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Movie Music UK Awards 2014

January 17, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

mmukawardsIt’s been an outstanding year for film music in 2014. I managed to get experience over 350 scores this year, both by watching movies and listening to their soundtracks independently,and I strongly feel that the soundtrack industry is thriving. Looking at the big picture, on a global scale, outstanding music is coming from all corners of the globe: this year, I have nominated works from China, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Spain, and Venezuela, as well the USA and the UK. If you look outside the mainstream, you can still find a lot of outstanding work being written for under-the-radar projects that demand our attention.

As such, narrowing down my choices for the best of the year has been a very difficult task – one of the most difficult in recent memory. However, I’ve finally been able to put everything into some sort of logical order – so, for your reading and listening pleasure, I present the 2014 Movie Music UK Awards!

 

SCORE OF THE YEAR

  • THE MONKEY KING, Christopher Young

Nominees:

  • HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, John Powell
  • THE LIBERATOR, Gustavo Dudamel
  • MALEFICENT, James Newton Howard
  • THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, Jóhann Jóhannsson

monkeykingIn a year which ended up being full of outstanding scores, none impressed me more than Christopher Young’s score for the Chinese action/adventure film The Monkey King. The depth and breadth of the thematic writing, the intelligent application of a wide range of orchestrations (including traditional Chinese elements), the choral writing, the scope of the emotional content – everything about the score was perfect. It’s just such a shame that the score is not commercially available for purchase.

My top five is rounded out by a wealth of excellence: the life and energy of John Powell’s How to Train Your Dragon 2 equals, and occasionally even surpasses, it’s wonderful predecessor, and contains one of the year’s most moving cues in “Stoick’s Ship”. Gustavo Dudamel’s The Liberator is a John Williams-esque tribute to one of South America’s most beloved historical figures, and proves that the mercurial Venezuelan is as talented a composer as he is a conductor.

James Newton Howard’s Maleficent is a wonderful return to form for the composer, a blockbuster fantasy filled with beautiful themes, rousing action, and creative orchestrations. Finally, Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score for the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything perfectly captures the nuances of the eminent scientist’s life, depicting both his physical difficulties and his intellectual genius with elegance and class.

 

Alexandre DesplatCOMPOSER OF THE YEAR

  • ALEXANDRE DESPLAT

Nominees:

  • JAMES NEWTON HOWARD
  • NAOKI SATO
  • FREDERIK WIEDMANN
  • CHRISTOPHER YOUNG

Although none of the scores he wrote made it into my top five, Alexandre Desplat had one of the best years of his career in 2014, writing an astonishing five scores of brilliance and variety. It’s a testament to the Frenchman’s talent that, in the space of just 12 months, he can write wonderful WWII-era pastiche for The Monuments Men, capture the stereotypical sound of Mittel-Europa with The Grand Budapest Hotel, shake cinemas with the gargantuan sounds of Godzilla, illustrate the intellectual genius of code breaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, and underscore the tragedy of survival against the odds in Unbroken, while still retaining the highly personal sound that makes his music so individual to him.

James Newton Howard had a great year too, scoring the fantastical world of Maleficent, adding sleazy-sounding electronica to Jake Gyllenhaal’s tabloid nightmare in Nightcrawler, and continuing his excellent work on the Hunger Games franchise with Mockingjay: Part I. Although he works entirely outside the American mainstream, Japanese composer Naoki Sato had a wonderful year too, writing five scores – Kano, Stand By Me Doraemon, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyôto Inferno, Rurouni Kenshin: Densetsu No Saigo Hen, and Parasyte – which ran the gamut from sentimental animation scoring to inspirational sports drama music and bold, contemporary sounds for a pair modern samurai flicks.

German-born composer Frederik Wiedmann may be an odd choice, especially when you have people like Marco Beltrami and Danny Elfman in the mix, but his work this year really impressed me: the emotional power of the civil war drama Field of Lost Shoes, the super hero animation Son of Batman, and the creative horror score The Damned all earmark him as a composer with a big, big future. And, of course, Christopher Young makes the list as a direct result of writing the best score of the year – The Monkey King – although he also found time to score the demonic horror film Deliver Us from Evil, and even a Tyler Perry comedy, The Single Mom’s Club.

