Looking Back: Jeremy Picks the 10 Best Soundtracks/Scores of 2013
by Jeremy Kirk
December 27, 2013
In terms of music in film, 2013 was allover the map. Sure, the summer blockbusters still had their giant, action scores, and the romantic comedies had their coffeehouse music. But the diamonds in the rough eventually presented themselves. This year found some fine filmmakers putting together some equally fine collections of music and song; those albums you can go back to time and time again and be transported back into the theater the first time you experienced it. These are the soundtracks that years from now, we'll be replaying, wearing out, and finding new copies of in used record stores (if they're still around). You may just save them in your iBrain in the future. Anyway, we count down the 10 Best Soundtracks/Scores below!
#10. Man of Steel
Music composer Hans Zimmer has become the driving force behind the music of the comic book movie scene in recent years, and it's for good reason. Just look - or listen - to what he did with Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, each film's score kicking as much ass as the villains in the films themselves. It only seemed natural Zimmer would be the one to take on the music of Superman. After all, if he didn't balk at stepping into Danny Elfman's territory, why would he have a problem trying to outdo John Williams?
Zimmer's score for Man of Steel is a different beast than Williams' work in the Superman franchise. Williams' scores were fuller, giant orchestras representing the magnitude and triumph of the character. Man of Steel, and its music, are also triumphant, but with a much deeper edge. That's pretty much where Zimmer hangs his hat, on that edge, and seeing the work he's pulled off in the past few years, it only seems fitting that he's allowed to put his stamp on many more comic book creations. I say bring on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (or at least the score, anyway).
#9. Warm Bodies
A film early this year whose soundtrack jabbed right to the heart, whether that heart is beating or not. Jonathan Levine has always peppered his films with energetic, fresh found music, and Warm Bodies is a driven, yes, warm story littered with some great ones. It's a charming movie about the zombie apocalypse, and songs like Jimmy Cliff's "Sitting in Limbo", M83's "Midnight City", Feist's "The Bad in Each Other", The National's "Runaway", and Bon Iver's "Hinnom, TX" are only a few pieces that keep it that way. It's the way Levine reimagines Roy Orbison's "Oh Pretty Woman", a song we've heard dozens of times before, as background for a flesh-eating zombie falling in love that keeps the soundtrack on such firm ground.
#8. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Okay, forget the fact that Coldplay's "Atlas" headlines this soundtrack as well as introduces us to the film's closing credits. Forget this opinion that the song is actually pretty good. It's the rest that Catching Fire's soundtrack has to offer - Lorde's dark cover of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World", Santigold's crisp and cool "Shooting Arrows at the Sky", the choir that moves into the crescendo in The Weeknd's "Devil May Cry", and Imagine Dragons driving full-force through "Who We Are" - that has this film's collection of music as ablaze as the film itself.
#7. Ender's Game
Composer Steve Jablonsky is sure to be on a few other Top 10 Soundtracks lists out there, but it may be for another film entirely. His work in Michael Bay's Pain & Gain is some of the best movie music of the year, but it's Ender's Game where I feel his craftsmanship really took a film to another level. Ender's Game was massive, a huge film with huge ideas, dark ideas, and Jablonsky took the themes, the size, and the darkness to heart, even finding ways to include the military as well as alien elements to the film's music.
Gavin Hood's adaptation rarely lets up on the intensity, and neither does Jablonsky's score, appearing to constantly build on a crescendo that takes you over the edge multiple times. The wavering strings that come in and out mark the humanity of the film's eponymous character, as if a musical theme for Ender is buried somewhere deep within the intense noise. It's interesting that Zimmer appears on this list earlier, as Jablonsky's score for Ender's Game calls to memory the score for Crimson Tide more than any other, and there's not a thing wrong with that.
#6. & #5. American Hustle / The Wolf of Wall Street
Seeing as how both of these movies fall into that "period crime drama that totally captures the look and vibe of whatever time they're going for here" category, it only seems natural that David O. Russell's and Martin Scorsese's latest films sit on the shelf together here. In fact, you could listen to both soundtracks, back-to-back, and get a nice idea of how music progressed from the late ‘70s - The Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" on American Hustle - all the way through to the early ‘90s - The Wolf of Wall Street making use of The Lemonheads' cover of "Mrs. Robinson" the one that also showed up in Wayne's World 2. So many songs only appear in the films, with a few absences from the actually released soundtracks not a big issue. We all like The Foo Fighters. I'm sure Martin Scorsese likes The Foo Fighters. But there are so many better songs of theirs that could have shown up in The Wolf of Wall Street than "Everlong." Not that I can ever question Scorsese's music tastes.
