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Movie Music UK Awards 2021

January 21, 2022 Leave a comment Go to comments

I said that 2020 has been, by far, the strangest year in living memory for both films and film music – but 2021 almost matched it. Although the rampant COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the film industry across around the world, there was still a terrific amount of excellent music that came out this year, as mainstream studio tentpoles delayed from 2020 finally hit cinemas, and competed with a number of outstanding indie and international features.

Ultimately three of my five nominees for Score of the Year came from obscure sources – the Netherlands, Spain, and Finland – with one well-regarded indie, and just one major studio film from an established Hollywood A-Lister. Quite a change from the usual set of names. Not only that, as you go further and further down the list you will find numerous unexpected choices, including a medieval comedy from Germany, a sweeping historical drama from China, an outdoor adventure from Australia, an animated TV series from Japan, and so much more – even a special award from a TV extravaganza from Egypt! So, without further ado, here are my choices…



  • COPPELIA, music by Maurizio Malagnini (review)


  • CLARET, music by Óscar Martín Leanizbarrutia (review)
  • THE GREEN KNIGHT, music by Daniel Hart (review)
  • JUNGLE CRUISE, music by James Newton Howard (review)
  • TALE OF THE SLEEPING GIANTS by Panu Aaltio (review)

No score impressed me as much in 2021 as COPPELIA. Written by Anglo-Italian composer Maurizio Malagnini, it combines ballet, classical music, and science fiction into a modern version of the famous romantic ballet by Léo Delibes. Using the concept of ‘maximalism,’ Malagnini wrote a sweeping orchestral masterpiece of staggering beauty, combining half a dozen leitmotif themes into a narrative structure that carries the entire emotional weight of the film. This is then augmented by some impressive electronic textures which accompany the villain of the piece, and it all builds to a stunning climax of thematic, romantic wonder. In a time when the theatrical movie schedule is dominated by Marvel and Disney, prequels and sequels and multiverses, there has to be room for art projects like Coppelia, and for the ravishing music like that composed here by Maurizio Malagnini. It was an easy choice for Score of the Year.

James Newton Howard scored a pair of action fantasy films for Disney in 2021 – one live action, one animated – and it was the live action JUNGLE CRUISE that made it into my top five. Howard’s score a blast – the thematic density of the score is seriously impressive, with two recurring main themes and a love theme standing out especially. The action music is brilliant – complex, interesting from both a rhythmic and orchestration point of view, and standing easily alongside some of Howard’s recent best – and the emotional apex of the score in the Tears of the Moon sequence is stunningly beautiful. At the other end of the scale, Daniel Hart’s THE GREEN KNIGHT is an unusual combination of English folk music, religious plainsong, medieval orchestrations, modern string textures, and aggressively dissonant electronica. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but in Hart’s hands the music becomes a perfect representation of Gawain’s world, where the solid and the real blends seamlessly with the magical and the supernatural in a way which the people of that time completely accept. Furthermore, the level of detail Hart brings to his score is astonishing; his use of strict period-specific instruments is laudable, the original songs could all easily have been written 1,000 years ago, and the research that went into it all is brilliant.

From here we go further afield, but with no less excellence. Óscar Martín Leanizbarrutia’s CLARET is a Spanish religious biopic and is anchored by a staggeringly beautiful main theme – a moving, tragic, profound, exceptionally beautiful piece which builds out from a gorgeous cello solo until it is embraced by the full orchestra. The arrangements are superb, bringing each instrumental tone to the forefront in turn, and then when he layers in the choir the effect is spectacular. Meanwhile, Panu Aaltio’s TALE OF THE SLEEPING GIANTS is the third and final entry in a series of nature documentaries from Finland; there’s a wonderful, ethereal, mystical quality to this score, starting from the spiky and angular vocal writing which has different competing and overlapping layers of acapella sound, and continuing on through complementary orchestral writing is superb – richly arranged, both intimate and expansive, with bold instrumental colors and especially notable writing for strings, brass, and woodwinds. There’s something ancient and primeval about this music, something that taps into the myths and legends of the region, and it’s just outstanding.