 

Gustavo DudamelBREAKTHROUGH COMPOSER OF THE YEAR

  • GUSTAVO DUDAMEL

Nominees:

  • ALEXANDER CIMINI
  • TAKATSUGU MURAMATSU
  • MATTHEW LLEWELLYN
  • JOHN PAESANO

It might be a bit strange to consider Gustavo Dudamel a newcomer, considering he has been expertly leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra for years, and is a darling of the classical set, but he wrote his very first film score this year: The Liberator, based on the life of the South American military hero Simon Bolivar. The wonderfully expressive orchestral writing, some of which was clearly inspired by his admiration for his friend John Williams, combined with woodwind performances from his native country of Venezuela, gave Dudamel’s work a real touch of class and excellence; I just hope he doesn’t follow through with his statement that this will be the only film score he writes.

German composer Alexander Cimini announced himself as a major talent with his staggeringly beautiful score for the nightmarish post-apocalyptic drug-addled drama Red Krokodil, and I will be watching his career with interest. Similarly Japanese composer Takatsugu Muramatsu, who has been working in his native country since the early 2000s, but finally came within the scope of my radar for the first time this year via his gorgeous, whimsical score for the anime film When Marnie Was There.

Matthew Llewellyn has been around for a little while, working on several major projects scores with composer Brian Tyler, but really broke out this year, showing his versatility on two vastly different scores – the horror film Deep in the Darkness and the Christmas-themed family comedy Wishin’ and Hopin’, which illustrate with the light and the dark sides of his musical personality – I expect major things from him in the future. Similarly, I expect John Paesano to gain a much higher profile following his transition from the small screen to the big screen via The Maze Runner and When the Game Stands Tall. The future looks bright!

 

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • “The Hanging Tree” from THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART I; written by Wesley Schultz, Jeremiah Fraites, James Newton Howard and Suzanne Collins, performed by Jennifer Lawrence

Nominees:

  • “The Last Goodbye” from THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES; written by Billy Boyd, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh, performed by Billy Boyd
  • “A Million Ways to Die” from A MILLION WAYS TO DIE; written by Joel McNeely and Seth MacFarlane, performed by Alan Jackson
  • “I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)” from MUPPETS MOST WANTED; written by Bret McKenzie, performed by Matt Vogel as Constantine
  • “Beautiful Creatures” from RIO 2; written by Andre Hosoi, Renato Epstein and Taura Stinson, performed by Barbatuques

hungergamesmockingjay1It’s not been a strong year for original songs for quite some time now, but 2014 did at least provide me with a few great moments to remember. One of the most powerful musical moments of all 2014 came in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I, when Jennifer Lawrence performs the song “The Hanging Tree” on-screen, and it becomes a rousing anthem for the uprising against a corrupt government. Although the lyrics were written by author Suzanne Collins in the book in 2010 (which is why it wasn’t eligible for the Oscars), the music was a combination of James Newton Howard’s score and a haunting, folk-like tune by Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites of the indie band The Lumineers; the result was a wonderful, spine-tingling ode to freedom and rebellion.

“The Last Goodbye” from The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, co-written and performed by actor Billy Boyd, was a perfect send-off to the entire Middle Earth saga, with beautifully reflective lyrics, a lovely vocal performance (in a strong Scottish accent which seems somehow appropriate), and tender orchestral backing arranged by Kiwi composer Victoria Kelly. “A Million Ways to Die” from A Million Ways to Die in the West was a loving homage to all those classic Western ballads from the 1940s and 50s, performed with gravel-voiced gusto by country star Alan Jackson, and containing hilarious lyrics explaining several of those ways one could meet an untimely end.

The Muppets have always had a strong musical tradition, all the way back to The Muppet Movie in the 1970s, and Bret McKenzie from the Flight of the Conchords is taking up the mantle on their latest incarnation; “I’ll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo in Malibu)” from Muppets Most Wanted is a wonderfully judged parody of disco-era romantic ballads, performed in-character with a Russian accent by Matt Vogel as Constantine the frog, trying to win the hand of Miss Piggy by offering to give her everything from mortgage loans and unicorns to armadillos to the eponymous cockatoo from Malibu. Finally, the rousing anthem “Beautiful Creatures” from the animated sequel Rio 2 is pure, unadulterated fun; the Brazilian percussion group Barbatuques captures the essence of the carnaval with hip-shaking rhythms, wonderful choral harmonies, a catchy central melody, and an important message of tolerance and acceptance.

