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The 15 Best Film Scores Of 2013

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist December 5, 2013 at 1:24PM

Even as frequent soundtrack-listeners, it's only at the end of the year when we come to take stock of the various scores that have passed through our ear canals over the previous twelve months that it's possible to get a measure of the state of composition for film. Which is to say that, having spent the last few days relistening to some of the major scores of 2013, it's been a fantastic year.
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Stoker Nicole Kidman Matthew Goode

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.

Gravity, Sandra Bullock

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.

Spring Breakers

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.

Her, Spike Jonze, Joaquin Phoenix

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.

Man Of Steel

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.

This article is related to: Features, Best Movies of 2013, Best of 2013, Hans Zimmer, Clint Mansell, Cliff Martinez, Skrillex, David Wingo, All Is Lost, Shane Carruth, Daniel Hart, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Arcade Fire, Steven Price, The Tindersticks, M83