Movie Music UK Awards 2015
I feel like I say this every year, but narrowing down my choices for the best scores of 2015 has been harder than ever. It’s been a wonderful year for film music – I managed to experience well over 400 scores this year, both by watching movies and listening to their soundtracks independently, and the quality of music being written in all corners of the world just gets better and better.
This year, I have nominated works from France, Iran, Japan, Lebanon, Norway, Portugal, and Spain, as well the USA and the UK, proving once again that if you look outside the mainstream, you can still find a lot of outstanding music being written for smaller-scale projects all across the world.
My choices for the best of the year range from major Hollywood blockbusters and art house dramas, to broad comedies, classic fairytales, and science fiction adventures that take you beyond the stars – so, for your reading and listening pleasure, I present the 2015 Movie Music UK Awards!
SCORE OF THE YEAR
- STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, John Williams
- CINDERELLA, Patrick Doyle
- JUPITER ASCENDING, Michael Giacchino
- PETER AND WENDY, Maurizio Malagnini
- WOLF TOTEM, James Horner
It was never in doubt that the Score of the Year was going to be STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. It marks John Williams’s triumphant return to the musical world that secured his legendary status back in 1977, and acts as a reminder of why the majority of his peers consider him to be greatest living film composer. His use of the classic Star Wars themes, blended with the quintet of new themes for the new generation of characters, presented through his well-defined sense dramatic storytelling, is nothing less than a masterpiece. I haven’t been able to get “Rey’s Theme” or the “March of the Resistance” out of my head for weeks.
CINDERELLA was all about class and elegance, and Patrick Doyle’s charming waltzes and effortlessly pretty melodies allowed Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the classic story to capture the fantasy romance at the score of the story; it didn’t hurt that one of the year’s best action cues, “Pumpkin Pursuit,” was written for this score too. High-concept sci-fi is often boom or bust, and JUPITER ASCENDING unfortunately fell into the ‘bust’ category, but Michael Giacchino’s astonishing score was a standout element: thematically rich, dense and complicated orchestrations, with staggering action sequences, and moments of orchestral and choral magnificence, this would have been a contender for score of the year had Star Wars not come along.
The same can be said for Anglo-Italian composer Maurizio Malagnini’s score for PETER AND WENDY, a British made-for-TV movie expanding on the Peter Pan legend; the score has so much fantasy, so much whimsy, so much beauty and romance, such a great sense of humor, and such memorable themes, it’s staggering that this is one of Malagnini’s first ever feature scores – big things are in his future.The death of James Horner was, for me, the saddest event of 2015, so it’s perhaps only fitting that my final choice for Score of the Year should be his score for WOLF TOTEM, director Jean Jacques Annaud’s epic story of a Chinese man experiencing the ancient heritage of his culture for the first time. It’s not just a sympathy vote either – Wolf Totem represents everything that I have always loved about Horner’s music, from the sweeping central melodies to the boundless emotional content to the interesting orchestrations. It’s a fitting coda to the career of one of film music’s all time greats.
Rounding my Top 10 film scores of 2015 (in alphabetical order) are: ANT-MAN by Christophe Beck, EN MAI FAIS CE QU’IL TE PLAÎT by Ennio Morricone, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD by Craig Armstrong, KRAMPUS by Douglas Pipes, and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION by Joe Kraemer.
Also worth mentioning here is one TV score, CARLOS REY EMPERADOR by Federico Jusid, and three astonishing video game scores: ASSASSIN’S CREED: SYNDICATE by Austin Wintory, CIVILIZATION: BEYOND EARTH – RISING TIDE by Geoff Knorr, Griffin Cohen, and Grant Kirkhope, and REVELATION by Neal Acree. I don’t count them in my list of film scores, but they are certainly worthy of individual recognition.