Special mentions should also go to: “At the Gates” from KNIGHTS OF BADASSDOM by Bear McCreary and Brendan McCreary; “My Mind is a Stranger Without You” from THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY by A.R. Rahman; “Poisonous Love” from RIO 2 by Carlinhos Brown, John Powell and Randy Rogel; “Sister Rust” from LUCY by Damon Albarn; and “We Will Not Go” from VIRUNGA by Joshua Ralph.

 

BEST DRAMA SCORE

  • THE LIBERATOR, Gustavo Dudamel

Nominees:

  • FIELD OF LOST SHOES, Frederik Wiedmann
  • THE IMITATION GAME, Alexandre Desplat
  • THE MONUMENTS MEN, Alexandre Desplat
  • THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, Jóhann Jóhannsson

theliberatorI had to give the Best Drama score award to The Liberator. As I said before, Gustavo Dudamel’s John Williams-esque tribute to one of South America’s most beloved historical figures is magnificent, proves that the mercurial Venezuelan is as talented a composer as he is a conductor, and stands as one of the most impressive film composing debuts in years.

I’ve already touched on the other choices too: Freddie Wiedmann;s Field of Lost Shoes is a beautiful, moving reflection of Civil War era America, very much in the vein of James Horner’s Glory or John Frizzell’s Gods & Generals. The two Desplat scores are excellent: The Imitation Game being a masterful depiction of genius at work in the service of British military codebreakers in WWII, while The Monuments Men is a wonderfully nostalgic throwback to the great WWII scores of Elmer Bernstein and Ron Goodwin, filtered through the Frenchman’s elegant contemporary sensibility. Finally, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s The Theory of Everything is sort of a companion piece to Imitation Game, a musical depiction of genius, but this time with the added pathos of capturing the terrible physical issues facing Professor Stephen Hawking.

Special mentions should also go to: CALVARY by Patrick Cassidy, EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS by Alberto Iglesias, KANO by Naoki Sato, RED KROKODIL by Alexander Cimini, and UNE NOUVELLE AMIE by Philippe Rombi.

 

BEST COMEDY SCORE

  • A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST, Joel McNeely

Nominees:

  • CANTINFLAS, Roque Baños
  • THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, Alexandre Desplat
  • KAMIKAZE, Manel Santisteban
  • WISHIN’ AND HOPIN’, Matthew Llewellyn

amillionwaystodieinthewestJoel McNeely’s score for Seth MacFarlane’s spoof western A Million Ways to Die in the West was by far my favorite score for a comedy in 2014; McNeely understood the best way to score comedy is to not score it like one, and as such wrote a wonderful, loving homage to the classic music of the genre by the likes of Elmer Bernstein and Jerome Moross. Proper music, with memorable themes, performed by a large orchestra, is such a rarity in comedy these days, and McNeely knocked it out of the park with his work here. Not only that, he also co-wrote the brilliant main title song, performed by Alan Jackson channeling the Marlboro Man.

Cantinflas, about the life and work of the famous Mexican comedy actor, gave Roque Baños a chance to take a trip to old Hollywood, resulting in a score which had bags of charm, and a lovely central melody that goes through numerous different variations to depict the different aspects of the subject’s life. Also traveling to parts unknown was Alexandre Desplat, who adopted the intentionally stereotypical and clichéd sounds of central Europe for his score for The Grand Budapest Hotel, matching and at times surpassing the quirkiness of director Wes Anderson’s unique vision.

Spanish composer Manel Santisteban’s score for the black comedy Kamikaze – a film about a would-be suicide bomber forced to spend a night in a hotel with his intended victims – combines a light-hearted and playful main melody, written for in the first part for accordions and orchestra, with much more dramatic scoring and even some Middle Eastern inflections to capture the seriousness of the suicide bomb plot. Finally, newcomer Matthew Llewellyn gave the family-oriented Lifetime TV movie Wishin’ and Hopin’ an unexpectedly lovely romantic orchestral sweep, with memorable themes, light and lively orchestrations, and a subtle hint of Christmas.

Special mentions should also go to: THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN WHO CLIMBED OUT THE WINDOW AND DISAPPEARED by Matti Bye, KARSTEN OG PETRAS VIDUNDERLIGE JUL by Lars Kilevold, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB by Alan Silvestri, OCHO APELLIDOS VASCOS by Fernando Velázquez, and LA VIDA INSPERADA by Federico Jusid and Lucio Godoy.

