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Movie Music UK Awards 2016

February 3, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

mmukawardsI know I have said this year after year, but this year it seems to be truer than ever: choosing the best scores of 2016 was an incredibly difficult task. The issue, for me, was the lack of a clear 5-star masterpiece score, combined with a whole host of very good-but-not-great scores.I keep a running tally of every score I hear throughout the year, and I have ended up with an astonishing 58 scores which, if I were still giving out star ratings, I would have rated either **** or ****½.

Putting these in any kind of hierarchical order is virtually impossible task considering the tiny margins of quality between each score but, nevertheless, it’s something I had to do. So, after much deliberation, here are my choices for the Best Scores of 2016!


  • LA-LA LAND, music by Justin Hurwitz (review)


  • FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, music by James Newton Howard (review)
  • THE HANDMAIDEN, music by Jo-Yeung Wook (review)
  • THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, music by Alexandre Desplat (review)
  • NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, music by Abel Korzeniowski (review)

lalalandscore-smallIn terms of sheer joy, no score affected more positively than LA LA LAND. Composer Justin Hurwitz’s take on the contemporary movie musical is bold, artistic, and creative. Working with songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Hurwitz crafted a score which weaves the melodies of half a dozen different songs into a musical tapestry that references pop, jazz, and sweeping orchestral romance. The infectious rhythm of “Another Say of Sun,” the whimsical melancholy of “City of Stars,” and the wonderful central melody for Mia & Sebastian’s theme haven’t left my head since I saw the film, and that in itself is a wonderful thing.

Jo-Yeung Wook’s score for the Korean erotic thriller THE HANDMAIDEN is a masterpiece of slow-burning melodrama, taking the audience on a journey to the dark side of obsession and vengeance with a series of gorgeously understated, but handsomely rendered, passages that are as beautiful as they are sinister. The same can be said of Abel Korzeniowski’s score for the thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, which pulls double duty by scoring the icy demeanor of a Los Angeles art gallery owner, and the brutal carnage of the plot of the book she reads. By allowing the music to cross-pollinate across the two stories, Korzeniowski subtly underpins the film’s threads of emotional revenge; it helps that the central theme, “Wayward Sisters,” is utterly sublime too.

James Newton Howard took his first steps into the world of Harry Potter with his score for the spinoff FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM; the resulting work is a spectacular collage of exciting, evocative themes and motifs that follow protagonist Newt Scamander around 1920s New York, and run the stylistic gamut from Gershwin jazz to bold, triumphant orchestral heroism. Finally, Alexandre Desplat’s score for the period drama THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS captures the tender romance between a man and wife and the mystery that concerns their child. Through a series of mesmerizing, emotional themes Desplat allows the listener to feel their joy, their pain, and their desperation as long-buried secrets are revealed.

Rounding my Top 10 film scores of 2016 (in alphabetical order) are: THE JUNGLE BOOK by John Debney, THE MONKEY KING 2 by Christopher Young, SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS by Ilan Eshkeri, THE RED TURTLE by Laurent Perez del Mar, and TALE OF A LAKE by Panu Aaltio. But, honestly, the margins between the top 5 scores and the ones ranked from 6-10 are tiny and every one of my top 10 picks are absolutely superb.





When deciding my choice for composer of the year, I take into consideration both quality and quantity, so although JUSTIN HURWITZ wrote the overall best score of the year with La La Land, Japanese composer NAOKI SATO takes the top prize here. Although none of his theatrical scores made it into my Top 10 of the year, Sato nevertheless wrote an astonishing four scores that I would have rated at 4-stars or better in 2016: the bizarre action comedy Assassination Classroom: Graduation, the sweet children’s animated film Rudolf the Black Cat, and two superb scores for television series: Guardian of the Spirit and The Never-Setting Sun. The quality of work that Sato provides, across multiple genres and mediums, without ever sacrificing emotional integrity or instrumental ingenuity, is outstanding, and earmarks him as one of the best composers working anywhere in the world today.

ALEXANDRE DESPLAT and FERNANDO VELÁZQUEZ also had banner years. The Frenchman lent his talents to several very different projects and excelled at all of them – the best, for me, being the period drama The Light Between Oceans, the lush and wondrous biopic of Jacques Cousteau L’Odyssée, and the madcap animated comedy The Secret Life of Pets – while the enormously talented Spaniard impressed enormously with his scores for the historical war drama Gernika, the children’s fantasy A Monster Calls, and the children’s adventure sequel Zip & Zap and the Captain’s Island.

