Before we recount the best scores of the last decade, a request. Listen. For just a minute.
Mark Zuckerberg bitterly prowls back to his dorm at Harvard on a bitter cold night. A piano melody laments Zuck’s tough night. But more tellingly, more ominously, a drone pitch sounds off. Zuckerberg’s albatross, his revenge masterpiece, the Facebook, is brewing in his mind. Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor, thanks for that.
A snow-swept west gives us serene glances of a past winter like nothing we’ve ever seen. But, a gnawing, gnarly oboe, backed with drum taps and shrill strings, forebodes of things to come. Morricone. A swirling, romantical trumpet echoes the sounds of young Miles Davis, like brushstrokes, to a black renaissance atop two lovers in Harlem. Nicholas Britell. Nicolas Cage, covered in dark light, forges a beast of a blade. A literal knife in fire. And synthesizer groans top the scene in a way that might give Cannon films, nightclubs, and John Carpenter the goosebumps. That’s Jóhannsson.
The sounds of the last 10 years in movies? Not bad. Not bad at all. Lasting, memorable, chilling, thrilling, and just plain wonderful even. The ears wiggle, the brain remembers the art of good sound.
The last decade was marked by two trends. On one hand, you could argue scores got smaller, more electrical in nature. The rise of digital production, and synthesizer themes took hold. New names like Reznor, Ross, Distasterpeace, and Mica Levi showcased what you could do with a good ear and some slick hardware. It was like the 1980s all over again, but with more nuance. What was once camp, or novel, elevated itself to a sort of ethos. But while orchestras overall were scaled back, bigger name composers like Hans Zimmer or Michael Giacchino or Phillip Glass and Alexandre Desplat held on to size.
A lot of it was luck, and finding curious projects to enhance their skills. (Part of was just hanging on to studio franchises where the music budgets likely flourished.) But they all captured the spirit of old-time sounds with new elements in style. And speaking of an era in sound, those composers took on almost Rockstar-like status, playing concerts in arenas once reserved for U2 or Madonna. Hans Zimmer wailed on the guitar. Giacchino did a music battle in London where he was proposed to by the director of the new Batman. (Giacchino said “yes”, btw.) And still, this dichotomy just scratches the surface of some of the decade’s best stories in sound.
Randy Newman bounced back small. The Arcade Fire lived on screen as modern composers. And funny enough, John Carpenter came home to give the kids a lesson of dread music-making. While our films flew in the face of genre labels and conventions, music scores embraced both new and old in delightful ways. Today, we reflect upon and appreciate those trends and explorations, with the best scores of the 2010s. Now listen up, because we’re going to play this scene out together.