 

BEST ACTION/ADVENTURE/THRILLER SCORE

  • THE MONKEY KING, Christopher Young

Nominees:

  • LA IGNORANCIA DE LA SANGRE, Federico Jusid
  • KUNDO: AGE OF THE RAMPANT, Jo-Yeung Wook
  • LASA Y ZABALA, Pascal Gaigne
  • NO GOD NO MASTER, Nuno Malo

monkeykingOf course, the best score of 2014 – Christopher Young’s The Monkey King – is also the best score of it’s genre, but several other scores in this category left extremely positive impressions. Federico Jusid’s score for the Spanish thriller La Ignorancia de la Sangre is a dark, brooding work that rises to almost operatic heights by its conclusion, as well as building in some outstanding contemporary action music that highlights the young Argentinean’s versatility. Meanwhile, over in South Korea, composer Jo-Yeung Wook endowed the samurai action movie Kundo: Age of the Rampant with a huge dose of loving Ennio Morricone pastiche, treating his noble warriors as modern-day cowboys and gunslingers. The music makes no attempt to hide its origins and inspirations, and is all the better because of it – it may be anachronistic and somewhat outlandish, but it’s wonderfully entertaining and tons of fun.

“Tons of fun” is not a phrase one would use to describe Pascal Gaigne’s score for the Spanish thriller Lasa y Zabala, but it’s still outstanding music: the Frenchman gives this story about the murder of two suspected Basque separatist terrorists a sense of drama and tragedy that is palpable, and even manages to work in some excellent contemporary action music. And finally we have No God No Master by Portuguese composer Nuno Malo; in any other year, his score for this 1920s drama-thriller would have been the runaway winner in this category, but he had the misfortune to have his score be in the same field as The Monkey King. Nevertheless, Malo’s bold, thematic, beautifully orchestrated music has more than a hint of Nino Rota about it, giving the story of the scapegoated murder suspects Sacco & Vanzetti an identifiable dramatic arc, a sense of importance, and more than a little love for their Italian homeland.

Special mentions should also go to: THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART I by James Newton Howard, RUROUNI KENSHIN – KYÔTO INFERNO by Naoki Sato, SCANDAL: HAO QUANG TRO LAI by Christopher Wong, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES by Brian Tyler, and VIY by Anton Garcia.

 

BEST FANTASY/SCI-FI/HORROR SCORE

  • MALEFICENT, James Newton Howard

Nominees:

  • GODZILLA, Alexandre Desplat
  • HERCULES, Fernando Velázquez
  • THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, Howard Shore
  • INTERSTELLAR, Hans Zimmer

maleficentJames Newton Howard’s score for Maleficent, the revisionist retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale from the point of view of the Evil Queen, is a spectacular delight: a superb romp through classic fantasy with soaring flying themes, rich and colorful orchestrations – including a gorgeous choral element – rousing battle sequences, and much more besides. In a very strong year for genre films, Howard’s score stood out as being especially notable, and gets my nod for the best of its type in 2014.

Alexandre Desplat displayed yet another side to his musical personality with the monster movie Godzilla; taking inspiration from both Akira Ifukube and György Ligeti, Desplat’s score is a dark, menacing powerhouse that growls in the lowest depths of the orchestra, overwhelms the listener with action music of immense proportions, and gradually reveals a heroic motif for the legendary lizard that unfolds over the course of the score. Similarly, Fernando Velázquez’s score for Hercules rises above the risible movie it accompanies, providing music of compositional intelligence and thematic strength, while still adhering to the requirements of mainstream contemporary Hollywood action films – unlike many other composers before him, Velázquez proves that you can write music of genuine quality without rocking the boat of studio-imposed demograophics.

Howard Shore took a sixth and final trip to Middle Earth with the third Hobbit movie, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Shore’s adherence to a strict leitmotivic form over the course of these films is staggeringly good, and just like the others in the series BOTFA weaves together a tapestry of themes and motifs that stretches back to the first Lord of the Rings films. Finally, Hans Zimmer traveled beyond the realms of the known universe in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, providing the heart and soul of the film with religioso organ music, classically-inspired orchestral minimalism, and an occasional explosion of powerful dissonance that rattled cinema speakers across the world.

Special mentions should also go to: LA BELLE ET LA BÊTE by Pierre Adenot, DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES by Michael Giacchino, DEEP IN THE DARKNESS by Matthew Llewellyn, LA HERMANDAD by Arnau Bataller, and SAPHIRBLAU by Philipp F. Kölmel.