Finally, MICHAEL GIACCHINO wrote two excellent sci-fi scores, stepping into the daunting shoes of John Williams to score the first spin-off Star Wars film Rogue One (and do it in just four weeks), and writing a dazzling Indian-inflected score for the latest member of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange.





Clearly, the breakthrough composer of 2016 has to be JUSTIN HURWITZ. La La Land is only his second feature film score after Whiplash in 2014, and as I’ve mentioned already the life and energy and joie de vivre he brought to his music for that wonderfully effervescent film musical is sure to launch his career into the stratosphere.

Four other new composers impressed me greatly in 2016. CHAD CANNON is a former protégé of Conrad Pope, and is a specialist Asian music, so it stands to reason that his two standout scores in 2016 – The Cairo Declaration and Paper Lanterns – were both wonderful fusions of Oriental and Western music, beautiful and lyrical. DANIEL HART first came to my attention a couple of years ago with his score for the revisionist western Ain’t The Bodies Saints, but really broke out this year with his vivacious, life-affirming orchestral score for the Disney children’s fantasy Pete’s Dragon, while also finding time to write music of a wholly different style for the new TV series The Exorcist – which is very good too.

French composer LAURENT PEREZ DEL MAR has been writing film music in France for almost a decade, but attained his first truly international success in 2016 with The Red Turtle, a moving animated film about love and hope and dreams, which had a similarly emotional score. Finally, composers ANDY HULL and ROBERT MCDOWELL of the bank Manchester Orchestra wrote a wholly unique, conceptually brilliant a cappella score for the scatologically-minded comedy Swiss Army Man, using nothing but layered voices and musique concrete percussion; it sounds awful, but turned out to be heroic and rousing and hilarious all at the same time.


  • “AUDITION (THE FOOLS WHO DREAM)” from La La Land, written by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul, performed by Emma Stone


  • “ANOTHER DAY OF SUN” from La La Land, written by Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul, performed by The Cast of La-La Land
  • “BIFRÖST” from The Last King, written by Gaute Storaas, Cecilie Larsen, and Helene Bøksle, performed by Helene Bøksle
  • “THE FOOTSTEPS OF MY DEAR LOVE (IMI ONEUN SORI)” from The Handmaiden, written by Jo Yeong-Wook, performed by Gain & Minseo
  • “SOV I RO” from Snowfall, written by Henrik Skram, Hanne Hagerup, Hilde Hagerup, and Klaus Hagerup, performed by Eva Weel Skram

lalalandsoundtrack-smallI forced myself to limit myself to two songs from LA LA LAND in the top section of this category, because otherwise it would have dominated it entirely. As it is, the song “AUDITION (THE FOOLS WHO DREAM)” is still my choice for the pick of the year: although its counterpart “City of Stars” appears to have more public acclaim, Stone’s raw, searing, enormously emotional performance of this song, a tribute to the artists of the world, left more of an impression on me than any other.

Its flipside, in terms of content, is the ultimate feelgood anthem “ANOTHER DAY OF SUN,” an effortlessly upbeat and catchy celebration of the lure of Los Angeles, and the dreams of the main actors and musicians who are drawn to its glitz. The lyrics capture the hopes and ambitions of every waiter and barista in the city, while the music itself features the most infectious and memorable ostinato of the season.

My other three nominees, unusually, are non-English language songs, and appear to confirm a bias for songs performed by soft-voiced female lead singers which, until this year, I didn’t really know I had. “BIFRÖST” from the Norwegian action movie The Last King, was written by Gaute Storaas, Cecilie Larsen, and Helene Bøksle, and is performed by Bøksle herself. It combines traditional Nordic sounding folk music with a large orchestra and a stirring vocal performance that captured me from the first bar.

“THE FOOTSTEPS OF MY DEAR LOVE (IMI ONEUN SORI)” from The Handmaiden was written by Jo Yeong-Wook and is performed by Korean vocal duo Gain & Minseo with breathy, intimate sensitivity that perfectly matches the tone of the film it accompanies. Finally, there is “SOV I RO” from the Norwegian TV series Snowfall, which was written by Henrik Skram, Hanne Hagerup, Hilde Hagerup, and Klaus Hagerup, and is performed by the composer’s sister Eva Weel Skram.