- MICHAEL GIACCHINO
- JAMES HORNER
- FEDERICO JUSID
- BEAR McCREARY
- ENNIO MORRICONE
Michael Giacchino had an absolutely astonishing year in 2015, writing four scores of great quality: INSIDE OUT, JUPITER ASCENDING, JURASSIC WORLD, and TOMORROWLAND. In any other year all four of Giacchino’s scores would have been nominated in their respective categories, but such was the strength of the field that one won its genre, and only one was nominated for Score of the Year. Nevertheless, the thematic writing, orchestral intelligence, and sheer fun of each of his four works was enough to make him my top composer of 2015.
It’s terribly ironic that, after several years away from the mainstream, James Horner was on the verge of making a triumphant comeback this year, prior to his shocking death in a plane crash in June. One of his scores – WOLF TOTEM – was one of the best of the year, one of his best in years, while his other work included the drama scores THE 33 and SOUTHPAW, and two highly personal documentaries: ONE DAY IN AUSCHWITZ and LIVING IN THE AGE OF AIRPLANES. Sentiment wanted me to name him Composer of the Year, but in reality just two of his five scores were of genuine high quality – although, had he lived, I have a feeling that a career renaissance was about to occur. Now we’ll never know. Federico Jusid continues to impress me with every score he writes, and in 2015 he upped his game even more. He wrote the best TV score of the year – CARLOS, REY EMPERADOR – and augmented that with a trio of great scores for theatrical features (TERESA, FELICES 140, and FRANCISCO: EL PADRE JORGE), and more excellent television work in Spain. He is clearly one of the rising stars in the film music world, and I hope he makes his mainstream American breakthrough soon.
Bear McCreary is the most in-demand TV composer in the United States right now, with an astonishing five major shows on his docket right now: BLACK SAILS, DA VINCI’S DEMONS, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D., OUTLANDER, and THE WALKING DEAD. Quite how he found the time to also write the score for an action thriller (EVERLY) and a video game (ASSASSIN’S CREED: SYNDICATE – JACK THE RIPPER) is beyond me, but what’s more impressive is that the quality of his work just gets better and better year on year. And, finally, Ennio Morricone returned to the North American mainstream with his score for Quentin Tarantino’s western THE HATEFUL EIGHT, his first score for a Hollywood film for almost 15 years, and which will likely earn him his first competitive Oscar. Ironically, this wasn’t even his best score of the year: the French WWII drama EN MAI FAIS CE QU’IL TE PLAÎT reminded listeners just what an astonishing man he is and how, at the age of 87, he is still capable of wowing audiences with his music.
- MAURIZIO MALAGNINI
- CAT’S EYES (FARIS BADWAN and RACHEL ZEFFIRA)
- LUDWIG GÖRANSSON
- JOSHUA JOHNSON
- DIEGO NAVARRO
Although he has been working on acclaimed British TV series like THE PARADISE and CALL THE MIDWIFE for several years, Italian composer Maurizio Malagnini appears to be on the verge of a major breakthrough following his astonishingly beautiful and magical score for the TV movie PETER AND WENDY, which for me was one of the best of the year. The rich thematic writing, sense of freedom and wonderment, and flair for the dramatic for me earmarks Malagnini as the ‘next big thing,’ and I hope beyond hope that he is given the opportunity capitalize on this and show the world what a wonderful composer he is.
English musician/vocalist Faris Badwan, and Italian-Canadian soprano/composer/multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira are the brains behind the band Cat’s Eyes, and wrote the score for director Peter Strickland’s THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY, the highbrow antidote to Fifty Shades of Grey, which tells the story of the sadomasochistic lesbian relationship between a professor with a special interest in lepidoptery, and her maid and lover who slowly becomes her consensual sex slave. By channeling Ennio Morricone, Wojciech Kilar’s European romance scores, and many of the scores for 1970s soft-core erotica movies, they created a dream-like mood of ethereal fantasy which captured my attention immediately.