Rounding my Top 10 film scores of 2021 (in alphabetical order) are: THE CURSE OF TURANDOT by Simon Franglen, THE KING’S MAN by Matthew Margeson and Dominic Lewis, NO TIME TO DIE by Hans Zimmer, RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON by James Newton Howard, and TO OLIVIA by Debbie Wiseman.






As the only composer with two scores in my Top 10, the composer of the year has to be JAMES NEWTON HOWARD. I’ve already talked about Jungle Cruise, but Raya and the Last Dragon is a joy too – it’s an expansive, action-packed, emotion-filled adventure score which blends a traditional symphonic palette with an unusually large amount of electronica, and which succeeds admirably in creating an appropriate tone and feel for Raya’s mysterious, magical world.

2021 was probably the most impressive year of LORNE BALFE’s career to date, and the depth and variety of his output was really quite remarkable. Black Widow and The Tomorrow War were outstanding sci-fi action scores; the former made use of Russian choral work in a variety of ways that sat seamlessly with the super hero power anthems, while the latter contained a huge amount of startling good horror dissonance surrounding a terrific main theme. Rumble was a huge rock-and-roll sports movie score, and was enormous amounts of fun, while Silent Night was able to take traditional Christmas carols and apply them to a comedy about the end of the world. Not only that he wrote a massive fantasy score for the TV series The Wheel of Time, and brought brooding melodrama to a story about the opioid epidemic in the TV drama Dopesick.

Just as impressive was Finnish composer PANU AALTIO’s work on a series of domestic projects that exceed all expectations; in addition to the aforementioned Tale of a Sleeping Giant, one of the scores of the year, he wrote a superb classic children’s adventure score for Pertsa & Kilu (aka Finders of the Lost Yacht), while combining orchestral tones with medieval renaissance textures for the quirky comedy Peruna (aka The Potato Venture). Meanwhile, DANIEL HART followed score of the year nominee The Green Knight with The Last Letter From Your Love, a more contemporary classical work featuring some of the composer’s most intimate and beautiful romance writing.

Finally, MARCO BELTRAMI makes the list based on sheer numbers. Together with his composing team (Anna Drubich, Miles Hankins, Brandon Roberts, Buck Sanders, Ceiri Torjussen, and Marcus Trumpp) he scored an astonishing nine projects in 2021, almost all of which were of high quality. From the classic slasher homages in the three Fear Street scores to the superhero bombast of Venom: Let There Be Carnage, the quirky drama of Nine Perfect Strangers, the contemporary thriller sounds of American Night, the intimate pathos of The Shadow in My Eye, and the all-our horror of A Quiet Place Part II, versatility was Beltrami’s keyword this year, and that’s what gets him a spot in the top five.

Five other composers who also had excellent years in 2021 are: NICHOLAS BRITELL, CHRISTOPHER GORDON, BEAR McCREARY, GAUTE STORAAS, and HANS ZIMMER.






As the only composer with a breakthrough score in my Top 10 of the year, this award has to go to Spanish composer ÓSCAR MARTÍN LEANIZBARRUTIA. As I mentioned, Claret is a moving and powerful epic built around one of the year’s most outstanding main themes, and yet again proves that Spanish cinema is inspiring some of the best young film music composers in the world.

Irish composer AMIE DOHERTY gets on the list as a result of her breakthrough score for the animated western Spirit Untamed – a confident, intelligent, exciting orchestral score of the highest order, which is built around a clear and engaging main theme, and has some appropriate acknowledgements of both Mexican folk music and the musical tropes of the western genre, both traditional and spaghetti. For me, however, it’s the action music in the score that shines the strongest, and the last 15 minutes or so are a non-stop delight. Australian composer STEFAN GREGORY’s debut score was the drama The Dig, a beautiful and nostalgic portrait of the English countryside; much of the score has a sort of hazy, gauzy, summery sheen, and offers delicate piano lines, plucked strings, and elegant woodwinds that dance around each other, weaving a hypnotic romantic spell.