Other outstanding songs in 2016 include: “Children of the Smith” from THE DWARVES [VIDEO GAME], written by Benny Oschmann and Julian Strzoda, performed by Blind Guardian; “Montage” from SWISS ARMY MAN, written by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, performed by Manchester Orchestra; “Romance” from THE HERITAGE OF LOVE, written by Edward Artemyev, performed by Dima Bilan; “Start a Fire” from LA LA LAND, written by John Legend, Justin Hurwitz, Marius De Vries, and Angelique Cinelu, performed by John Legend; and “The Mist” from PHANTOM OF THE THEATRE, written by Chen Zhiyi and Huang Liling, performed by A-Lin.


  • THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, music by Alexandre Desplat (review)


  • GERNIKA, music by Fernando Velázquez (review)
  • THE HANDMAIDEN, music by Jo-Yeung Wook (review)
  • NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, music by Abel Korzeniowski (review)
  • LE TEMPS D’ANNA, music by Bartosz Chajdecki (review)

thelightbetweenoceans-smallI’ve explained my reasoning for choosing THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, THE HANDMAIDEN, and NOCTURNAL ANIMALS as three of the best scores of the year above; naturally, and as such it was an easy choice for me to make in naming them among the Best Drama Scores of 2016, although making the distinction between the three in this category was not easy. In the end I went for Desplat’s score because, although Korzeniowski’s score is beautiful and perfect for the film, and although Jo’s music is effortlessly romantic and erotic. Desplat imbued his score with a wider variety of themes, and a greater emotional content that I couldn’t ignore.

Fernando Velázquez gave his score for the Spanish Civil War drama GERNIKA a beautiful central theme and a sense of importance and gravitas, but impressed most with his astonishing 25-minute cue “Gernika Under the Bombs,” a masterpiece of dramatic through-composing that people just don’t get to write any more – the way he was able to move between scenes, and emotional high and low points, while building to a stunning finale, was exceptional. Finally, Polish composer Bartosz Chajdecki’s score for the Swiss TV movie LE TEMPS D’ANNA finally showed us what he can do with a traditional, sweeping romantic drama: he can write a the most beautiful score of his career to date, filled with tender themes and clever orchestrations.

Special mentions should also go to THE CAIRO DECLARATION by Ye Xiaogang and Chad Cannon, CÉZANNE ET MOI by Éric Neveux, THE CHILDHOOD OF A LEADER by Scott Walker, LA CORONA PARTIDA by Federico Jusid, EL ELEGIDIO by Arnau Bataller, THE HERITAGE OF LOVE by Eduard Artemyev, HIGH RISE by Clint Mansell, L’ODYSSÉE by Alexandre Desplat, MISCONDUCT by Federico Jusid, EL OLIVO by Pascal Gaigne, and YELLOW FLOWERS ON THE GREEN GRASS by Christopher Wong and Garrett Crosby.


  • LA-LA LAND, music by Justin Hurwitz (review)


  • DAD’S ARMY, music by Charlie Mole (review)
  • HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, music by Moniker (review)
  • PEE WEE’S BIG HOLIDAY, music by Mark Mothersbaugh (review)
  • SWISS ARMY MAN, music by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell (review)

lalalandscore-smallAgain, I’ve explained my reasoning for choosing LA LA LAND as the best score of the year, so clearly it wins its genre too. However, the other scores are no slouches.

Charlie Mole’s score for the British wartime comedy DAD’S ARMY is a wonderfully nostalgic throwback to the musical conventions of World War II, as well as a loving homage to the music heard in the beloved original English TV sitcom on which it is based. Mark Mothersbaugh’s music for the third Pee Wee Herman movie, PEE WEE’S BIG HOLIDAY, takes a more traditional approach than Danny Elfman’s two originals, imbuing the zany adventures of the man in the bowtie with warmth and heart. HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE by Moniker and SWISS ARMY MAN by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell are cut from the same cloth. The former is a New Zealand comedy about a troubled kid lost in the bush, and is brilliantly underscored with 1980s synth pastiche that works wonderfully in context; the latter is, as I mentioned earlier, a wholly unique, conceptually brilliant a cappella score which uses nothing but layered voices and musique concrete percussion to create its amazing soundscape.

