper Towns is pure joy full of songs about seizing the day and embracing your future. It feels like a throw back to the soundtracks of the 1980s that embraced the fun of being a kid with songs like Twin Shadow’s “To The Top,” HAIM’s “Falling,” and Saint Motel’s “My Type.” This is a soundtrack you can throw on year round to get that feeling of freedom, excitement, and adventure that exists when you are young and have your whole life ahead of you.
1. Mistress America
Like Paper Towns, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips’ score for Mistress America embraced the sound of the ’80s with melodic synth that is the perfect accompaniment to Brooke’s head-in-the-clouds attitude. Brooke (Greta Gerwig) might be a bit too old to be as much of a dreamer as she is, but it works when seeing her through the eyes of college freshman Tracy (Lola Kirke) as the music creates this world of fun and fantasy. The score for Mistress America is light and airy and is a must for anyone who loves the sound of music from the 1980s (like yours truly).