 

BEST ANIMATION SCORE

  • HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2, John Powell

Nominees:

  • THE BOXTROLLS, Dario Marianelli
  • SON OF BATMAN, Fredrik Wiedmann
  • TARZAN, David Newman
  • WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, Takatsugu Muramatsu

howtotrainyourdragon2Like its predecessor did in 2010, John Powell’s sequel score, How to Train Your Dragon 2, takes top honors in the animation category in 2014. A rousing, energetic adventure score of the highest order, Powell builds on the Celtic-inflected themes from the original film and takes them through several interesting variations, while adding in new material to represent the new characters and locations. The score runs the gamut from astonishingly detailed and intricate action music (“Battle of the Bewilderbeast”) to overwhelming emotion (“Stoick’s Ship”), never outstaying its welcome, and always providing something new to experience with each listen.

Dario Marianelli gave the quirky British stop-motion animated film The Boxtrolls an equally quirky score, taking the trash-collecting antics of the central characters literally by using everything *including* the kitchen sink to give his music its unique personality. Fredrik Wiedmann continues his impressive year with his score for the animated super-hero movie Son of Batman. Challenging the preconceptions one may have about straight-to-DVD movies, the German’s music is bold and thrilling, taking its inspiration from the recent glut of serious super hero films, but adding in a rich cache of orchestral themes that give it a real touch of class.

Similarly exciting and classy is David Newman’s score for the German-made animated film Tarzan, based on the classic story by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Newman’s music embraces several contemporary scoring techniques, and works some ethnic African influences into the percussion section, but remains firmly rooted in the stirring orchestral foundation that has typified his work throughout his career. Finally, Japanese composer Takatsugu Muramatsu’s score for the anime film When Marnie Was There is a theme-lover’s delight: sometimes gentle, sometimes sweeping, sometimes playful, but always making excellent use of an elegant orchestral base, the score takes the listener on a journey to experience the world through a child’s eyes, with all the innocence and sentiment that implies. Beautiful.

Special mentions should also go to: LEGEND OF THE NEVERBEAST by Joel McNeely, MR. PEABODY & SHERMAN by Danny Elfman, THE PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR by Lorne Balfe, RIO 2 by John Powell, and STAND BY ME DORAEMON by Naoki Sato.

 

BEST DOCUMENTARY SCORE

  • BALLET BOYS, Henrik Skram

Nominees:

  • THE CASE AGAINST 8, Blake Neely
  • HIDDEN KINGDOMS, Ben Foster
  • THE UNKNOWN KNOWN, Danny Elfman
  • WARSAW UPRISING, Bartosz Chajdecki

balletboysComposer Henrik Skram’s score for the Norwegian film Ballet Boys was the standout documentary score for me in 2014. Following the lives of three young men as they make their way through the Norwegian Ballet, the music has all the vibrant energy of the music the boys dance to on a daily basis: vivid and impressionistic string themes, pulsating rhythms, and grand orchestral flourishes are the order of the day for this outstanding work.

Blake Neely contributes a typically lush and emotional score to the political documentary The Case Against 8, which examines the landmark Supreme Court case that overturned California’s Proposition 8 and its ban on same-sex marriage, and is very impressive indeed. Similarly impressive is British composer Ben Foster’s score for the nature documentary Hidden Kingdoms, which explores the lives of various tiny animals within the world’s forests and jungles, and joins a long list of excellent scores written for films made by BBC’s Natural History Unit.

History of a different kind is examined in director Errol Morris’s The Unknown Known, which looks at the life and career of former United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, especially his role in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11. Danny Elfman’s contemporary classical score is in a similar vein to the work he did on his previous collaboration with Morris, Standard Operating Procedure, and seems to channel the stylistics of Philip Glass through it’s dense, motivic ideas and rhythmic, string-heavy orchestrations. Finally, Polish composer Bartosz Chajdecki visits one of the most important parts of that country’s history in Warsaw Uprising, a superb docu-drama that tells the story of the Polish resistance’s fight against the Nazis in the last weeks of World War II. Chajdecki’s music gets to the heart of the story, giving the real footage of the men and women who died in the event a tangible emotional quality.

