2018’s Movie Music scene has been fantastic, with all sorts of genres being covered. Whether you want an original musical, a classical piece or a mix of electronics and bongo’s, 2018 has it. It’s broken new ground with percussion work, as well as releasing the first score album with a parental advisory warning. In this post, I’ll be recounting some of the best pieces of movie music from the last year, and I’ve even collated a playlist so you can listen along with my picks. You lucky devils! (just make sure shuffle is turned off because I’ve collated this collection so the styles and themes should nicely blend across the genres).
As always, these are only my opinions, and are judged as 2018 film’s by their UK release date.
Opening up the playlist is the ’20th Century Fox Fanfare’ from Bohemian Rhapsody, performed by Queen. The Fox Fanfare is arguably the most iconic of all the studio themes, and this creative take see’s Brian May and Roger Taylor perform it. A clever introduction into the band’s bio-pic and a fun start to our playlist.
We continue with some pieces that feature heavy drumming. Opening up is ‘Shinto Shrine’ from Isle of Dogs (comp. Alexandre Desplat). Isle of Dogs was a wonderfully quirky animation with a joyful Japanese score to match. This track demonstrates a lot of the musical ideas running through the film, including Japanese Taiko drummers, choirs and an eclectic mix of oriental instrumentation.
Next up, and continuing with ethnic drums is ‘Wakanda’ from Black Panther (comp. Ludwig Goransson). This Marvel film (not the only one appearing on the list) used a great blend of native African instruments to fully immerse the viewer in the fictional nation of Wakanda. A powerful and landmark film in Hollywood race politics, Black Panther’s score is a worthy accompaniment to the film.
To continue the drumming theme, we move along to ‘Stairs and Rooftops’ from Mission: Impossible Fallout (comp. Lorne Balfe). Balfe used a staggering 230 musicians during the composing of the sixth instalment in the franchise, continuing a long musical tradition of the series by incorporating bongos and the iconic theme throughout the score. This track uses both perfectly while also beautifully building the main Mission: Impossible theme to a grand crescendo.
Another great use of powerful drums and percussion is the title track from Skyscraper (comp. Steve Jablonsky). While the music and film are both way over the top, they’re fantastically enjoyable, with the deep horn section creating an almost superhero-like theme for Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. This title track uses that theme, and makes great use of sawing strings and electronic elements to build the intensity.
Another slow building and intense piece is ‘Convoy’ from Sicario 2: Soldado (comp. Hildur Guonadottir). Original Sicario composer Johann Johannsson tragically passed away earlier this year, but Hildur, long-time collaborator with Johannsson, has created a worthy score for both the film sequel, and his legacy. Deep bass swells and soaring cello themes echo the original score while building in new ideas.
With the intensity built, we’ll now sit with it for a while with our next piece, the title track from American Animals (comp. Anne Nikitin). Again, powerful electronic drums are present, as well as bizarre animalistic growling sounds. It really gets across the dark intensity of the film and the guilt of pulling off a robbery.
A couple of extra electronic scores are next, beginning with ‘#FindMargot’ from the film Searching (comp. Torin Borrowdale). This score is similar in tone to Harry Gregson William’s score for 2015’s The Martian, and is a fantastic use of electronic sounds to echo the digital platforms on which Searching takes place.
After this is ‘Let’s Get Drunk’ from Game Night (comp. Cliff Martinez). Game Night was an unexpected gem with a fantastic cast, twisting script and a gripping score to match. Cliff Martinez, former drummer of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, is widely known for scoring 2011’s Drive, and again he repeats his electronic sounds with a deliciously dark and brooding use of keyboards and digital sounds.
Next up, we’re off to NASA with ‘Multi-Axis Trainer’ from First Man (comp. Justin Hurwitz). This score is fantastic, blending classical music and electronic music to demonstrate the old technology Neil Armstrong was working with in the 1960’s, while also using a dark broody beat constantly building to demonstrate the launch of Apollo 11 growing ever closer. A particular highlight is the use of a Theremin, harking back to the classic 1950’s sci-fi B Movies.
Another piece that brings back memories is ‘Didn’t I Do Well?’ from Red Sparrow (comp. James Newton Howard). A classic cold war espionage thriller, this huge and grand sweeping score from veteran composer James Newton Howard really evokes the feeling of fear and unease between America and Russia.
Continuing on with grand scores, we have the main theme from the huge spectacle that is Avengers: Infinity War (comp. Alan Silvestri). Returning to compose for Marvel for the third time, Silvestri reuses his beautiful theme for the Avengers but in a far more somber way to reflect the desperate fate of the characters at the end of the film (spoilers!). It’s a grand score that really captures the scale of this year’s highest grossing picture.
Another beautiful score is that of The Shape of Water, again composed by Alexandre Desplat. Guillermo Del Toro’s Oscar winning film wasn’t to everyones taste (including mine) but it cannot be denied that Desplat created a gorgeous score to reflect the bizarre love story unfolding on the screen. It won the Oscar for best score, and though I maintain that Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk score should have won, The Shape of Water was still a worthy winner.