The other three composers have all been nominated in their respective categories. Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson spent time as an assistant to Theodore Shapiro, and wrote music for TV sitcoms lie COMMUNITY, before writing the breakout score for the Rocky sequel CREED. Composer Joshua Johnson impressed me enormously with his lush, emotional, theme-filled, fully-orchestral score for the documentary I AM BIG BIRD, about the life of Sesame Street master puppeteer Carroll Spinney. And, finally, Spanish composer and conductor Diego Navarro took a major step into the mainstream with his rousing and heroic score for the space-themed animated film ATRAPA LA BANDERA.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
- “Underground” from ASSASSIN’S CREED: SYNDICATE, written by Austin Wintory, Steven Gates, Scott Edgar, and Simon Hall, performed by Tripod
- “The Duke of Burgundy” from THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY, written by Faris Badwan and Rachel Zeffira, performed by Cat’s Eyes
- “Til It Happens To You” from THE HUNTING GROUND, written by Diane Warren and Stefani Germanotta, performed by Lady Gaga
- “Who Can You Trust?” from SPY, written by Theodore Shapiro and Craig Wedren, performed by Ivy Levan
- “Mean Ol’ Moon” from TED 2, written by Walter Murphy and Seth MacFarlane, performed by Norah Jones
The number of truly great songs being written for movies is dwindling year-on-year, and 2015 proved to be a major disappointment. With no great Disney animated musical to draw on, and a disappointing James Bond effort, it turns out that the best song of the year was not written for a movie at all. Composer Austin Wintory collaborated with Australian musical comedy trio Tripod to write six ‘murder ballads’ for the video game ASSASSIN’S CREED: SYNDICATE, the best of which was “Underground”. One part Monty Python, one part Steven Sondheim, the song is a downbeat, poetic, poignant reflection on the lot of the working class of Victorian London, and has more depth and intelligence than three quarters of the songs that were eligible for the Oscars.
Of the others, I was greatly struck by “The Duke of Burgundy” from THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY, written by Faris Badwan and Rachel Zeffira, and performed by Cat’s Eyes. A dreamy, faraway, fragile song, it perfectly captures the essence and sound of 1970s European art house erotic cinema, as one would expect for the film, an experimental piece about a sadomasochistic lesbian relationship. “Til It Happens To You” from THE HUNTING GROUND, written by Diane Warren and Stefani Germanotta, sheds light on the important topic of the rape epidemic on American college campuses, and sees Lady Gaga shedding much of her showy persona and instead singing Warren’s lovely melody with dignity and passion.
“Who Can You Trust?” from SPY, written by Theodore Shapiro and Craig Wedren, is ironically a better Bond song than the real song from Spectre, and is a full-throated ballad belted out with gusto by Ivy Levan channeling her inner Shirley Bassey. Finally, we have “Mean Ol’ Moon” from TED 2, written by Walter Murphy and Seth MacFarlane, and performed by Norah Jones with all the velvety romance of classic Hollywood.
BEST DRAMA SCORE
- WOLF TOTEM, James Horner
- CREED, Ludwig Göransson
- EN MAI FAIS CE QU’IL TE PLAÎT , Ennio Morricone
- FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD, Craig Armstrong
- MUHAMMAD: THE MESSENGER OF GOD, A. R. Rahman
Ludwig Göransson announced himself as a composer of the future with his score for the latest film in the Rocky franchise, CREED, with a superb contemporary score that blended the best of Bill Conti’s contributions to the series with rousing sports music anthems and an urban hip-hop kick to make it relevant for modern audiences. The other three scores are, on the other hand, defiantly classical. Ennio Morricone’s score for the French WWII drama EN MAI FAIS CE QU’IL TE PLAÎT recalls some of his classics in the genre, with beautifully longing themes offset by some stark, dangerous depictions of the realities of war. Craig Armstrong gave the latest version of Thomas Hardy’s FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD a hearty dose of traditional Englishness, scoring the doomed love affairs of the protagonist with a series of romantic but wistful themes and some outstanding writing for solo violin. Finally, A. R. Rahman’s score for Iranian movie MUHAMMAD: THE MESSENGER OF GOD was a searing spiritual masterpiece, a gorgeous combination of a traditional western orchestra, ethnic instrumental soloists, and a myriad of vocal performers, which blended together to create an beautiful score of immense power and scope.