Special mentions should also go to EDDIE THE EAGLE by Matthew Margeson, HAIL, CAESAR! by Carter Burwell, I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY by Du Wei, KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES by Jake Monaco, A MAN CALLED OVE by Gaute Storaas, THE NICE GUYS by John Ottman and David Buckley, O LEÃO DA ESTRELA by Nuno Malo, LA REINA DE ESPAÑA by Zbigniew Preisner, STRANGELY IN LOVE by Austin Wintory, and ZOOLANDER 2 by Theodore Shapiro.


  • THE MONKEY KING 2, music by Christopher Young (review)


  • ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM: GRADUATION, music by Naoki Sato (review)
  • THE JUNGLE BOOK, music by John Debney (review)
  • THE LAST KING, music by Gaute Storaas (review)
  • SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS, music by Ilan Eshkeri (review)

monkeyking2-smallThis category was the most difficult of all in 2016, but in the end I gave my top spot here to Christopher Young’s amazing sequel score for the Chinese action adventure THE MONKEY KING 2. Although the score is subtler and less bombastic than the first one in the series, Young’s astonishing creativity in writing a multitude of brand new character themes, while making use of a huge orchestral and choral palette augmented by traditional Asian instruments could not be ignored.

The four nominees in this category are all excellent too, in different ways. Naoki Sato’s score for the schizophrenic action movie ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM: GRADUATION was conceptually brilliant, mixing high emotion, turbulent action, and even moments of comedy, that bring the film’s bonkers premise roaring to life. John Debney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK, on the other hand, is traditional, but no less excellent; his recurring main theme remains one of the best of the entire year, and the way he was able to work snippets of the music from the 1960s classic Disney movie into his score was a masterstroke – if you’ve ever wanted to hear “I Wanna Be Like You” as an action motif, this is the score for you!

Norwegian composer Gaute Storaas brought a sense of scope and grandeur to his score for the historical action movie THE LAST KING, blending powerful modern orchestrations with ancient Viking solo instruments and soaring vocals to accompany the heroic birkebeinerne on their heroic journey across the mountains to save the life of an infant king. Last but no means least, Ilan Eshkeri captured the warm, nostalgic sound of a thousand English summers in his score for SWALLOWS AND AMAZONS, the latest adaptation of the classic novel about children having marvelous adventures on their boats in the English Lake District.

I have to admit that the choice to narrow down my top five in this category was almost impossible; I juggled the scores I mentioned, plus ROLLI AND THE SECRET OF ALL TIME by Panu Aaltio, and ZIP & ZAP AND THE CAPTAIN’S ISLAND by Fernando Velázquez, for a long time before finally settling on my final list, although the margins between the winner, the four nominees, and the two which just missed out, are almost negligible, and they are all superb.

Special mentions should also go to 1898: LOS ÚLTIMOS DE FILIPINAS by Roque Baños, THE DISAPPOINTMENTS ROOM by Brian Tyler, DVADTSAT VOSEM PANFILOVTSEV by Mikhail Kostylev, THE FINEST HOURS by Carter Burwell and Philip Klein, JESTEM MORDERCĄ by Bartosz Chajdecki, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN by James Horner and Simon Franglen, and NERVE by Rob Simonsen.


  • FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, music by James Newton Howard (review)


  • BELLEROFONTE/DARK WAVES, music by Alexander Cimini (review)
  • DOCTOR STRANGE, music by Michael Giacchino (review)
  • PETE’S DRAGON, music by Daniel Hart (review)
  • ROGUE ONE, music by Michael Giacchino (review)

fantasticbeasts-smallAs I’ve mentioned, my reasoning for choosing FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM as the one of the best score of the year is noted above, so clearly it wins its genre too; however, this was yet another incredibly strong category filled with outstanding music.

Alexander Cimini’s score for the low budget Italian horror film BELLEROFONTE/DARK WAVES is astonishing, vastly outshining the quality of the film for which it was written. Sensational solo instrumental performances from piano and violin, sublime solo soprano vocals, and a gorgeous central recurring theme make this score a triumph. Equally impressive, in a very different way, is Daniel Hart’s score for the live-action remake of the Disney film PETE’S DRAGON; his warm orchestral lines blend with evocative, appropriate country-flavored instrumental solos for fiddle and guitar, illustrating the friendship between a boy and his dragon with sensitivity, tenderness, wonderment, and no small amount of exhilaration.