Iranian composer AMIR MOLOOKPOUR saw his entire filmography released by Moviescore Media in 2021, but it was two specific scores – There Is No Evil and Woodgirls: A Duet For A Dream – which stood out. Both scores are unexpectedly rich, classical, poignant orchestral works that contain an elegancy beauty but also an undercurrent of bittersweet tragedy, as both scores explore the darker sides of life in his home country, while expressing hope for the future. Finally, English composer BENJAMIN WOODGATES moved out of the shadow Lorne Balfe and Daniel Pemberton and scored Dream Horse, a lush and emotional orchestral work which combined equine sporting triumph over adversity with a sweeping and nostalgic depiction of the cultural heritage and geographic beauty of Wales.

Five other composers who impressed with breakthrough scores in 2021 are: FERNANDO FURONES, JOHN MEHRMANN, NICOLAS REPETTO, ARTHUR SHARPE, and FARAJ SULIEMAN.



  • “Tribulation” from SCHMIGADOON, written by Cinco Paul, performed by Kristen Chenoweth


  • “Blome Swete Lilie Flour” from THE GREEN KNIGHT, written and performed by Daniel Hart
  • “No Time to Die” from NO TIME TO DIE, written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell, performed by Billie Eilish
  • “This Game’s Called Murder” from THIS GAME’S CALLED MURDER, written by Bear McCreary, performed by Brendan McCreary feat. Steve Bartek, John Avila, Gil Sharone, and Ego Plum
  • “Når Snøen Smelter” from TRE NØTTER TIL ASKEPOTT, written by Astrid Smeplass and Carl-Viktor Guttormsen, performed by Astrid S.

For me, by far the standout song from 2021 was “Tribulation” from SCHMIGADOON, written by Cinco Paul. The show is a comedy about a couple trapped in a fantasy world that where everyone acts as though they are in a Hollywood musical, and each song is a parody of a famous showstopper. “Tribulation” – which was inspired by “Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man – features jaw-dropping virtuoso performance by Kristin Chenoweth in character as Mildred Layton, Schmigadoon’s ultra-religious ultra-prejudiced town busybody, railing against the cultural changes in her town. It’s Chenoweth’s verbal dexterity that is so, so impressive – she recorded it live, on-set, in one four-minute take, and somehow managed to wrap her lips around Paul’s non-rhyming tongue-twister lyrics and off-kilter jazzy rhythms. Tommyrot and flapdoodle, claptrap and fiddle-faddle and jiggery-pokery! It’s just sensational.

Honestly, I could have filled this category with songs from Schmigadoon (“With All of Your Heart” and “Cross That Bridge” especially), but I limited it to just one so I could talk about these others. The first is “Blome Swete Lilie Flour” from THE GREEN KNIGHT is both brilliant and clever; it’s an original minstrel ballad, performed by Hart himself, which accompanies Gawain’s journey back to Camelot; it’s a gorgeous and wistful guitar piece with slight echoes of Greensleeves in the chord progressions, but which contains themes relating to regret and death. The ‘no coin to pay the ferry’ lyric alludes to the ancient idea of the recently deceased needed to be buried with coins on their eyes so they would be able to pay Charon, the ferryman who conveys souls across the River Styx to the afterlife. Similarly, lily flowers are of course traditional floral arrangements for funerals.