Special mentions should also go to: BJØRNØYA by Erland Elvesveen, COSMOS: A SPACE-TIME ODYSSEY by Alan Silvestri, THE FINAL MEMBER by Rob Simonsen, PLANET DEUTSCHLAND: 300 MILLIONEN JAHRE by Markus Lehmann-Horn, and WILDE SALOMÉ by Jeff Beal.

 

BEST TELEVISION SCORE

  • ISABEL, Federico Jusid

Nominees:

  • FURORE: IL VENTO DELLA SPERANZA, Stefano Caprioli
  • GAME OF THRONES, Ramin Djawadi
  • GUNSHI KANBEE, Yugo Kanno
  • PENNY DREADFUL, Abel Korzeniowski

isabelMusic for episodic television is in a golden era right now, all across the world, and for the second year in a row composer Federico Jusid takes top spot for his astonishingly brilliant work on the Spanish TV series Isabel, about the life of Queen Isabella I of Castille. Jusid’s gorgeous music, which is rich with themes, immaculate orchestrations, and sublime Latin choral performances, is some of the best music being composed anywhere in the world today.

Italian composer Stefano Caprioli impressed with his score for the Italian TV drama series Furore: Il Vento Della Speranza, which accompanies the story of a family that moves from Sicily to northern Italy in the aftermath of World War II seeking their fortune with music steeped in that rich, classical Italianate sound that people like Morricone and Rota had in abundance: waltzes, solo female vocals, and tender cello themes are the order of the day. On the other side of the world, Japanese composer Yugo Kanno gave the prestigious NHK Taiga drama series for 2014, Gunshi Kanbee, a bold and powerful score, perfect to accompany the story of a young soldier making his way through feudal Japan in the 16th century. Heightened emotions are the order of the day, told with gorgeous multi-faceted orchestrations, memorable themes with clear development and emotional range, intelligent dramatic application, and much more besides.

Back here in the US, Ramin Djawadi’s scores for the smash hit fantasy series Game of Thrones get better and better with each passing year: for Season 4, Djawadi continued the impressive development of his various character-related themes in new settings, offset by numerous memorable performances of the now-iconic main theme. Meanwhile, Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski took a trip to Victorian London with the Gothic horror drama series Penny Dreadful. The music is a sheer delight, dripping with atmosphere, and filled to the brim with a combination of dark romance and lurking horror that at times recalls the best work of Wojciech Kilar. Strings dominate the proceedings, with a choppy ostinatos melting into gorgeous violin laments, anchored by a wonderfully lush main theme.

Special mentions should also go to: 1864 by Marco Beltrami, DA VINCI’S DEMONS [SEASON 2] by Bear McCreary, I SEGRETI DI BORGO LARICI [SEASON 1] by Stefano Caprioli, LE MANI DENTRO LA CITTÀ [SEASON 1] by Andrea Farri, and SLEEPY HOLLOW [SEASON 2] by Brian Tyler and Robert Lydecker.

 

BEST VIDEO GAME SCORE

  • CIVILIZATION: BEYOND EARTH, Geoff Knorr, Griffin Cohen, Michael Curran and Grant Kirkhope

Nominees:

  • ASSASSIN’S CREED: UNITY, Chris Tilton and Sarah Schachner
  • CASTLEVANIA: LORD OF SHADOWS 2, Oscar Araujo
  • CHILD OF LIGHT, Béatrice Martin
  • WORLD OF WARCRAFT: WARLORDS OF DRAENOR, Russell Brower, Neal Acree, Clint Bajakian, Sam Cardon, Craig Stuart Garfinkle, Edo Guidotti and Eimear Noone

civilizationbeyondearthVideo game scores continue to grow in excellence with each passing year, and for me this year’s best was the score for the strategy game Civilization: Beyond Earth by Geoff Knorr, Griffin Cohen, Michael Curran and Grant Kirkhope. A fully orchestral, theme filled extravaganza, the four composers each tackle a different setting for the game’s action; lead composer Knorr’s soaring, epic writing for orchestra and chorus has all the majesty of the great space epics, while Curran and Kirkhope supplement this with equally impressive pieces of their own – Kirkhope’s music is especially worthwhile, capturing the essence of a desert planet with stirring emotion that at times recalls Star Wars.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity saw composers Chris Tilton and Sarah Schachner working independently of each other on different aspects of the game; Tilton’s contribution is exciting contemporary action music of the highest quality, while Schachner somehow manages to translate the baroque violin music of the French renaissance into a series of energetic fight scenes – very impressive indeed! Equally impressive is Spanish composer Oscar Araujo’s sequel score Castlevania: Lord of Shadows 2, which builds on the music of its predecessor with equally epic action writing, thunderous full-orchestral themes, and a rousing chorus.