Michael Giacchino’s score for the Marvel comic book movie DOCTOR STRANGE was excellent, using Indian-inflected rhythms and instrumental ideas to capture the film’s geographic location and unique spirituality, reversed loops to illustrate the concept of different planes of dimension, and a rousing central theme for the Doctor himself and his heroic actions saving the world. Finally, his score for the Star Wares spinoff movie ROGUE ONE had a huge set of shoes to fill, but succeeded admirably; his music captures the spirit of John Williams without being a pastiche, and introduces two memorable main themes – one for the heroic Jyn Urso, one for the dastardly Orson Krennic – into the Star Wars musical canon.

Again, the choice to narrow down my top five in this category was incredibly difficult, and at one time I had both 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE by Bear McCreary and A MONSTER CALLS by Fernando Velázquez in my list too. The difference in quality between the five nominees and these two is so small as to be virtually invisible, and I recommend all seven scores wholeheartedly.

Special mentions should also go to ABULELE by Frank Ilfman, ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS by Danny Elfman, THE BFG by John Williams, THE CURSE OF SLEEPING BEAUTY by Scott Glasgow, GHOSTBUSTERS by Theodore Shapiro, LEAGUE OF GODS by John Debney, PHANTOM OF THE THEATRE by Chen Zhiyi, and SMARAGDGRÜN by Philipp F. Kölmel.


  • THE RED TURTLE, music by Laurent Perez del Mar (review)


  • KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, music by Dario Marianelli (review)
  • RUDOLF THE BLACK CAT, music by Naoki Sato (review)
  • SAUSAGE PARTY, music by Christopher Lennertz and Alan Menken (review)
  • THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS, music by Alexandre Desplat (review)

redturtle-smallFrench composer Laurent Perez del Mar brought subtlety, beauty, and no shortage of emotion to his score for the dialogue-free animated film THE RED TURTLE, a mesmerizing parable about man’s symbiotic relationship with the natural world. It’s a wonderful, moving score that runs the gamut of emotions, but settles most comfortably on a profound sense of wistful longing that is difficult to ignore.

Dario Marianelli traveled to feudal Japan for his score KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, a delightful action-packed work that features the traditional Japanese shamisen as a central color within the large and powerful orchestra. The way he combined these disparate elements with other aspects of Japanese folk music, two central themes, and a great deal of emotional content, allowed audiences to empathize with Laika’s stop-motion puppets. Meanwhile, over in Japan, Naoki Sato gave the adventures of a small cat lost in the big city a sense of fun and adventure in his score RUDOLF THE BLACK CAT; it veers from style to style with gay abandon, embracing action music and emotional pathos, while presenting a wonderfully upbeat, dance-like, brassy samba theme for the feisty feline at the center of the story.

Christopher Lennertz and the legendary Alan Menken approached the potentially offensive humor in SAUSAGE PARTY as straight as an arrow, scoring the film with dramatic seriousness; the result action music is strong and powerful, the love theme for a hot dog and his bun is rich and sweeping, and occasionally, when they go for all-out horror, we get shades of Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith in the best possible way. Finally, Alexandre Desplat’s madcap score for the animal adventure THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS is energetic, light-hearted, and jazzy, showcasing several recurring themes, and showing a wholly different side to his musical personality from his ‘Oscar bait dramas’.

Special mentions should also go to THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE by Heitor Pereira, BILAL: A NEW BREED OF HERO by Atli Örvarsson, BIG FISH & BEGONIA by Kiyoshi Yoshida, DYRENE I HAKKEBAKKESKOGEN by Gaute Storaas, ETHEL & ERNEST by Carl Davis, JUSTICE LEAGUE VS. TEEN TITANS by Frederik Wiedmann, KINGSGLAIVE: FINAL FANTASY XV by John R. Graham and Yoko Shimamura, KUNG FU PANDA 3 by Hans Zimmer, MOANA by Mark Mancina, and ZOOTOPIA by Michael Giacchino.