“Når Snøen Smelter,” from the Norwegian Cinderella adaptation TRE NØTTER TIL ASKEPOTT, was written by Astrid Smeplass and Carl-Viktor Guttormsen and performed by Astrid S. It’s a gorgeous, ethereal, romantic, intoxicating ballad performed in Norwegian, with a soft breathiness that I love. I have always had a soft spot for this type of song, as evidenced by my nominations in previous years for things like Sarah Àlainn’s “Bring the Snow” from Moomins and the Winter Wonderland, Helene Bøksle’s “Bifröst” from Birkebeinerne, and Eva Weel Skram’s “Sov I Ro” from Snowfall, and this one follows in its footsteps. At the other end of the spectrum entirely, “This Game’s Called Murder” from THIS GAME’S CALLED MURDER, written by Bear McCreary, and performed by Bear’s brother Brendan McCreary, is a rock music banger – the best Oingo Boingo song that Danny Elfman never wrote. The presence of Boingo members Steve Bartek and John Avila adds to the authenticity. It’s an absolutely terrific homage to the genre, full of thrashing guitars, head-banging rhythms, and instrumental quirkiness, which appeals directly to my enduring love for 1980s hair metal.

Finally, of course, “No Time to Die” from NO TIME TO DIE is going to win an Oscar for Billie Eilish, and it probably should. Considering that Eilish’s songs are very minimalist and understated, instrumentally, and that she usually sings about quite dark subjects in a sort of whispery mumble, this has a much more classic Bond sound than one might have expected, thanks to the string and brass arrangements by Matt Dunkley. The lyrics are drenched in the same sort of anguish that Bond feels in previous films, and throughout much of this one, so they feel right. Eilish still sings the song mostly in her quietly vulnerable tone, but when she is asked to belt she really belts, and has the vocal power to do it. The melody itself has a wistfulness that is really attractive, and some of Dunkley’s little John Barry touches are perfect – a muted trumpet here, a string flutter there, a moody electric guitar, a familiar chord. I thought it was superb.

Other outstanding songs in 2021 include: “U” from BELLE. “Call Me Cruella” from CRUELLA, “Celui Que Je Désire” from THE LAST DUEL, “Angela” from MYSTÈRE À SAINT-TROPEZ, and “One of a Kind” from VIVO.



  • THE PHARAOHS’ GOLDEN PARADE, music by Hesham Nazih (review)

My irregular special award this year goes to this visual and musical spectacular – an event held in Cairo, Egypt on 3 April 2021, during which twenty-two mummies belonging to Kings and Queens of the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt were moved from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square to the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization, a few miles away. The mummies moved include some of the most famous ancient Egyptian monarchs, including the legendary Rameses II. Each mummy was housed in a specially-designed sarcophagus filled with nitrogen to protect them, and then placed in a specially-designed vehicle with decoration based on Egyptian funerary boats. The whole thing was a grand, spectacular celebration of Egyptian culture, featuring light and laser displays, and parades of men and women in traditional dress accompanying these ancient rulers to their new resting places.

In addition to the parade, there was a simultaneous concert performed by the United Philharmonic Orchestra led by Egyptian maestro conductor Nader Abbasi, featuring original music composed by Egyptian film composer Hesham Nazih; the music was performed live and streamed to coincide with the visual broadcast of the parade, essentially acting as its soundtrack. The concert, which was attended by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, included chants sung in Ancient Egyptian by soprano Amira Selim, as well as an original song, “A Reverence for Isis,” the lyrics of which were taken from inscriptions on the walls of the Deir el-Shelwit temple in Luxor, and from the Book of the Dead. Two other original songs were performed in Arabic by vocalists Reham Abdel Hakim and Nesma Mahgoub, both of which are gorgeous and exotic and mesmerizing, like something from an ancient time.

However, by far the most impressive part of the concert was the orchestral work by Nazih, which is absolutely immense, filled with themes and drama and powerful orchestral grandeur. The piece contains several passages, beginning with triumphant fully orchestral fanfare overture of great power and emotion. This is followed by a quieter, more contemplative, spiritual sequence led by a ney flute, and then a moving choral anthem which concludes with a wonderful, classically rich string flourish. A flamboyant trumpet voluntary accompanies scenes of Egyptian children running excitedly towards the parade route, and lighting up an immense obelisk. Women dressed in traditional Egyptian garb, carrying bowls of light, exit the Egyptian Museum to a snare drum tattoo, accompanied by members of the Egyptian military, and then a phalanx of charioteers with horses, all bathed in blue light.