On the other hand, some scores have kept things simple, and this is where we head next with ‘Blut Und Boden (Blood and Soil)’ from BlacKkKlansman (comp. Terence Blanchard). Using a soaring guitar and a simple drum set up, this score evokes the 1970’s era while also using softer string sections to glide above and enhance the emotion of the powerful story.
Going simpler still we find ‘Mildred Goes To War’ from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (comp. Carter Burwell). Using a Spanish guitar to bring to life the desolate western nature of the story, Carter Burwell’s third collaboration with writer/director Martin McDonagh is another triumph.
Next up is an adaptation of ‘The Sugar Plum Fairy’ from King of Thieves (comp. Benjamin Wallfisch). This jazzy re-recording of the classic ballet tune is a perfect representation of the scene in which the old men pull off the robbery. It blends the classic style of their personality, mixed with the perfectionist ballet of their heist.
Building the themes back up we find John Williams team up once again with Steven Spielberg with ‘The Presses Roll’ from The Post. John Williams is one of the leading figures of film composing and has again created a grand score that makes full use of the orchestra. The horns demonstrate the looming deadlines of newspaper reporting, while the strings and flutes float over the top like the reporters flying around to find their stories.
Another biopic with beautiful music is Darkest Hour and its key track ‘We Shall Fight’ (comp. Dario Marianelli with piano by Vikingur Olafsson). This piece, as the title explains, underscores Churchill’s empowering speech on 4th June 1940, and just like the speech, it builds to a huge and emotional crescendo. For all the films faults, this scene was truly awe-inspiring and a worthy tribute to a British legend.
Changing the styles, we now find ‘You Can’t Stop this Mother F**ker’ from Deadpool 2 (comp. Tyler Bates). Whilst not the greatest of score albums, it made history for being the first film score to gain a parental advisory warning. Tyler Bates hilariously used a huge chamber choir to sing the words “Holy Sh*t Balls” and “You can’t stop this Mother F*cker”. It broke the rules, just as Deadpool does, and the score is a worthy accompaniment to the anti-hero.
Continuing now with lyrics we find ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’ from Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again (performed by Lily James). Mamma Mia 2 was unashamedly camp and cheesy with ABBA hits galore, and this one, which opened the film, completely set the lighthearted tone. Lily James is a stunningly talented actress with the singing pipes to match and the whole number is so utterly uplifting that you can’t help but have a smile on your face as you’re transported back to 1979.
Another major musical film of 2018 was Mary Poppins Returns. The original 1964 film is an absolute classic, and while Mary Poppins Returns never reaches that level, it does sometimes get close. This track, ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’, is about as close as it gets to reaching the quality of the original Mary Poppins film. Performed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, it captures the spirit of the original’s ‘Step In Time’ and was a wonderfully enjoyable sequence.
Continuing the singing is ‘When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings’ from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (performed by Tim Blake Nelson and Willie Watson). It’s a beautiful ballad that closes the first story in the Coen Brothers’ western anthology film, and perfectly encapsulates the bizarrely heartwarming tone they managed to get into their film, despite all the black comedy and gratuitous violence.
Next up is ‘Shallow’ from A Star Is Born (performed by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper). A powerful and emotional film about love and loss in the music industry, A Star Is Born showed the world that Lady Gaga could act and Bradley Cooper could sing. This track, which was released as a single, is a sure-fire front runner for Best Song at the Oscars, and its raw vocals demonstrate the talent of the two actors.
Finally, and ending on a softer note, we have ‘Visions of Gideon’ from Call Me By Your Name (performed by Sufjan Stevens). A fitting piece on which to end, this track accompanies the credits to the beautiful masterpiece that is Call Me By Your Name. After suffering turmoil, love, loss and a truly tear-jerking speech from his father (played by Michael Stuhlbarg), Timothée Chalamet’s character Elio sits at the fire crying while pondering memories of the summer. It’s a stunningly powerful image to close the film with, and is accompanied by a gorgeous track from Stevens.
And there you have it, my picks for the highlights of 2018’s film music. Of course, this is in no way definitive and is simply my opinion, but as a general and varied spread, I hope you enjoyed this little run through of 2018’s Best Movie Music.
BUT WAIT! While sitting through the credits of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-verse, a hilarious song, hinted at during the film, was played. It was joked that Spider-Man had sold out and created a Christmas album as he really needed the money, and during the credits ‘Spidey-bells (A Hero’s Lament)’ played (sung by Chris Pine). A hilarious parody of the classic holiday song, it quickly deteriorates into Spider-Man contemplating depression and selling out, before regaining his holiday joy for the final verse.
Happy Holidays everyone and I’ll see you tomorrow for the 20 most memorable moments in 2018 films!