  • TALE OF A LAKE, music by Panu Aaltio (review)


  • 1916: THE IRISH REBELLION, music by Patrick Cassidy
  • MAGNUS, music by Uno Helmersson (review)
  • PAPER LANTERNS, music by Chad Cannon
  • LES SAISONS, music by Bruno Coulais

taleofalake-smallFinnish composer Panu Aaltio returns to the genre that first made his name with his score for the nature documentary TALE OF A LAKE, a magical, evocative look at the flora an fauna that inhabit the thousands of lakes across Finland’s wild terrain. Beguiling orchestral themes, magical orchestration, and sublime vocals to capture the essence of ‘the spirit of the lakes’ make this wonderful score by far the best music from a documentary, and a worthy follow up to his acclaimed original, Tale of a Forest.

The only other documentary score I reviewed in 2016 was composer Uno Helmersson’s music for the Norwegian documentary MAGNUS, about the life of chess grand master Magnus Carlsen, a densely layered work for strings and piano which uses the rhythmic interplay between the instruments to illustrate the protagonist’s genius. The other great documentary scores are very varied; Irish composer Patrick Cassidy’s score for the film 1916: THE IRISH REBELLION is an emotional look at the beginnings of the Irish independence movement, underscoring their fight for freedom with lyricism, pathos, and hints of traditional Gaelic folk music.

Chad Cannon’s score for the documentary PAPER LANTERNS is a moving, elegant orchestral work that sensitively accompanies a film about the life of Hiroshima survivor Shigeaki Mori and the 12 American prisoners of war who were killed by the atomic bomb. Finally, composer Bruno Coulais’s score for the French nature documentary LES SAISONS is lyrical and expressive and surprisingly dramatic, often using wholly unique vocal effects to accompany the footage of brown bears, wild horses, wolves and other animals in their natural habitats across Europe.

Special mentions should also go to A GOOD AMERICAN by Christopher Slaski and Guy Farley, LANDFILL HARMONIC by Michael Levine, MANGLARES DEL MUNDO MAYA by Santi Vega, NEWTOWN by Fil Eisler, PLANET EARTH II by Hans Zimmer, Jasha Klebe and Jacob Shea, SERENA by Blake Neely, SPAIN IN A DAY by Alberto Iglesias, VIVA by Stephen Rennicks, WEINER by Jeff Beal, and YOU’RE SO COOL, BREWSTER: THE STORY OF FRIGHT NIGHT by Lito Velasco.


  • GAME OF THRONES, music by Ramin Djawadi


  • CALL THE MIDWIFE, music by Maurizio Malagnini (review)
  • THE NEVER-SETTING SUN, music by Naoki Sato (review)
  • PENNY DREADFUL , music by Abel Korzeniowski (review)
  • SNOWFALL, music by Henrik Skram (review)

gameofthroness6-smallThe Golden Age of television continues to provide great TV scores, the best of which in 2016 was Ramin Djawadi’s score for Season 6 of GAME OF THRONES. Djawadi’s rich tapestry of themes, one for each of the feuding houses at the core of the story, as well for as the imperceptible icy threats from north of The Wall, combine wonderfully throughout the season, culminating in the astonishing ‘Light of the Seven’ sequence from the season finale – a masterpiece of classical piano writing, children’s voices, and encroaching danger, which is beautiful and tragic and exhilarating all in one.

Maurizio Malagnini’s score for Season 5 of the British drama series CALL THE MIDWIFE is wonderful, underscoring the exploits of midwives and nuns providing medical care to the expectant mothers of the East End of London in the 1950s with lyrical, emotional, at times devastatingly beautiful orchestral writing, mainly centered around strings and piano. The flipside of this is Abel Korzeniowski’s outstanding score for the third and final season of the Gothic horror series PENNY DREADFUL, which portrays London in the 1890s with darkly romantic but tragedy-laden string writing befitting the pallor of the curses protagonist Vanessa Ives; her brushes with death and horror have a terrible beauty to them, lamenting for her fate and that of her colleagues fighting a litany of supernatural forces.

Naoki Sato’s score for the Japanese TV drama series THE NEVER-SETTING SUN gives the life of an airline employee and surprising amount of depth, as he travels the globe, and deals with various personal and professional tragedies along the way; the incorporation of various ethnic Indian and African tribal music touches is especially impressive. Finally, in Norway, composer Henrik Skram captures the essence of Christmas with his score for the seasonal children’s drama series SNOWFALL; the magical, wintry orchestrations and effortlessly pretty themes make this score an enchanting, nostalgic delight.

