This article is part of our 2022 Rewind. Follow along as we explore the best and most interesting movies, shows, performances, and more from this very strange year. In this entry, Charlie Brigden explores the best movie scores of 2022.
Painful. That’s how I’d sum up making this list this year. It’s one of the best years for film music in a long time, with many great tunes from the old and new guards. There’s a variety of genres, too; the usual horror and sci-fi, but also several dramatic pieces, comedy, mystery, and even a superhero.
But beyond that, the music’s quality almost matches the quantity. But enough waxing, here are…
The 15 best movie scores of 2022
15. Avatar: The Way of Water
They say you don’t bet against James Cameron, but even he would have been worried after losing collaborator James Horner, who sadly died in 2015. Horner brought an extra sense of wonder and magic to the first picture, but it’s good news that his successor could also do that. Simon Franglen worked with Horner for years, collaborating with the composer on the first Avatar and producing Titanic megahit ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ and his majestic score for The Way of Water perhaps even outdoes Horner’s music for the world of Pandora.
Titanic is a word to describe the score, but it effortlessly moves from that epic scale to tiny and intimate, all the time while sounding absolutely gorgeous. Franglen builds on Horner’s original themes but also introduces his own beautiful and stirring motifs that embody his own work. A success against odds that gives us the spirit of Horner and Franglen at their purest.
14. Brian and Charles
Brian and Charles is one of those wonders that only seem to come from Britain. Set in deepest Wales, it’s a dramedy about a lonely guy named Brian who sets about building a robot called Charles Petrescu. Short Circuit this ain’t, and it’s a quirky story with an even more bizarre score by the ever-present and inventive Daniel Pemberton (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Steve Jobs).
Pemberton’s music is forever charming, with a throwback electronic sound that is ever appropriate for Brian’s DIY friend. A sense of daydreaming is baked into the score that affords it an air of innocence, and while Pemberton could easily play it for laughs, he treats Brian and Charles’ relationship with respect. A wonderful breath of fresh air.
13. The Woman King
The Woman King is a complete circle of sorts for Terence Blanchard, having scored director Gina Prince-Bythewood‘s debut Love & Basketball in 2000. She was lucky to have him on her epic tale of women warriors in old West Africa, as he brings a beautiful spiritual edge to the film, particularly with the expanded use of chorus. Blanchard also brings the soulful melodies that we’re used to from his scores for directors like Spike Lee, and it’s such a wonderful and effusive feeling.
Blanchard used the traditional with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and integrated that with vocal ensemble Vox Noire, including Ghanaian-American artist Tesia Kwarteng, and with jazz singer Dianne Reeves as a soloist. The power of Blanchard’s bringing together of these voices and talents is immediately apparent in the score, which is both robust and tender, and it’s a beautiful thing to experience. Kingly.
To say Andrew Dominik‘s adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates‘ novel Blonde is controversial is putting it mildly, really. That said, one thing Dominik did right was to bring in Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, who had scored his 2007 film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Cave and Ellis’ score is gorgeous and dissonant, with a distorted but seductive soundscape full of ambient textures. In some places, it sounds like Vangelis’ Blade Runner; in others, the late Angelo Badalamenti‘s work for David Lynch.
There’s undoubtedly a poignancy to it, partly from Cave’s experience with tragedy. One of the tracks is an instrumental of the song ‘Bright Horses’ from Cave’s album Ghosteen, which was written after the passing of his son Arthur, and it’s a challenging, but beautiful listen. Cave and Ellis have created an inspirational score, which may even be better detached from the film. It’s a trip, for sure.
11. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Rian Johnson‘s earlier films, such as Looper, established composer Nathan Johnson (yes, related, they’re cousins) as a talent to watch, but the Knives Out films have seen his best work extrapolated from him. What’s immediately apparent from the first listen of the Glass Onion main theme is just how slinky it is and how snakily it winds around, perfect for the covert goings-on throughout the picture. But Johnson also allows a full orchestra to embellish proceedings, giving a grand edge to things.
His theme for Janelle Monae‘s Andi perfectly represents the duality in her role, both the mystery inherent in her personality and her actions and the hesitancy, the sense that beneath the classy exterior, there’s something else going on. This writing beautifully envelops the score, its characters, and their various transgressions. Johnson balances the exact line between seriousness and self-parody that his cousin does with the direction of the film, pulling everything off with aplomb. Even Benoit Blanc would fail to find fault with this performance.
One of the many great things Jordan Peele has done with his horror pictures is introducing the world to Michael Abels, who has done a fantastic job with his latest film, Nope. With its meta-story about Hollywood, spectacle, and Westerns, Abels has created a tapestry of cues that inhabit these spaces perfectly. He’s paid attention, and his score appears to stand on the shoulders of giants before showing us that it is its own thing.
Nope is both exhilarating and scary, with an underlying sense of dread that rivals the scores of John Carpenter. It’s also great when it is verging into parody, with Abels writing western music that sounds like it could have come from the baton of two of the genre’s greats: Elmer Bernstein and Ennio Morricone. But Abels’ touch is what stands out, especially in his thrilling action music.
9. She Will
Clint Mansell topped last year’s list with a scary score, and he’s back this year with another terrific effort for Charlotte Colbert‘s psychological horror about an ancient witches’ burning ground. The film immediately takes advantage of Mansell’s aptitude for creating a dreamlike soundscape, and that hallucinatory location is the home for the score. Mansell appropriately uses women’s voices throughout, particularly in a haunting sense of what was long ago, and it’s brilliantly effective.