Special mentions should also go to: THE HATEFUL EIGHT by Ennio Morricone, MY ALL-AMERICAN by John Paesano, PAPER PLANES by Nigel Westlake, TERESA by Federico Jusid, and TRUTH by Brian Tyler.
BEST COMEDY SCORE
- KRAMPUS, Douglas Pipes
- THE LADY IN THE VAN, George Fenton
- O PÁTIO DAS CANTIGAS, Nuno Malo
- OCHO APELLIDOS CATALANES, Roque Baños
- SPY, Theodore Shapiro
Douglas Pipes’s score for the scare-filled Christmas comedy KRAMPUS was a devilish delight, a wonderful combination of festive family themes, twisted Christmas carols, and rampaging action/horror music. The creativity Pipes showed in blending these disparate styles together into a cohesive whole was wonderful – it’s something Jerry Goldsmith would have done – and it yet again proves that Pipes is the undisputed master of the holiday comedy-horror movie, and that he needs many more major assignments than he is currently receiving.
The other four nominees run the gamut of comedy scoring styles. George Fenton’s THE LADY IN THE VAN is built around an opulent central waltz, perfectly capturing the cantankerous, eccentric but warm-hearted persona of Maggie Smith’s central character. Nuno Malo’s score for the Portuguese comedy-drama O PÁTIO DAS CANTIGAS has the effortlessly charming disposition of Nino Rota’s scores for Federico Fellini, capturing the romantic escapades of the characters with music for guitar and orchestra that is as warm and sunny as the Algarve coast. Roque Baños scored the Spanish romantic comedy OCHO APELLIDOS CATALANES with a mix of tender and romantic orchestral pieces, alongside a wealth of enjoyable and authentic jazz. Finally. Theodore Shapiro chanelled his inner John Barry with the espionage caper SPY, bringing full-throttle action music and more than a hint of jazzy cool to Melissa McCarthy’s misadventures as an undercover agent.
Special mentions should also go to: HRÚTAR by Atli Örvarsson, LES DEUX AMIS by Philippe Sarde, THE NIGHT BEFORE by Marco Beltrami and Miles Hankins, PIXELS by Henry Jackman, and THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL by Thomas Newman.
BEST ACTION/ADVENTURE/THRILLER SCORE
- MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION, Joe Kraemer
- BELLE ET SÉBASTIEN: L’AVENTURE CONTINUE, Armand Amar
- THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., Daniel Pemberton
- SAN ANDREAS, Andrew Lockington
- TAKEN 3, Nathaniel Méchaly
The emergence this year – finally! – of Joe Kraemer as one of the best young composers working in Hollywood has been very gratifying to observe, and if things pan out as they should then his score for MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION will be the catalyst for a long, fruitful career. The way he combines of barnstorming original orchestral action music and a knockout villain’s theme with excerpts from Puccini’s Nessun Dorma and plenty of homages to Lalo Schifrin’s classic music from the original TV show, make this score the most vibrant and exciting action score of the year for me.
French composer Armand Amar took a different approach with his score for the action-adventure BELLE ET SÉBASTIEN: L’AVENTURE CONTINUE, a rousing and enjoyable children’s score for a boy and his dog rescuing the survivors of a plane crash in the Alps. Daniel Pemberton oozed 1960s cool with his throwback score for the reboot of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., a classy, jazzy blending of John Barry and Jerry Goldsmith that pushed all the right buttons of nostalgia and retro cool. Andrew Lockington simply went for broke with his balls-to-the-wall action score SAN ANDREAS, accompanying Dwayne Johnson’s exploits in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake with thematic coherence and a great deal of orchestral power. Finally, the most unexpected great score in the genre was French composer Nathaniel Méchaly’s work on TAKEN 3, the third installment in the series of Liam Neeson revenge thrillers: Méchaly abandoned much of the euro-synth scoring that dominated the first two movies and ramped up the orchestral content, resulting in a much more appealing sound and several knockout chase sequences.
