Year in Review: The 13 Best Movie Scores and Soundtracks of 2013

By  · Published on December 23rd, 2013

This year brought moviegoers an array of music that ranged from uplifting (About Time “How Long Will I Love You”) to depressing (The Great Gatsby’s “Young and Beautiful”) to catchy (Inside Llewyn Davis’ “Please Mr. Kennedy”) to nostalgic (Saving Mr. Banks’ “Let’s Go Fly a Kite”) to just plain out there (Spring Breakers’ “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites”). Whether it was a film about throwing (or attending) the best party of your life or one about intense family drama, the music pushed stories to new heights, whether it was an Alien rapping on the beach or two mothers pushing their children to the breaking point.

Film music is no longer just orchestration and catchy pop songs – it is dubstep and bands you would normally hear on the radio taking to the conductor’s stand. Simply put – it is an exciting time for music in film because there are no rules.

Now it’s time to relive some of the best music moments from this past year with scores from composers new to the scene and those continuing to churn out groundbreaking music, as well as soundtracks that featured songs from bands and artists who discovered new talents while collaborating.

13. Saving Mr. Banks

As is standard with any Disney film, Mary Poppins is full of music you can sing along to, and anyone who grew up with this Disney classic should be taken right back to their childhood when these songs strike up. Saving Mr. Banks takes audiences behind the scenes of the making of Mary Poppins, but it is the scenes featuring Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson), screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford), and composers Richard Sherman (Jason Schwartzman) and Robert Sherman (B.J. Novak) creating this music that shine, giving these iconic songs even more meaning.

Composer Thomas Newman rounds things out with a score that helps tie together these catchy tunes with the conflicted emotions Travers had bringing her story to the big screen to create a nostalgia driven compilation that should also stand the test of time.

12. About Time

Richard Curtis knows how to put together a great soundtrack, and he proves that fact once again with the soundtrack for About Time. Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) is a man who can bounce around the timeline of his life and Curtis wisely uses recognizable music to help subtly place the time period he has landed in. But the music is not merely a story device, it rounds out the narrative to make Tim and Mary (Rachel McAdams) feel like real people who listen to the radio and comment about music in every day conversation.

The soundtrack itself is a great mix of artists from Ben Folds to The Cure to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds that never feel forced within the context of the film and work together as a fantastic playlist when listening to the soundtrack on its own.

11. Mud

The mystery of Mud (Matthew McConaughey) was delivered thanks in large part to the magical score created by David Wingo and Lucero. But the music of Mud was not just eerie thanks to the down-home, southern grit filled tunes from Dirty Three and Ben Nichols. Magical score and gritty songs do not sound like they would work together, but just as Mud and Ellis (Tye Sheridan) make unlikely friends, these different styles combined to create a distinctive sound that highlighted two people struggling against the forces around them in the rural south. Where Wingo and Lucero create the feeling that Mud could be a beacon of hope for Ellis, the placed tracks work to present the counter point that Mud may not be the man he says he is.

10. The Great Gatsby

A little party never hurt nobody, right? While The Great Gatsby may have proved this sentiment is not always true, Fergie, Q-Tip, and GoonRock’s song was one of the catchiest tunes to come out of theaters this year. Despite having director Baz Luhrmann at the helm and Jay-Z producing the soundtrack, the music within the film did not always hit the right notes, but the soundtrack stands as one of this year’s best compilations.

Current artists embodying the feeling of the 1920s gave us new tracks like Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful,” Jack White’s “Love Is Blindness,” and Florence + The Machine’s “Over the Love (Of You)” that are sure to become classics. Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) was known for throwing epic parties and this soundtrack definitely reflected that while also including enough sorrowful ballads to keep the tragic nature of Gatsby ever present.

9. Pain & Gain

Who could make thieving muscle head gym rats sound sympathetic and tough? Apparently the answer was Steve Jablonsky. His score for Pain & Gain was more than just a pulse-pounding beat behind the action, he created music that elevated what was happening on screen and brought real emotion to what could have been a ridiculous (albeit true) story. Pain & Gain did not just tell the story of three guys who had seen too many action movies and had dollar signs in their eyes, it took you inside the lives of three complicated men who could rule at the gym, but wanted to prove they could do more with tracks like “I Believe In Fitness” embodying that hope while tracks like “Run Him Over” still keep up the action.

8. Sound City

Dave Grohl is known for making good music so it’s no surprise his directorial debut, Sound City, features a rocking soundtrack. The film celebrates the famed studio by filling the narrative with the famous songs that were recorded there and having renowned artists come back together to record new ones. From Rick Springfield to Fleetwood Mac to Grohl’s other famous band (Nirvana), Sound City gives their hits new life by explaining how the studio helped launch their careers and creates an electric journey through this period in music history. But the soundtrack is more than just a tribute album, it is proof that while the studio may be gone, the Neve board and the sound it created lives on.

7. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Of Monsters and Men’s “Dirty Paws” introduced the world of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty in the film’s trailer and the film’s full soundtrack continues that uplifting feeling with songs from José González and Rouge Wave. Walter (Ben Stiller) lives in a fantasy world and that feeling of being connected to reality while still being slightly removed from it is reflected in the soundtrack with artists like Jack Johnson singing “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” Bahamas with The Weather Station singing a stripped down version of “You Don’t Want Me,” and Grace Mitchell singing “Maneater” plus David Bowie singing “Space Oddity” along with Kristin Wiig.

These new versions are fun and quirky, much like Walter himself (or at least the version he fancies himself to be), and they create a soundtrack that is emotionally connective without being too serious. Most importantly, it is a compilation that you will have no problem leaving on a loop.

6. Dallas Buyers Club

Ron Woodroof (McConaughey) is a character who is larger than life (even when life tries to take him down a notch) and the music to accompany the story of such a man also has to sound large. While Dallas Buyers Club is set in 1985, the soundtrack is full of current artists such as The Airborne Toxic Event, The Naked and Famous, AWOLNATION, and Thirty Seconds to Mars that bring a palpable energy that will have you tapping your feet as you cheer Ron on. Capital Cities brings an ’80s vibe to the Bee Gee’s ’70s tune “Stayin’ Alive” which grounds the song in the time period of Dallas Buyers Club while working as a sly nod to exactly what Ron is trying to do (and help others do) – stay alive.

5. Spring Breakers

When Cliff Martinez teamed up with Skrillex you knew you were going to get something insane, and Spring Breakers needed something insane. The story of a group of bored college students looking to have the best spring break of their lives quickly devolved into madness when the girls hook up with local thug, Alien (James Franco). From the opening track, you are brought into a heightened world that is equal parts mindless party and timeless trance. Where Skrillex delivers the beats, Martinez scales things back a bit to create a tranquil sound that perfectly sets you up for the next downbeat. Alien may be charming enough to make you forget your inhibitions and the Spring Breakers soundtrack is the perfect mix to have you dive into a world of pure escapism.

4. Oblivion

Creating music for the future is never an easy task, but M83 rose to the occasion by composing a score that sounds like it was created sixty-four years from now while still having the emotional resonance to make you want to fight for humanity alongside Jack (Tom Cruise). Veteran composer Joseph Trapanese (who also worked with Daft Punk on Tron: Legacy and Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda on The Raid: Redemption) helps give the score a cinematic feel without losing M83’s signature sound. M83’s understanding of how to layer electronic elements keeps Oblivion feeling fresh and draws you into this off-putting world that has familiar elements, but never feels quite right.

3. Inside Llewyn Davis

When you combine Joel and Ethan Cohen with T-Bone Burnett, you are pretty much guaranteed fantastic music and the three deliver once again with the soundtrack for Inside Llewyn Davis. The music is endlessly singable (as folk music should be) while still reflecting the pain Llewyn (Oscar Issac) is going through as he struggles to create a place for himself within the gig scene of the time and come to terms with the loss of his collaborator.

Inside Llewyn Davis celebrates this music by allowing the performances to play without interruption and the soundtrack gives you all that music in one place on a compilation you will be playing (and singing along to) well into the new year.

2. Stoker

Director Chan-wook Park created a highly stylized world surrounding a family dealing with the death of their patriarch and Clint Mansell composed a score that perfectly reflected this strange, surreal family while tracks from Emily Wells provided added texture within the film and on the soundtrack. Music plays a pivotal role in Stoker as both India (Mia Wasikowska), an accomplished piano player, and her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), use music to get closer to Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). All these elements come together to create a layered soundscape that is frightening, beautiful, and concerning – usually all at once.

1. Only God Forgives

Cliff Martinez described his score for Only God Forgives as an accidental “horror score,” and he is not wrong. Nicolas Winding Refn’s long-time collaborator follows the director to Bangkok and creates a score that delivers his signature electronic elements, but infuses them with the sounds of Thailand. But the most memorable element is the terrifying undercurrent of vibrating tones that run throughout the entire score, never letting up and never letting you (the listener) relax.

The local singers featured on the soundtrack have beautiful voices, but that tranquility is ironically juxtaposed with intense violence on screen. And even though you cannot see those images when listening to the soundtrack on its own, Martinez reflects that fear throughout his score, and did in fact end up creating his own brand of unforgettable, unrelenting “horror.”