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The 15 Best Film Scores Of 2013

Features
by The Playlist Staff
December 5, 2013 1:24 PM
49 Comments
  • |

10. Clint Mansell - "Stoker"
With "Stoker," Clint Mansell, a composer best known for his often unforgettable work with director Darren Aronofsky, had to face a unique challenge: mix Hitchcockian moodiness with a kind of shimmery sleek modernity. The results are downright haunting, like walking through a haunted house full of new chrome furnishings. Sometimes the music takes on the classical style of an old Hammer movie, with gentle music box chimes. In other parts of the score, Mansell folds in breathy piano licks or chirpy electronic flourishes (like in the track labeled "Blossoming" on the soundtrack). Park Chan-wook's movie is a gleefully perverse exercise in stylized freakishness, and Mansell adds much to its goose-fleshy feeling. There's also an amazing piece of original music in the film that wasn't written by Mansell—the piano piece "Duet," which was composed by Philip Glass. Serving as the soundtrack to one of the movie's most memorable sequences, it's an elegant, spindly piece of music that was written before the movie was even shot, and while it's a clear standout, it shouldn't take away from the rest of Mansell's exemplary score.

9. Steven Price - "Gravity"
While "Gravity's" stunningly evocative 3D effects, which literally hurled you into the darkest recesses of space with a kind of weightlessness usually associated with very scary roller coasters and very turbulent plane rides, got most of the attention when the movie was released. Still, an equal amount of ink should have been spilled about the movie's exquisite sound design, including the haunting score by Steven Price, which did just as much to put you in the claustrophobic blackness as any of the floaty, you-are-there visual effects. Price's score is at turns pulse pounding, like during the movie's "satellite avalanche" sequence, and oddly spiritual, like when he brings in choral elements that evoke the movie's thematic undertones. There isn't much in the way of traditional themes or overarching motifs. Instead, it's the kind of propulsive, atmospheric work that is largely overlooked because it seems to blur the boundaries of sound design and score, eschewing showier moments for pure, undiluted intensity. Orchestral elements bump into harshly electronic ones, and the movie's tug of war between human survival instincts and technological reliance can be deeply felt in each piece of music. Price (who was one of our On The Rise composers earlier this year) once worked in the sound department on some major studio films, but started to edge out on his own with exemplary work on "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" and alongside Basement Jaxx on "Attack the Block." In 2013, though, he really came into his own with both "Gravity" and the score for "The World's End," bringing apocalyptic scenarios to startling life.

8. Cliff Martinez & Skrillex - "Spring Breakers"
Watching "Spring Breakers" is an assaultive experience; listening to it is too. Director Harmony Korine, the whacked-out pervo genius behind the movie, said that structurally he wanted the movie to more closely resemble a pop song than a film, with "choruses" and repetitious motifs (also: shotgun sound effects). It's easy to see that when watching the movie, but without an actual score underneath to double-underline this idea, it would have been for naught. Thankfully, Korine came up with the idea of pairing dub step populist Skrillex with thoughtful composer Cliff Martinez, best known for his recent work on the similarly neon-lined "Drive." Skrillex singles like "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites," which turned the SXSW screening of the film into a giant indoor rave, bleed willfully into the more elegant, atmospheric score composed largely by Martinez. When the two collaborate, they make beautiful music together. And like the movie, their collaborations are glitchy and sprightly but also menacing and pregnant with an almost otherworldly sense of impending doom. When the movie comes full circle and delivers an orchestral take on that original Skrillex song, the snake has eaten its own tail. It's the moment that "Spring Breakers" becomes downright transcendent. And like a pop song, you just want to watch (and listen) to it all over again the second it's over.