One specific vocal motif runs through the score, and it’s both beautiful and eerie. It also helps the score cohere and results in some spectacular scoring setpieces that also help to scare the hell out of you. It’ll also have you dancing like a witches’ sabbath.
Top Gun: Maverick may be the highest-grossing airplane picture of the year, but when it comes to a musical dogfight, the name at the top of the leaderboard is Chanda Dancy for her score to Devotion. It’s nothing fancy, just an energetic and dynamic score that perfectly suits J.D. Dillard‘s 1950s war flick. At the center is the relationship between pilots Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors) and Tom Hudner (Glen Powell). Dancy emphasizes this with a softness that underlies a feeling of honor and, well, devotion, and it’s lovely.
Dancy also brings a fantastic sense of excitement to the flying Corsair aircraft scenes while underlining the inherent danger. But what shines through is the character writing and the emotional effect that it brings. And it’s the juxtaposition of that with the fantastic action cues that makes Devotion a real winner.
7. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
A running commentary on the films of the MCU is that the music is relatively anonymous across the board, but you can’t say that about the Black Panther movies. Ludwig Göransson won an Academy Award for his score for the first installment, and his work on Wakanda Forever is even fiercer and extraordinarily passionate. Of course, internally and externally, the film deals with the deaths of Chadwick Boseman and T’Challa, which Göransson integrates with exceptional skill.
He’s not alone, and again Göransson brings in many collaborators, including Senegalese artist Baaba Maal and Mexican composer Vivir Quintana. These collaborations result in a tapestry of music to weave into the score to represent both Wakanda and Namor’s kingdom of Talokun and the differences represented in each cultural background. Göransson’s score is a huge achievement and a shining example of how good it can be when Marvel gets it right.
Cliff Martinez and Steven Soderbergh have worked together since the director’s debut with 1989’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a score as good throughout their collaboration as Kimi. Soderbergh’s thriller is Hitchcock through a 21st-century digital lens; Martinez thus acts accordingly, with a small orchestra that obsessively revolves around a melancholy motif with the same feeling of non-resolution as Bernard Herrmann‘s Vertigo. The composer has spoken about his love for Herrmann, so this is no surprise.
This all results in a superbly tense and hypnotic score. It’s so beautiful and sad and has a wonderful sense of color and emotion with the way it morphs from traditional instruments to synthesizer lines. Stunning.
5. Women Talking
There has been a ton of awards buzz around Hildur Guðnadóttir‘s score for Sarah Polley‘s drama about faith, and this is no surprise; it’s brilliant. Guðnadóttir is famous for writing esoteric scores, and Women Talking is a thrilling take on a traditional dramatic piece. It’s much more accessible than Chernobyl, but there’s still a sense of oddity, like the rhythmic tribalism of the percussion.
However, Guðnadóttir is happy to inflect the score with gorgeous and delicate melodies that nevertheless and understandably restrict the musical narrative to a small and intimate circle. When that circle is in danger of being broken, she uses a sharp-edged ostinato that sounds like a hunting shark, a threat resolved with the music forming back into the circle, this time of protection. It’s a haunting score and a short one at that, but by no means any less potent for it.
It’s hard to imagine a better score for Chinonye Chukwu‘s film Till, about the true-life crusade of Mamie Till after the tragic murder of her son, Emmett, than Abel Korzeniowski‘s stunning work. It’s a score of hope and determination, and Korzeniowski gives it an essential sense of lyricism, framing Marnie’s drive with an emphasis on her own emotional strength. It would be too easy to turn this into a cliched score with horror elements.
It’s a surprisingly varied score; there are beautiful scherzos but also moments of great lamenting – there’s one piece that is stunning both in its magnificence and its sadness. But it always keeps hope. The result of that is a simply incredible piece of work.
3. After Yang
There’s a beautiful fragility to Aska Matsumiya‘s score for Kogonada‘s science fiction drama. It’s almost like a digital representation of a spider’s web; the thin melodic electronic lines feel like they could break at any second but are the strongest of materials, which are there to keep the family together. This innate understanding of the story gives After Yang an extra dimension, with its swooping through flashes of innocence and memory. And it’s masterful.
In fact, the whole thing is simply beautiful. Like the word has never felt more apt. There’s also a stunning interjection by Ryuichi Sakamoto, which feels like it encompasses all the beauty and sadness in the world. In the end, Matsumiya’s score ends the same way it begins, with that beautiful fragility. And nothing could be better.
2. The Fabelmans
John Williams may have slowed down, but he’s still composing, and of course, he would be here for Steven Spielberg‘s The Fabelmans, a movie about the director’s own family life. And it’s lovely—tender, apprehensive, celebratory. The film is not only about his beginnings with cinema but also the disintegration of his parents’ marriage, and that itself provides not darkness but a mature tone that you don’t usually find in a lot of his scores for franchise films.
That’s not to say that there isn’t wonder and beauty. Some stunning moments on the piano are to die for, and certainly recall many of Williams’ scores for previous Spielberg films. There’s also a sense of reconciliation and finality, but only for a situation. Indeed a coda is there to point the way, and it does that majestically.
1. Crimes of the Future
Howard Shore‘s music for the films of David Cronenberg is always uncomfortable to listen to, and Crimes of the Future is no exception. There’s an immediate tone of dread inherent from the beginning, and Shore feels like he’s worming his way through you, setting out his manifesto. That could be why it’s so discomforting, because it feels invasive, and also because we want it. The dichotomy there is pushing and pulling.
The great thing about Shore is that his scores are always beautiful, even when they’re ugly. There’s always the sense of true art and a masterful command of composition, and it’s evident in every second of Crimes of the Future. It feels perverted and gross and gorgeous and puts us in a dreamlike state – give us more!
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