Special mentions should also go to: DARTMOOR KILLING by Sarah Class, KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE by Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson, SPECTRE by Thomas Newman, TOM SAWYER AND HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Robert Gulya, and ZIARNO PRAWDY by Abel Korzeniowski.
BEST FANTASY/SCIENCE FICTION/HORROR SCORE
- STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, John Williams
- ANT-MAN, Christophe Beck
- CINDERELLA, Patrick Doyle
- JUPITER ASCENDING, Michael Giacchino
- PETER AND WENDY, Maurizio Malagnini
I’ve discussed STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS, CINDERELLA, JUPITER ASCENDING, and PETER AND WENDY already in the Score of the Year section – my reasoning there is the same as it is here, with John Williams naturally winning the category with room to spare.
The fantasy/sci-fi/horror genre was such a stacked category this year, with at least five other scores that could have rounded out my list of five nominations, but in the end I decided to go with ANT-MAN. Christophe Beck’s brilliant score was wonderfully addictive and engaging, and contained one of the year’s biggest ear worm main themes, while the decision to blend his superb action-heist-caper music with a load of 1950s surf rock was a masterstroke.
Special mentions should also go to: CRIMSON PEAK by Fernando Velázquez, JURASSIC WORLD by Michael Giacchino, PAN by John Powell, TOMORROWLAND by Michael Giacchino, and VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN by Craig Armstrong.
BEST ANIMATION SCORE
- INSIDE OUT, Michael Giacchino
- ATRAPA LA BANDERA, Diego Navarro
- GAMBA, Benjamin Wallfisch
- KAHLIL GIBRAN’S THE PROPHET, Gabriel Yared
- SOLAN OG LUDVIG – HERFRA TIL FLÅKLYPA, Knut Avenstroup Haugen
One of the most moving films of 2015, Pixar’s INSIDE OUT was a film about growing up, and how the conflicting emotions inside all children adapt and change as they become more rounded individuals with the capacity to understand what they are feeling, and why. Michael Giacchino’s masterful score somehow was able to capture all these nuances in music, scoring all the joy and sadness and wonderment and fear of a young girl’s emotional awakening with a great deal of subtlety and sensitivity.
All my other choices in this category come from outside the mainstream animation world. Diego Navarro’s score for the Spanish film ATRAPA LA BANDERA [CAPTURE THE FLAG] was rousing and heroic, channeling the same noble heights as James Horner’s Apollo 13, as a young boy fulfuls his fantasies to travel to the moon. Benjamin Wallfisch’s score for Japanese children’s film GAMBA was similarly ebullient, following the adventures of a brave and courageous little mouse as he helps ave a community from a gang of evil weasels. Gabriel Yared’s score for the French/Lebanese animation KAHLIL GIBRAN’S THE PROPHET had very different aims than its fellow nominees, taking viewers on a spiritual and philosophical journey through different aspects of life with a beautiful combination of emotionally potent orchestral music and a lively, authentic world music influence drawing from Middle Eastern traditions. Finally, Knut Avenstroup Haugen’s score for the Norwegian film SOLAN OG LUDVIG – HERFRA TIL FLÅKLYPA was a fun and exciting adventure score filled with happy-go-lucky comic themes and a surprisingly rich vein of action music, including a cue for a flying sequence in a hang glider which stands as one of 2015’s most buoyant set-pieces.