Eventually the parade itself begins, and Nazih’s music erupts into spectacular orchestral and choral glory, bold, dramatic, intense, thematically rich, and mesmerizing when combined with the visuals of these long-dead kings and queens making their journey through contemporary Cairo. There are layered vocals with men and women intoning in superb call-and-response fashion, vivid cello ostinato, swirling string figures, bold explosions of brass. The music becomes magical, sweeping, almost operatic, as the convoy of pharaohs circle the obelisk, and rises to a rich and epic version of the theme heard at the beginning of the work as the pharaohs disappear from view. It’s all just utterly magnificent; there are echoes of Miklos Rozsa, Alfred Newman, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and several others echoing through the work. It’s that good.

After the songs by Reham Abdel Hakim and Nesma Mahgoub, Nazih’s orchestra returns to perform the finale. Many of the thematic nuggets from the beginning of the work return, and Nazih allows them to grow and build, steadily, organically, moving through a crescendo, until eventually the pharaohs arrive at the National Museum of Egyptian Civilization to a glorious brass fanfare. There is a passage of intensity and urgency, the choir adds a sense of portent and appropriate reverence, and everything climaxes with a soaring, sweeping, majestic coda for the full orchestra and chorus, a 21-gun salute, a final flourish that a Hollywood epic would have been proud to have.

At the time of writing there is no commercial album for The Pharaohs’ Golden Parade, but the entire broadcast from Egyptian TV can be viewed on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYDzynh5iCY. The musical part begins at around the 1:10.00 mark, and Nazih’s orchestral part begins at 1:14.20. It’s astonishing, and breathtakingly beautiful. Just watch it. I beg you.




Hereafter, presented without additional comment, are my choices for the best scores in each of the genre categories:



  • CLARET, music by Óscar Martín Leanizbarrutia (review)


  • BUCKLEY’S CHANCE, music by Christopher Gordon (review)
  • THE CURSE OF TURANDOT, music by Simon Franglen (review)
  • THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER, music by Daniel Hart (review)
  • TO OLIVIA, music by Debbie Wiseman (review)

Special mentions should also go to CAMELLIA SISTERS (Christopher Wong, Garrett Crosby, Ian Rees), THE COURIER (Abel Korzeniowski), DREAM HORSE (Benjamin Woodgates), FORGOTTEN WE’LL BE (Zbigniew Preisner), and JUNE AGAIN (Christopher Gordon).



  • CATWEAZLE, music by Philipp Noll (review)


  • CRUELLA, music by Nicholas Britell (review)
  • THE POTATO VENTURE, music by Panu Aaltio (review)
  • SAGAN OM KARL-BERTIL JONSSONS JULAFTON, music by Gaute Storaas (review)
  • THIS GAME’S CALLED MURDER, music by Bear McCreary (review)

Special mentions should also go to: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR (Fernando Furones), DON’T LOOK UP (Nicholas Britell), HELP, I SHRUNK MY FRIENDS (Anne-Kathrin Dern), NORA (Pascal Gaigne and Paula Olaz), and SILENT NIGHT (Lorne Balfe).



  • JUNGLE CRUISE, music by James Newton Howard (review)


  • FINDERS OF THE LOST YACHT, music by Panu Aaltio (review)
  • THE KING’S MAN, music by Matthew Margeson and Dominic Lewis (review)
  • LAST NIGHT IN SOHO, music by Steven Price (review)
  • NO TIME TO DIE, music by Hans Zimmer (review)

Special mentions should also go to: AMERICAN NIGHT (Marco Beltrami and Ceiri Torjussen), CLUE: THE MALTESE ENIGMA (Henrik Skram), GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (Frank Ilfman), THE HANDLER (Grant Kirkhope), and MASQUERADE NIGHT (Naoki Sato).