7. Arcade Fire & Owen Pallett - "Her"
The first thing you hear in "Her," Spike Jonze's charmingly oddball sci-fi romance, even before you see anything, are some notes from a jangly guitar. Or something. With Canadian indie band Arcade Fire you can never tell. It could be some futuristic bit of technology or an instrument last played in the mid-1800s. That sensation permeates the band's score for "Her"—a sense of timeless futurism, where sometimes it will sound as rudimentary as a garage band amiably strumming their instruments or occasionally infused with the kind of space age coolness that evokes their new voodoo disco double album Reflektor. (The album and score share a song—the closing credits ditty "Supersymmetry.") That push and pull wonderfully emphasizes the movie's thematic concerns, where a relationship with a synthetic personality is more appealing than one with a flesh-and-blood woman. The last time Arcade Fire (and frequent collaborator Owen Pallett) composed music for a movie, it was for Richard Kelly's oblique chiller "The Box," but the warmer hues of "Her" mesh much better with the band's sensibilities. Their music is used sparingly in the movie, with Jonze knowing when to pump up the volume for maximum emotional impact and when to pull back and let the images just play. He makes you appreciate the music even more, because you get to hear it so fleetingly.

6. Hans Zimmer - “Man of Steel”
Close your eyes and think of Superman. What do you hear? Until recently it was virtually unthinkable that someone would answer that question with anything other than John Williams’ iconic theme. Next to Williams’ work on “Star Wars” and “Jaws”—wow, what a run from 75-79, huh?—it’s arguably the most recognizable score in film history. So it’s not exactly an enviable task for any composer to have to follow that up. Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns” avoided the challenge altogether by incorporating Williams’ themes into the score but the film’s lukewarm reception made it was clear that a new path would have to be forged. Enter Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel,” which for all its flaws, succeeded in bringing Superman into a new era thanks in no small part to Hans Zimmer’s literally awe-inspiring score. Any fan reservations about the project were washed away in an instant by the first notes of that perfect trailer set to Zimmer’s “What Are You Going To Do When You’re Not Saving The World.” The theme was simple, elegant and triumphant, it starts small and swells under Russell Crowe’s Jor-El’s intoning, “They will race behind you, they will stumble behind you but in time they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders,” and suddenly it was impossible to be cynical anymore. The score ranges from the loud rhythmic sounds that Zimmer had been exploring in “The Dark Knight” series to quieter moments that manage to hit you right in the heart without being overly sentimental or maudlin. “Man of Steel” may not have lived up to those perfect teasers, but it was bold and beautiful and swung for the fences in ways that Marvel films rarely do. While the film didn’t quite soar like we wanted it to, Zimmer’s score did teach us to hope.

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49 Comments

  • Daniel | February 20, 2014 6:38 AMReply

    Completely agree with your number 1 selection, brilliant movie and score. Also loved gravity score, although the movie was appalling.

  • andrew | January 6, 2014 8:12 AMReply

    To me after these are all garbage to mediocre scores. On par with Gangnam Style, you chew and spit, no need to rate. Hope the movies are better. To overlook monsters like Brian Tyler, for these tunes that could play great as ringtones at best, is an affront to film music industry.

  • Lyndsay | January 3, 2014 9:26 AMReply

    You know, you never really truly appreciate movies until you hear their scores. That's what makes most films so great.

  • Gabriela | December 28, 2013 1:30 PMReply

    The writers/ reviewers on this site make no freaking sense. How are you going to call a movie overrated then turn around and call it one of 2013s best film scores?! Wtf the same thing happened in 2013s 20 worst movies you list a movie that you said was underrated?! Also listing on the 20 worst list some of (by my opinion) the best movies of the year as the worst. Do ya read what ya write or just blindly put up reviews? I definitely think spring breakers was overrated and bland at most I fell asleep watching it, the host was a grand love story and now you see me was a great movie also.

  • Matthew Starr | December 11, 2013 11:08 PMReply

    I can't understand how Zimmer is on here twice yet his best work this year did not make the list (Rush).

  • G | December 11, 2013 7:35 PMReply

    This is a nice list.

    But my biggest issue is with Hans Zimmer. To be honest, I've never thought he was anything special and I still don't. His scores are great for temp tracks because they can fit to ANY film of the given genre.

    superman score = any heroic comic book film
    12 years a slave score = any sad, historical dramatic film

    I'm sorry, I don't think he is as major a talent as hollywood composers Danny Elfman, Alexandre Desplat, or James Horner. (The snide "Danny Elfman grown up" comment shows the writer doesn't think a lot of him, which is sad. Especially seeing how his music for Tim Burton was recently given a retrospective concert on the largest scale next to John Williams.

    I agree with another poster that Keegan DeWitt's score for "This is Martin Bonner" should hold a place on the list. His decision to disintegrate the music was spot on and created a beautiful, melancholy score.