Special mentions should also go to: BATMAN UNLIMITED: MONSTER MAYHEM by Kevin Riepl, THE BOY AND THE BEAST by Masakatsu Takagi, THE GOOD DINOSAUR by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna, JUSTICE LEAGUE: GODS AND MONSTERS by Fredrik Wiedmann, and UN GALLO CON MUCHO HUEVOS by Zacarías M. de la Riva.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SCORE
- THE HUNT, Steven Price
- CHAVÍN DE HUANTAR: EL TEATRO DEL MÁS ALLÁ, Santi Vega
- HUMAN, Armand Amar
- I AM BIG BIRD, Joshua Johnson
- LA GLACE ET LE CIEL, Cyrille Aufort
Theatrical and TV documentaries are receiving outstanding scores in greater numbers year after year, and 2015 provided yet another astounding set of potential nominees. Nature documentaries often prove to be fertile ground for composers’ imaginations, and Steven Price’s score for the BBC series THE HUNT is a worthy successor to the great music written by the likes of George Fenton and Christopher Gunning. Rousing and exciting, playful and humorous, soaring and majestic, Price’s score runs the gamut of every emotion with musical excellence as it examines the various life-or-death situations faced by both predator and prey every day in the animal kingdom.
Santi Vega’s score for the documentary CHAVÍN DE HUANTAR: EL TEATRO DEL MÁS ALLÁ was nominated for a Spanish Academy Award, and its not difficult to see why, being a fascinating collision between modern, thematic orchestral writing, and ancient-sounding vocal chants dating back thousands of years to the earliest South American civilizations the film examines. Armand Amar’s score for the French documentary HUMAN is a fascinating world-music fusion, taking influences as disparate as Mongolian throat singing, African tribal percussion, and traditional Sami music from Lapland, and using them to score the kaleidoscope of human experiences the film describes. Joshua Johnson’s score for I AM BIG BIRD is much more intimate and emotional, using broad and lush thematic writing to look at the life of actor Carroll Spinney, who has entertained and educated generations of children as the eponymous character from Sesame Street. Finally, Cyrille Aufort’s score for the French film LA GLACE ET LE CIEL [ICE AND THE SKY] makes the topic of global warming and climate change seem much more immediate and important with a series of beautiful vignettes that illustrate the beauty and fragility of the Earth’s ecosystem, and how we must come together to protect it.
Special mentions should also go to: HE NAMED ME MALALA by Thomas Newman, THE HUNTING GROUND by Miriam Cutler, INGRID BERGMAN: IN HER OWN WORDS by Michael Nyman, JOANNA LUMLEY’S TRANS-SIBERIAN ADVENTURE by Miguel d’Oliveira, and SUEÑOS DE SAL by Óscar Navarro.
BEST TELEVISION SCORE
- CARLOS, REY EMPERADOR, Federico Jusid
- FARGO, Jeff Russo
- THE MUSKETEERS, Paul Englishby
- OUTLANDER, Bear McCreary
- WOLF HALL, Debbie Wiseman
It’s been said before that we’re in a golden age of TV music right now, and this year’s cache of television scores yet again proves that statement is no exaggeration. The cream of the crop, for me, is Federico Jusid’s utterly spectacular score for the Spanish TV series CARLOS, REY EMPERADOR, which continues the story that began in Isabel, by looking at the life and reign of Queen Isabella of Castille’s grandson. Like the scores for all three seasons is Isabel, Jusid’s score for Carlos is magnificent, filled to the brim with the regal themes, heavenly Latin choral work, and spine-tingling crescendos that have become his hallmark over the years.
Jeff Russo emerged into the mainstream in 2014 with his score for Season 1 of the FX series FARGO, and he has bettered it with his score for 2015’s Season 2. Taking Carter Burwell’s theme from the original film as a starting point, Russo adapts, re-arranges and builds on the theme in a myriad of different ways, while also finding time to work in urban-cool blaxploitation vibes and disco beats to capture the essence of the show’s 1970s setting. The other three nominees are much more classical in their sound: Paul Englishby’s score for the second season of the BBC action-adventure series THE MUSKETEERS is full of rousing action and adventure, passionate romance, and courtly intrigue, as d’Artagnan and his comrades navigate the corridors of power in royal France. Bear McCreary travels to bonnie Scotland for his score for the Starz original series OUTLANDER, bringing James Horner/Braveheart-style sweeping romance and adventure to the story of a time-traveling woman who falls in love with a Highlander during the Jacobite rebellion. Finally, Debbie Wiseman’s score for the Tudor drama WOLF HALL scores the life of Henry VIII, his various wives, and his advisor Thomas Cromwell, with renaissance-style orchestrations and an intriguing dramatic darkness.