Child of Light by French-Canadian composer Béatrice Martin (writing under the pseudonym Cœur de Pirate) is more reflective and introspective; beautiful themes for strings, piano and electronics make it a refreshing change from all the bombast elsewhere, and shows that game music can have a more intimate style too. The bombast returns, however, with World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor by Russell Brower and his astonishing team of composers at Blizzard. The epic orchestra and chorus from previous WoW installments returns with a vengeance, although this time the music is accentuated by a larger metallic percussion section and gruff, chanting male voices to depict the orc civilization within the game. Superb stuff.

Special mentions should also go to: ASSASSIN’S CREED: ROGUE by Elitsa Alexandrova, COMPANY OF HEROES 2: WESTERN FRONT ARMIES by Cris Velasco, ENEMY FRONT by Cris Velasco and Sean Hathaway, PLANETARY ANNIHILATION by Howard Mostrom, and TITANFALL by Stephen Barton.

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  1. January 17, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Superb write up, Jon! Great to see more love for Young’s THE MONKEY KING! It made my top 10 list as well!

  2. January 20, 2015 at 5:10 am

    For those people who, like me, are curious to listen to Young’s Monkey King, but don’t have the CD used by Jon on his review, Chris has posted on his “official” (?) YouTube channel 6 tracks from the score:

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIHeLn9Trzq0IaqeemE9fVw

    It’s worth noting that the only videos on this channel are from this score, which means that, if this is really official, than Christopher only created this for that more people could experience his new work. I just hope that it doesn’t mean that we are not going to have an official release. This one would be a good choice for Movie Score Media, for example.

  3. David Hand
    January 22, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Fantastic report. Just found you and have subscribed. Looking forward to future posts.

  4. SynthHater
    January 25, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Actually the other Hercules film has a much better score than The Rock version. Check out the outstanding secondary theme here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2erMOL_wDU

    That’s a great theme and even the main theme is good.

    • Edmund Meinerts
      January 25, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      I disagree – I thought Velazquez’ Hercules theme was much more impressive and enjoyable than Kantelinen’s, which was admittedly hampered by a truly awful recording.

  5. January 26, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    I missed Big Hero 6 on the Special Mentions for the Best Animation Scores. In my opinion, Henry Jackman did a great job on this film, nothing brilliant like Wreck-It Ralph or Puss In Boots, but still a fun score, filled with a great theme. It’s certainly a recovery for Jackman and his horrible Captain America 2. But it’s just me, I know that Jon probably didn’t like it as much as I did.

    • January 29, 2015 at 10:24 pm

      Yeah, I didn’t care for BIG HERO 6 all that much. It was fun and everything, but I felt there were much stronger animation scores this year.

  6. Boubis
    January 30, 2016 at 10:18 am

    My Best Original Music Scores(Albums) Released in 2014 :

    The Hobbit : The Battle of the Five Armies – Howard Shore
    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Michael Giacchino
    Coliseum – Marc Timon Barcelo
    Automata – Zacarias M. De La Riva
    Calvary – Patrick Cassidy
    The Dark Side of Light – Gus Reyes
    The Leftovers (Season 1) – Max Richter
    How to Train Your Dragon 2 – John Powell
    Grand Piano – Victor Reyes
    Secret Sharer – Guy Farley
    Une Nouvelle Amie – Philippe Rombi
    Penny Dreadful (Season 1) – Abel Korzeniowski
    The Liberator – Gustavo Dudamel
    Maleficent – James Newton Howard
    Stalingrad – Angelo Badalamenti
    The Brotherhood – Arnau Bataller
    Mediterranean – Armand Amar
    Red Krokodil(9 Original Tracks) – Alexander Cimini
    Colin Frake on Fire Mountain – Thomas Bergersen & Nick Phoenix
    Song of the Sea – Bruno Coulais

    My Best Original Music Scores of 2014 : (2015 Released Scores) The Prophet – G. Yared, The Monkey King – C. Young, The Face of an Angel – H. Escott, A Reason – K. Planert, Red Army – C. Beck & L. Birenberg / (Unreleased Score) Isabel (Season 3) – F. Jusid

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