  • COPPELIA, music by Maurizio Malagnini (review)


  • BLACK WIDOW, music by Lorne Balfe (review)
  • THE CLAUS FAMILY 2, music by Anne Kathrin Dern (review)
  • THE GREEN KNIGHT, music by Daniel Hart (review)
  • SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, music by Michael Giacchino (review)

Special mentions should also go to: ETERNALS (Ramin Djawadi), FEAR STREET: PART TWO – 1978 (Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts), GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE (Rob Simonsen), THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer), and TRE NØTTER TIL ASKEPOTT (Gaute Storaas).



  • RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON, music by James Newton Howard (review)


  • DOGTANIAN AND THE THREE MUSKEHOUNDS, music by Manel Gil-Inglada (review)
  • RUMBLE, music by Lorne Balfe (review)
  • SPIRIT UNTAMED, music by Amie Doherty (review)
  • WISH DRAGON, music by Philip Klein (review)

Special mentions should also go to THE BOSS BABY: FAMILY BUSINESS (Hans Zimmer and Steve Mazzaro), AN EGG RESCUE (Zacarias M. de la Riva), JUSTICE SOCIETY: WORLD WAR II (Kevin Riepl), LUCA (Dan Romer), and MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM: HATHAWAY (Hiroyuki Sawano).



  • TALE OF THE SLEEPING GIANTS, music by Panu Aaltio (review)


  • JULIA, music by Rachel Portman (review)
  • A PERFECT PLANET, music by Ilan Eshkeri (review)
  • QINGHAI: OUR NATIONAL PARK, music by Chad Cannon (review)
  • WOODGIRLS: A DUET FOR A DREAM, music by Amir Molookpour (review)

Special mentions should also go to THE ARCTIC: OUR LAST GREAT WILDERNESS (Alex Heffes), THE BEATLES AND INDIA (Benji Merrison), THE MATING GAME (Tom Howe), SECRETS OF THE WHALES (Raphaelle Thibaut), and THE SOUND OF IDENTITY (Nicolas Repetto).



  • MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: REVELATION [S1], music by Bear McCreary (review)


  • LA COCINERA DE CASTAMAR [S1], music by Ivan Palomares (review)
  • GODZILLA SINGULAR POINT [S1], music by Kan Sawada (review)
  • LOST IN SPACE [S3], music by Christopher Lennertz
  • SUCCESSION [S3], music by Nicholas Britell

Special mentions should also go to: THE AGE OF AWAKENING [S1] (Roc Chen), LOKI [S1] (Natalie Holt), LUPIN [S1] (Mathieu Lamboley), SCHMIGADOON! [S1] (Cinco Paul and Christopher Willis), and WANDAVISION [S1] (Christophe Beck).



  • OLD WORLD, music by Christopher Tin


  • GHOST OF TSUSHIMA: IKI ISLAND & LEGENDS, music by Chad Cannon and Bill Hemstapat
  • GRIME, music by Alex Roe
  • RATCHET & CLANK: RIFT APART, music by Mark Mothersbaugh and Wataru Hokoyama
  • SYBERIA: THE WORLD BEFORE, music by Inon Zur

Special mentions should also go to: CALL OF DUTY: VANGUARD (Bear McCreary), HITMAN 3 (Niels Bye Nielsen), HUMANKIND (Arnaud Roy), ROGUEBOOK (Chance Thomas), and RUINED KING (Gareth Coker).

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  1. Av
    January 21, 2022 at 10:10 am

    Splendid reviews. Glad to see The Awards making a long sought comeback.

    • January 21, 2022 at 10:17 am

      Thank you! Although they never went away?

  2. M
    January 21, 2022 at 6:37 pm

    Great list, as always! Small question—what was your reason for ranking Luca lower than the other animated scores?

    • January 21, 2022 at 6:42 pm

      Personal taste. There’s literally nothing more to it than that.

  3. Sylvie
    February 7, 2022 at 4:34 am

    Hi! I’m inquiring from a distributor about how to quote one of these awards for a poster. Please do email me to discuss! Thanks.

  1. February 2, 2022 at 9:02 am
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  6. February 3, 2022 at 1:10 am
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