    I see Mark Orton got a mention for "Nebraska" but I think you could easily loose (at least) 1 Hans Zimmer score and bump this fantastic music up to the main list! It feels tailor-made and captures the heart of the story. (I disagree that it overrides it.)

    "Prince Avalanche" "Mud" and "Upstream Color" are definitely great. Not sure if anything this year has been as good as Jonny Greenwood's score for "The Master" but definitely some great stuff.

  • Lyndsay | January 3, 2014 9:21 AM

    Personally, I like Hans Zimmer. I just like film scores, in general. One of the best scores I've heard from Hans Zimmer is "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End". Yes, I realize that's not from 2013, but I felt it was worth mentioning.

  • NewYorker | December 11, 2013 11:33 AMReply

    my 15 favorite movie scores of 2013 are defently
    1-Man Of Steel
    2-Spring Breakers
    3-Captain Phillips
    4-Violet & Daisy
    5-Charlie Countryman
    6-Filly Brown
    7-Out Of The Furance
    8-Texas Chainsaw 3d
    9-The Great Gatsby
    10-Evil Dead
    11-Gangster Squad
    12-Tyler Perry's Temptation
    13-42
    14-Mud
    15-The Iceman

  • JORDAN BELL FORT | January 15, 2014 5:45 PM

    when franco says please god please
    and shannon is just standing there looking at him
    .
    the score was spine tingling

  • Elitist Movie Snob | December 10, 2013 8:33 PMReply

    Two Hans Zimmer scores and not even a mention of Nebraska's fantastically simple score?

  • You Asshat | December 10, 2013 8:41 PM

    So then you didn't read to the end to find the "mention" of the Nebraska score then?

  • aquarius1271 | December 8, 2013 6:19 PMReply

    As wonderful as the Man of Steel score was, I think Zimmer's score for Rush deserved to be on the main list instead. The most exciting movie music I have listened for ages.

  • Debbie | December 25, 2013 6:45 AM

    Agreed. The pulsating rush (oops pun) of the score has thrilled me since my first watch!

  • david | December 7, 2013 4:23 PMReply

    Jon Brion - The Blue Umbrella

  • Sam's Myth | December 7, 2013 2:14 PMReply

    Great list as usual, and as a soundtrack freak myself I share most of your picks. A few you missed that I'd love to hear what you think of:

    Steven Hufstetter - Kiss of the Damned
    Broadcast - Berberian Sound Studio
    Rob - Maniac
    Hanan Townshend - To The Wonder
    Joe Hisaishi - The Wind Rises
    and Thomas Newman's opening theme to Side Effects.

    And an important note on All Is Lost -- and I'll post this on Ebert's soundcloud too -- but it's been driving me crazy that, seemingly, there was a version of the Excelsior theme that played over the end credits that was even more repetitive and stripped down, which does not exist on the soundtrack release. In fact, maybe I was lost in the movie but I don't remember much music being used in the actual film other than this main theme at the end, which hit me really hard. Tell me I'm not crazy and that the version of the theme used in the end credits is very different than the Excelsior track on the CD...

  • Tully | December 6, 2013 6:50 PMReply

    This is a pretty good list, folks, but no reasonable discussion about motion picture scores in the year 2013 should leave out Keegan DeWitt's contribution to Chad Hartigan's THIS IS MARTIN BONNER: http://thisismartinbonner.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-martin-bonner-soundtrack

  • G | December 11, 2013 6:36 PM

    Agreed! This was a terrific score that really boosted the overall quality of the film. It was original and well-tailored.
    Definitely deserves a spot on the list.

  • hobbittt | December 6, 2013 3:37 PMReply

    Hobbit???

  • VITHAYA PANSRINGARM | December 6, 2013 10:39 AMReply

    Cliff Martinez's work in "Only God Forgives" is quite good ? ? ?