Steven Price's score for Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity is as breathtaking, beautiful, and completely intense as the film itself. Price uses bolts of energy and intense, building pulses that spike up through the melodic, almost ethereal electric tones that make up the bulk of his score. He even scatters small blips throughout the mix, tiny dots here and there in a much larger galaxy. It's a collection of music that, when perceived without the film wrapped around it, you can still bring Cuaron's images firmly to the forefront of your mind. I don't know, maybe Cuaron's film is just that traumatizing. Nonetheless, Gravity remains the most intense theatrical experience in years, and more than a little bit of recognition goes to Price and his piercing work.
#3. Spring Breakers
God bless Harmony Korine for embracing dub step and all it has to offer. The sounds of robots orgasming - or whatever goes down to get those sounds out of those machines - seems ideal for Korine's twisted, colorful, and insane trip. But it isn't just that he utilizes Skrillex to its fullest potential. What makes the sounds of Spring Breakers so memorable is how composer Cliff Martinez then works the lyrics the dub step kings put down into his own music.
The film's score works "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" - a perfect title to work into this film, as well - into itself, finding a gentler way of expressing the musical themes with which we've already been assaulted. And I haven't even mentioned Miss Britney Spears yet. Spring Breakers treats her like an idol, a shared ideology within the films characters coming out in some of the most beautifully constructed action scenes in memory. Franco's rendition of her "Everytime" is the highest point in an ocean of high points. Trashy, loud, and passionate, this soundtrack could not be married to this film in a more solid way.
#2. A Band Called Death
Every year now, or so it seems, we're going to get one of these music documentaries about has-beens or never-was' in the music industry. For every one who breaks on through to the other side, there are millions of aspiring talent who just never got their shot. Filmmakers are already inventing these stories, but we'll get to that in a minute. The talent and bodies of work that these artists were never able to share with the world could be masterpieces. Just because they went unnoticed doesn't mean their art is any less valuable or enjoyable. This is no more true than with Death, the subject of the documentary A Band Called Death.
Three African-American brothers formed a punk band in 1971, and few people have heard about it until now. That's three years before The Ramones formed and four years before The Sex Pistols. To say that Death was at the cusp of the punk era is underselling it. They were the catalyst for the punk era. And their stuff, released finally back in 2009 on the album "...For the Whole World to See", is damn good; crisp, angry, and with all the right headbanging movements. A Band Called Death tells a fascinating story that will surely make my top 10 films of the year, and the music that I discovered from it is still blasting away through my headphones. And oh yeah, play this one LOUD!
#1. Inside Llewyn Davis
The Coen Brothers doing a film about a folk singer in New York, and T-Bone Burnett is executive producing the music? There was no way the soundtrack for Inside Llewyn Davis could live up to that pitch. No way could Oscar Isaac's voice and guitar skills follow through on all the suspense those trailers built up. No way would Justin Timberlake show up to perform a masterwork of hokey comedy called "Please Mr. Kennedy", with a nice assist from Adam Driver. And there was no way that the Coens and Burnett would find a traditional song to cover as beautiful, transcendent, and endlessly loopable as "Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)". Oh, that's right. It's the Coens, and they can pull off anything.
As with their entire body of work prior to this, the Coen Brothers latch onto that perfect tone when it comes to the music. Whether it be Depression Era folk music as found in O Brother, Where Are Thou?, the so-sad-they-can-only-be-Irish melodies of Carter Burwell's Miller's Crossing score, or even with The Big Lebowski, where they concocted a soundtrack as strange as the characters in the film, assist on that one to a young Kenny Rogers. Inside Llewyn Davis is another excellent collection of songs that define a certain culture of a certain era. The folk music would even fit right into that American History in Soundtracks, just before the disco fevers of American Hustle and the electronic '80s of The Wolf of Wall Street.
Honorable Mention: You're Next, if only for introducing us to "Looking for the Magic," a poppy, rockabilly tune from The Dwight Twilley Band that was released in 1977. It never gets old, and kind of don't mind that you hear it about 18 times in the film. Otherwise, the retro horror score is pretty damn great too.
That's it for the scores and soundtracks that brought the films of 2013 to life this year. And in case you missed our other retrospective posts earlier this week during all the Christmas craziness, our awards expert Joey Magidson counted down this year's best performances (for both actors and actresses) along with his 20 Favorite Scenes of 2013. In addition, we also tossed up Ethan Anderton's picks for the 15 Best Official Movie Posters. and Tim Buel's 8 Favorite Horror Films. We've got more lists coming to wrap up the year, including Ethan's favorite comedies, a reflection on his 13 Most Anticipated Films of 2013, and our favorite movies.
Do you agree with Jeremy's picks? What were your favorite soundtracks and scores of 2013?