There were so many wonderful TV scores this year that I couldn’t narrow my ‘special mentions’ to just five, so here are ten other great TV scores from 2015 that, in other years, would have been a shoo-in for a nomination: DA VINCI’S DEMONS by Bear McCreary, DOWNTON ABBEY by John Lunn, GAME OF THRONES by Ramin Djawadi, HANA MOYU by Kenji Kawai, HEROIC LEGEND OF ARSLAN by Taro Iwashiro, HOUSE OF CARDS by Jeff Beal, MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. by Bear McCreary, PENNY DREADFUL by Abel Korzeniowski, POLDARK by Anne Dudley, and TEXAS RISING by Bruce Broughton and John Debney.
BEST VIDEO GAME SCORE
- ASSASSIN’S CREED: SYNDICATE, Austin Wintory
- CIVILIZATION: BEYOND EARTH – RISING TIDE, Geoff Knorr, Griffin Cohen, Grant Kirkhope
- EVERYBODY’S GONE TO THE RAPTURE, Jessica Curry
- REVELATION, Neal Acree
- SWORD COAST LEGENDS, Inon Zur
2015 was yet another superb year for video game music, with three absolute knockouts vying for top spot, but in the end I had to give the award to Austin Wintory and ASSASSIN’S CREED: SYNDICATE for sheer audacity. Wintory’s decision to score the game with classical dances, soprano vocals, and music hall murder ballads was one of demented genius, but it absolutely works, capturing the dichotomy of Victorian London in all its dangerous filth and wealthy opulence. As I said in my review, the fact that Wintory was able to write a score with this sort of elegance and classicism, while also writing a series of wholly unconventional music hall songs, for the same project, and most importantly, making it work, is a positive reflection of the industry as a whole. Game designers take chances, embrace unconventionality, allow for experimentation, and encourage innovation.
Geoff Knorr, Griffin Cohen and Grant Kirkhope’s score CIVILIZATION: BEYOND EARTH – RISING TIDE maintained the standard of excellence they established on the original Beyond Earth score last year, conveying the scope and majesty of space and the varied ecology of the different game play planets with music of great beauty and creativity; Kirkhope’s John Williams-esque music for the ice planet setting was especially outstanding. Perfectly illustrating the enormous diversity of contemporary video game scoring, Jessica Curry’s gorgeously religioso choral score for EVERYBODY’S GONE TO THE RAPTURE gave a sense of deep spirituality to the story of a woman exploring the small English town whose inhabitants have mysteriously disappeared. Neal Acree’s score for the Chinese MMORPG REVELATION was indeed a revelation, a breakout solo score for the composer, whose rousing thematic writing, powerful orchestral performances, and faultless interpolation of traditional Chinese instrumental soloists, appeal to all my personal sweet spots. Finally, Israeli composer Inon Zur’s score for SWORD COAST LEGENDS is a tapestry of exciting action music, soaring themes for a full orchestra and chorus that befits the game’s Dungeons-and-Dragons-style fantasy setting in a world full of fearsome monsters, brave warriors, magic and high adventure.
Special mentions should also go to: THE ORDER 1886 by Jason Graves, ORI AND THE BLIND FOREST by Gareth Coker, PILLARS OF ETERNITY by Justin Bell, STARCRAFT II: LEGACY OF THE VOID by Jason Hayes, Michael Patti, Neal Acree, and Glenn Stafford, and THE WITCHER 3: WILD HUNT by Marcin Przybylowicz and Marcin Stronski.