    If you’re prepared to settle into the film’s unorthodox rhythms,
    you’ll be rewarded by Cliff Martinez’s superb score,
    which perfectly complements the film’s wild mélange of elements,
    acknowledging its Thai setting with eerie Eastern sounds
    that, by the end, feel like the spirits of Bangkok are getting ready to rise up
    and cleanse the world of Crystal and her immoral brood.

    http://www.empireonline dot com/reviews/reviewcomplete.asp?FID=137633


    scored by Drive composer Cliff Martinez, it sounds magnificent,
    perfectly conjuring the feel of backstreet Bangkok

    http://www.totalfilm dot com/reviews/cinema/only-god-forgives


    . And the synth score, by Drive's Cliff Martinez, is some kind of new classic

    http://www.rollingstone dot com/movies/reviews/only-god-forgives-20130719


    If there is one small titbit of innovation and originality in the film,
    it is Cliff Martinez's ambient, mesmerizing, gorgeous score.
    One of the year's best,
    it belongs in a much more accomplished work

    http://www.rogerebert dot com/reviews/only-god-forgives-2013

  • Marv | December 5, 2013 9:38 PMReply

    Place beyond the lines should've made this list, I also really enjoyed the score for the bling ring.

  • TOMMY DEVITO | December 6, 2013 10:42 AM

    the score in TPBTP when gosling rings from the strangers house and when dane dehaan is shot from above like his father on a bike too

  • cirkusfolk | December 5, 2013 9:53 PM

    I agree with Pines. Much better than they gave it credit for in the honorable mentions.

  • bohmer | December 5, 2013 7:00 PMReply

    Great list! My top 3 would be:
    - Upstream Color
    - Tie for Only God Forgive and the Martinez track of Spring Breakers
    - Man of Steel (The 29 minutes of Hans' Sketchbook & General Zod theme put it in #3)

  • James | December 5, 2013 6:16 PMReply

    The score for CAPTAIN PHILLIPS didn't merely have nods to Powell's UNITED 93 score. They actually tracked in the cue "The End" from the UNITED 93 score over the entire finale of PHILLIPS - it's listed in the music credits at the end. And the main theme is the same one Powell wrote for UNITED 93.

  • charlie wilson | December 6, 2013 10:43 AM

    the music when barkhad abdi and hanks first saw each other through binoculars was amazing

  • cirkusfolk | December 5, 2013 9:52 PM

    I thought the last musical cue in Captain Phillips sounded just like the last one in Inception. I figured that was why Hans Zimmer was thanked in the credits.

  • serena | December 5, 2013 5:32 PMReply

    I'm glad I'm not the only one who saw BREATH IN early (in London this summer) and swooned for Dustin O'Halloran's score.

    I would've included THE GREAT GATSBY, if only for its originality. Yeah, "Young and Beautiful" was used about 4 times, but only because it's the most Gatsby-esque song in the whole movie, and Lana Del Rey (aka Lizzie Grant) is more Gatsby than Jay Gatsby.

  • Zach | December 5, 2013 5:01 PMReply

    Nebraska has one of the more charming scores of the year. It's a different breed than most of these picks (it's bluegrass, not orchestral or electronic), but Mark Orton's work made the movie the instant classic it is, for me at least.

  • The Playlist | December 5, 2013 6:24 PM

    Ah yeah, Nebraska was on the short list for final 15 and then got bumped (problem is some of it isn't an original score and some of it is pre-existing). We should have added it to the honorable mention section. I'll amend, thanks for noting.

  • Jone | December 5, 2013 6:12 PM

    Completely agree. I've been listening non-stop. The only score this year that I've made a point to find after seeing the movie.

  • Grace | December 5, 2013 4:02 PMReply

    I feel like these lists really shouldn't be published until 2013 is actually over...because The Hobbit doesn't come out until the 13th and that would definitely be on this list because Howard Shore is a masterful composer and always delivers.

  • JC | December 5, 2013 3:46 PMReply

    I am probably biased...but Only God Forgives should be on that list.

  • ethan hunt | December 6, 2013 10:45 AM

    BEST SUPP ACTOR 2014 nominees (my predictions)

    woody harrelson OOTF
    vithaya pansringarm OGF
    barkhad abdi CP
    joel edgerton TGG
    ryan gosling TPBTP

  • BEF | December 5, 2013 3:05 PMReply

    Zimmer's everywhere, but I liked his score for "12 Years" more than anything else from his releases this year ... I was actually surprised it WAS Zimmer when his name came up.

  • Oogle monster | December 5, 2013 2:26 PMReply

    NO GATSBY?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WALTER MITTY?!!! WHATTT!!!

