Top Five Film Scores of 2016

Music is one of the last things added to a film during the post production process. Everything else needs to be in place in order for the composer to line up their score with the visuals and other sounds. In this way, it kind of appears to be the cherry on top, and in many films (*cough* Marvel *cough*) the score is pretty negligible. It simply does its job. But great scores do much more than that. They are both the cherry and the chocolate syrup, both adding their own things as a bonus to the film but also making the rest of the film better.

Last year was another great year in film scoring as composers strove to push the possibilities forward by subverting expectations of their genres and using new and innovative techniques in their music. Continuing our look back at the best aspects of 2016, here are the Cinema Bros Top Five Film Scores of last year:

5.   Deadpool

Original Music By: Tom Holkenborg AKA Junkie XL


— Zach Fisher —

Junkie XL turns some 80’s synth into extreme gold, and I have to say it’s wonderful. The score connects you to what is happening on screen so brilliantly, that you may actually forget it is playing in the background. Yet at the same time, it gives you the exact amount of sound to feel something with it going on. It’s also nice to see a use of full orchestra for some of the scenes with the bold Colossus, and the ever so angsty Negasonic Teenage Warhead, giving them the full range of the epicness of the X-men films while still remaining within the realm of Deadpool’s ridiculousness. I absolutely love the insanity that mixes with intense joy and emotion throughout this entire film’s beautiful score.

4.   Doctor Strange

Original Music By: Michael Giacchino


— A.J. Hakari —

Anything combining harpsichords and sitars earns an instant place in my heart. Just as Marvel’s latest production was their most mystical and arguably riskiest (in terms of story and world-building) to date, so did Michael Giacchino’s store complement its trippy vibe. The scores for Marvel’s blockbusters have been widely criticized as being forgettable, but this isn’t the case with Doctor Strange, whose musical accompaniment (led by a spiffy main theme) is appropriately adventurous, odd, and memorable as can be.

3.   10 Cloverfield Lane

Original Music By: Bear McCreary


— Sam —

The score of 10 Cloverfield Lane is basically one the first stars of the film. The entire first scene is shot with almost no dialogue. Throughout this scene the score becomes its own character, letting us know exactly what the main character, Michelle, is going through and helping to layout the overall tone of the film.

One of the main highlights of this score is its use of strings. I didn’t realize how creepy all octaves of strings can be until I re-watched this film. The high-pitched frantic ring of the violin is perfectly paired with the more fast paced and heart-wrenching scenes while the lower guttural reverberations of the cello and bass are used to further the ominous tones of more low-key and slower burning scenes that still seem to deliver the same amount of abject horror.

This score is one of the best that I have ever heard attached to a horror movie. It escalates at the best moments. It accompanies the character’s speech perfectly. When a character is in the middle of a long rant you can hear the score slowly escalate with them throughout. And it parallels the dialogue so well that it seems like the composer, Bear McCreary, was writing his score as they were writing the script for the film. It is just as intense and fulfilling as the movie it accompanies.

2.   Moonlight

Original Music By: Nicholas Britell


— Joe —

Though there were many incredible scores in 2016, Nicholas Britell’s score for Moonlight may be the most poetic and innovative. The choice to set this beautiful story of a black boy growing up in difficult circumstances against an equally beautiful classical-type score was inspired. The choice to then apply the same “chopped and screwed” techniques that have been used in southern hip hop was simply brilliant.

Chopped and screwed refers to a technique in which hip hop beats and songs are slowed and pitched down. Not only does Moonlight contain a chopped and screwed version of a hip hop song, but Nicholas Britell did it with his own score. Since the film tells of three different points in the main character’s life, he needed a distinctive theme for each version of the boy. The first version, “Little’s Theme” is a wonderful classical piece with a sluggish piano and a soft violin that mournfully echoes the piano. But then, when we move to “Chiron’s Theme” this same composition has been chopped and screwed to create a slightly haunting version of the first theme (Britell even slows and pitches it down more during a particularly dark moment in the film). And finally, when we get to the third part of the film, “Black’s Theme” is another variation on “Little’s Theme,” but this time we get an all cello version that is again chopped and screwed. This one is one of the darkest and most full-bodied, perfectly echoing both the mental and physical state of Chiron at this stage in his life.

It is choices like these that make this score pure poetry and it is one of the few films that I can truly say would be worse with any other score. It perfectly captures the feelings of the film, while also not trying to completely force the emotions of every scene on the audience. And, another thing I love in a score, it both completely supports the film itself, yet also works on its own as an album. Because of this, it is a score I will be listening to for a long time.

1.   Arrival

Original Music By: Jóhann Jóhansson


— Jake —

Jóhann Jóhansson is quickly becoming a master at composing film scores.  His previous work on Prisoners and Sicario (both with director Denis Villeneuve) showed a superlative grasp on how to build suspense with music.  String-laden and ominous, his work becomes an essential component in any of the films in which it is featured and Arrival is no exception.

Throughout Arrival, the viewer (and listener) is taken on a journey wholly aided by Jóhansson’s deft use of bombastic highs and near-silent lows.  When the score swells to massive levels, the viewer is left stunned by what they are witnessing on-screen.  An example of this is “First Encounter” in which Louise Banks (Amy Adams) sees the extra-terrestrial visitors for the first time.  When the score falls to a whisper, the viewer waits in eager anticipation for what will happen next.