Special mentions should also go to DICKENSIAN by Debbie Wiseman, GUARDIAN OF THE SPIRIT by Naoki Sato, HOUSE OF CARDS by Jeff Beal, THE MUSKETEERS by Paul Englishby, THE NIGHT OF by Jeff Russo, OUTLANDER by Bear McCreary, RIPPER STREET by Dominik Scherrer, SANADA MARU by Takayuki Hattori, TIMELESS by Robert Duncan, and WESTWORLD by Ramin Djawadi.


  • CIVILIZATION VI, music by Geoff Knorr, Christopher Tin, Roland Rizzo, and Phill Boucher


  • ABZÛ, music by Austin Wintory
  • THE DWARVES, music by Benny Oschmann
  • IMPERIAL REIGN, music by Neal Acree
  • THE LAST GUARDIAN, music by Takeshi Furukawa

civilization6-smallThe world of game music continues to get better and better, and this year’s outstanding effort is the score for CIVILIZATION VI by Geoff Knorr, with additional music by Christopher Tin, Roland Rizzo, and Phill Boucher. The broad, lush, thematically powerful statements Knorr and co bring to the game are simply superb, and the subtle touches of regional folk music to capture the game’s various settings in classical antiquity – which range from China to Egypt, Brazil, Greece, India, Russia, and beyond – allow the music to embrace an extended palette of instrumental styles and compositional techniques that is quite outstanding.

Following on from his success with Journey a few years ago, Austin Wintory’s score for ABZÛ is a relaxing, dreamlike experience, perfectly encapsulating the mystery and wonderment one feels as you guide the game’s protagonist through a series of majestic under-sea worlds. The score for THE DWARVES by German composer Benny Oschmann is the complete opposite – a rousing, bombastic, fully orchestral action score with more than a hint of Lord of the Rings or old school Basil Poledouris in its DNA; the powerful themes, rich writing for brass, and stirring vocals are outstanding, and it even features an original song performed by a German power metal band!

Having blown me away with his score for Revelation in 2014, Neal Acree returns to the orient again this year with IMPERIAL REIGN, another MMORPG set during the ancient feudal clan era. Big orchestral themes and rich and evocative Chinese instruments are the order of the day once more, proving once again just what a superbly talented composer Acree is. Finally. we have the score for THE LAST GUARDIAN by composer Takeshi Furukawa, who is making a case for himself to be the Japanese Thomas Newman of the video game world. Newman’s lyrical woodwind-led style is all over Furukawa’s work, but here it is augmented by a barrage of thunderous action cues for an enormous orchestra, perfect for underscoring the adventures of an unnamed young boy who befriends a giant half-bird-half-mammal creature.

Special mentioned should also go to ASHES OF THE SINGULARITY by Geoff Knorr, Richard Gibbs, and Michael Curran, CHAMPIONS OF ANTERIA by Jeff Broadbent and Dynamedion, MINECRAFT: CHINESE MYTHOLOGY by Gareth Coker, HALCYON 6: STARBASE COMMANDER by Steve London, OVERWATCH by Derek Duke, Neal Acree, Sam Cardon, and Cris Velasco, RECORE by Chad Seiter, THE TECHNOMANCER by Olivier Deriviére, UNRAVEL by Frida Johansson and Henrik Oja, THE WITCHER III: WILD HUNT – BLOOD AND WINE BY Marcin Przybylowicz, Mikolai Stroinski, and Piotr Musial, WORLD OF WARCRAFT: LEGION by Russell Brower, Neal Acree, Sam Cardon, Edo Guidotti, and Glenn Stafford, and WORLD WAR TOONS by Kevin Smithers.

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  1. February 3, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    I thought Penny Dreadful probably edged out GOT for best television score.

    I do think its true that television scoring (you didn’t nominate Outlander?!) is better than film scoring these days.

  2. Tiago
    February 3, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    Quite sad that none of Moana’s songs made into the list. It’s Disney’s best set of songs in years, much better than the overrated Frozen songs.

    February 25, 2017 at 10:44 am


    (In Alphabetical Order)





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