  • benutty | December 5, 2013 2:26 PMReply

    "Playlist, where we try to make Upstream Color happen until we absolutely just cannot anymore."

    Kind of mad that you just didn't call Beasts of the Southern Wild best score this year. Nothing from this film season has even come close to matching the cohesion and depth it provided the film.

  • bohmer | December 5, 2013 6:54 PM

    Upstream Color happened.

    BotSW was last year.

  • Eric | December 5, 2013 2:23 PMReply

    Nice list, Playlist.

    My Top 3 would be:

    Prince Avalanche
    Upstream Color
    Her

  • Matt N. | December 5, 2013 2:20 PMReply

    The score/soundtrack for "Her" was outstanding. They had better release that. I can't find any info on it right now.

  • gert | December 5, 2013 2:14 PMReply

    Enjoyed all scores listed. What Maise Knew had a lovely score as well.

  • Charles | December 5, 2013 2:09 PMReply

    I was very pleasantly surprised by how good Randy Newman's score was for Monsters University. His use of marching band music within the score was especially great. I think it was one of the best of the year.

  • Andy H | January 17, 2014 6:53 PM

    Why are you surprised?People don't notice the score in comedies
    or animated pictures .They're hard to do ,I think,and often can really help
    a picture.The Pixar scores are all pretty good.

  • harry | December 5, 2013 2:04 PMReply

    One of the best blog posts of the year. Great selection of scores. I
    Haven't seen or heard the Redford one. Will catch up on that.

  • JD | December 5, 2013 1:38 PMReply

    'Only God Forgives' is missing from that list.

  • DANNY OCEAN | December 6, 2013 10:49 AM

    @ JD

    if you're prepared to settle into the films unorthodox rhythms,
    you'll be rewarded by Cliff Martinezs superb score,
    which perfectly complements the films wild malange of elements,
    acknowledging its Thai setting with eerie Eastern sounds
    that, by the end, feel like the spirits of Bangkok are getting ready to rise up
    and cleanse the world of Crystal and her immoral brood.

    http://www.empireonline dot com/reviews/reviewcomplete.asp?FID=137633

    scored by Drive composer Cliff Martinez, it sounds magnificent,
    perfectly conjuring the feel of backstreet Bangkok

    http://www.totalfilm dot com/reviews/cinema/only-god-forgives

    . And the synth score, by Drive's Cliff Martinez, is some kind of new classic

    http://www.rollingstone dot com/movies/reviews/only-god-forgives-20130719

    If there is one small titbit of innovation and originality in the film,
    it is Cliff Martinez's ambient, mesmerizing, gorgeous score.
    One of the year's best,
    it belongs in a much more accomplished work

    http://www.rogerebert dot com/reviews/only-god-forgives-2013

  • silver linings playhook | December 6, 2013 10:48 AM

    @ JD

    if you're prepared to settle into the films unorthodox rhythms,
    you'€™ll be rewarded by Cliff Martinezs superb score,
    which perfectly complements the films wild malange of elements,
    acknowledging its Thai setting with eerie Eastern sounds
    that, by the end, feel like the spirits of Bangkok are getting ready to rise up
    and cleanse the world of Crystal and her immoral brood.

    http://www.empireonline dot com/reviews/reviewcomplete.asp?FID=137633

    scored by Drive composer Cliff Martinez, it sounds magnificent,
    perfectly conjuring the feel of backstreet Bangkok

    http://www.totalfilm dot com/reviews/cinema/only-god-forgives

    . And the synth score, by Drive's Cliff Martinez, is some kind of new classic

    http://www.rollingstone dot com/movies/reviews/only-god-forgives-20130719

    If there is one small titbit of innovation and originality in the film,
    it is Cliff Martinez's ambient, mesmerizing, gorgeous score.
    One of the year's best,
    it belongs in a much more accomplished work

    http://www.rogerebert dot com/reviews/only-god-forgives-2013

  • ABR | December 5, 2013 1:39 PM

    I was just about to post that.

  • Chris | December 5, 2013 1:32 PMReply

    No, "Gravity" did not LITERALLY hurl audience members into space. Jesus Christ, you're a professional writer.

  • moo | December 5, 2013 2:31 PM

    This is the best comment I've ever seen on this site.

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