Jóhansson also excels at incorporating human voices throughout the film.  After reading the script, the composer acknowledged that the “human voice would play a big part in the score.”  As such, sections of the score that include vocal arrangements hint at discovery and human intellect.

Finally, Arrival is a masterclass in tension.  Both Villeneuve and Jóhansson together have crafted one of the finest exercises in slow and meticulous revelation I have ever beheld.  Throughout one of the most astounding plot discoveries in recent memory, Jóhansson’s “One of Twelve” builds in the background until it becomes it’s own entity.  This score is brilliant, and I cannot wait to hear more of Jóhann Jóhansson’s transcendent work.

CB Podcast Ep. 51 – “The Neon Demon” // “Swiss Army Man” Reviews

“This week, the bros tackle surrealist cinema with reviews of both Nicholas Winding Refn’s ‘The Neon Demon’ and the Daniel Radcliffe farting corpse film, ‘Swiss Army Man.'”

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Link Bank

CB Podcast Ep. 47 – Cagetober Special: “The Trust” Review

“This week, Jake is in Guatemala so Sam & Joe are joined by Zach as they talk about what they’ve been watching recently and celebrate Cagetober by watching Nicholas Cage’s newest film, ‘The Trust.'”

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Link Bank

  • Recommendations
    • Zach
      • Star Wars: Rebels
      • Masterminds
    • Sam
      • Luke Cage
      • Supergirl
    • Joe
      • The Phenom
      • Manhattan Short Film Festival
        • Best Film
          • Hold On (The Netherlands)
        • Best Actress
          • Charlie Chan Dagelet (From Hold On)
        • Best Cinematography
          • The Last Journey of Paul W.R. (France)
        • Funniest Film
          • Overtime (Australia)
        • Frenchiest Film
          • The Gorilla (France)
  • Other Links

“Snowden” Review – In Oliver Stone’s Film, 1984 is 2016

By Josiah Wampfler

Snowden is quite appropriately Oliver Stone’s 1984. The George Orwell novel about a dystopian, authoritarian society in which mass surveillance of the populace is the norm is far too similar to the truths that Edward Snowden revealed in 2013 about our government’s own mass surveillance programs. Stone obviously saw the similarities and the influence of the Orwell classic is clear. Yet the world depicted in Stone’s film is our own and there is no escaping the terrifying truths it reveals. Unfortunately, unlike Orwell’s novel, you can’t escape Big Brother just by putting the book down.

When I first heard Stone was doing this film I thought the subject matter would be perfect for him and I wasn’t wrong. Snowden is his return to form. He has the right material to work with including a complex, interesting protagonist in Edward Snowden and a thrilling tale dripping with secrecy and deception. And he brings his uniquely compelling style as well as much-needed humanity to a story that could have easily have gotten too technical. The end result is a film that is both important in its subject material and captivating in its filmmaking.

Stone’s wholly unique style is what really makes this film stick out. In a month characterized by fairly conventional releases like Sully and Blair Witch, the director’s bizarre editing and unorthodox cinematography are a breath of fresh air. Stone’s interesting and sometimes strange camera decisions help keep the film clipping along at the right pace by diversifying the look of the film throughout. It is the first film he has shot on digital and he uses it to his advantage to make the film really feel digital. The color palette is quite vibrant, he constantly uses beautiful shots of extremely tight focus and the picture has a great amount of digital grain in it that just works. And Stone also uses the camera to portray the paranoia of the events wonderfully, especially in one particularly brilliant shot toward the end of the film of Edward Snowden standing in a board room talking to the enlarged head of his boss and mentor, Corbin O’Brian, on a wall-sized TV screen. The shot is absolutely chilling as O’Brian looms over our protagonist and makes some shocking revelations.

While Stone brings the style to Snowden, the cast brings the humanity. Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Edward Snowden is phenomenal, as is Shailene Woodley as his girlfriend, Lindsey Mills. The film smartly makes the relationship between these to the emotional through-line of the narrative. Though the film largely presents Edward Snowden in a very favorable light, it is in this relationship that we see the flaws of his character. He is overly-obsessed with his job, does not give their relationship the attention it deserves and says hurtful things when they fight. He is not perfect, which is what makes him a good character. And both Gordon-Levitt and Woodley do a wonderful job portraying two normal, imperfect people caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

Gordon-Levitt even manages to nail the voice and mannerisms of Edward Snowden. So much so, that it is somewhat hard to distinguish the two when the real Edward Snowden makes a cameo appearance at the end.

My only real gripes with the film are its length and Nicholas Cage. The film is a long 2 hours and 14 minutes, and even though Stone manages to keep up the pace throughout, the film still feels long. There are a couple of scenes here and there that, while entertaining, don’t feel entirely necessary. So perhaps a bit shorter cut would have helped. And with Cage, his character is almost completely pointless and I just can’t take him seriously anymore. It kind of felt like Stone helping out an old friend and not really serving the story.

Still, Snowden remains a pretty powerful piece of filmmaking. It tackles a story that is incredibly important and does it in a way that is stylistically impressive and emotionally connective. And it actually pairs quite nicely with the documentary Citizen Four, which delves into the more technical aspects of what Edward Snowden revealed about our government’s surveillance programs.

What the NSA was and still is doing, gathering large amounts of personal data from its own citizens, is something that needs to be talked about and currently that conversation is not happening. Both major party candidates for President this year have barely touched the topic and it is my hope that this film will equip more Americans with the information to intelligently discuss what the limits of government intelligence should be.