Being married to a movie critic, you tend to go with them to watch a lot of movies. It’s fine, I love cinema in my own right. However, my first love will always be soundtracks and scoring. Some years, there is an utter dearth in soundtracks/scores that elevated their respective films. It’s an even bigger problem recently, as more and more composers complain that directors want them to mimic existing tracks instead of letting them create something unique to the movie.
Whether it’s an entirely original score, selected songs, or a mix of both, a good soundtrack can absolutely elevate its movie. Here are my top five from 2017.
Get Out – Michael Abels
The soundtrack Michael Abels put together for Get Out reminds me of Stanley Kubrick’s detailed work on The Shining. Sure at first glance, everything looks okay. When you start the film, everything sounds welcoming and then the main title “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga” begins and something in the back of your reptilian brain twigs onto the fact that not everything is as it seems. You’re not sure what exactly it is, and as the film progresses, that mounting sense of “not right, not right, not right!” perfectly ramps up the tension Get Out is building. Just as Kubrick spent time putting the devil in the details of his set and shots for The Shining, Abels masterfully works with notes and chord structures to produce an eery atmosphere that leaves the audience as leery as the protagonist.
Logan – Marco Beltrami/Johnny Cash
While I appreciate the vocals on Get Out, it was the original score that truly sealed its place on this list. Logan is a hybrid. Marco Beltrami’s originally scored songs perfectly set the atmosphere of melancholy days gone by, while adding a touch of old school Rat Pack style cool. This is the Wolverine after all. However, most viewers would be hard-pressed to deny that the marketing team’s decision to use Johnny Cash’s cover of “Hurt” in the official trailer truly gave the emotional punch this “outlived my friends and family, and my time is coming” tone that Logan warned us we were in store for. However, that’s not the Johnny Cash song that made the film for me. Running with their Cash success (and truly, Cash’s voice and legendary career compliment the Wolverine so much it’s eery), the soundtrack for Logan decided to use another of his songs, for the ending credits. The use of “The Man Comes Around” was the perfect choice to cap off this decades long journey of a beloved character who has, truly, deserved his rest.
Power Rangers – Brian Tyler/Bootstraps
I know, surprise right? Like I would let slip a chance to include one of my favorite movies? Power Rangers was an underrated film with a ton of heart, and it was elevated both by director Dean Israelite letting Brian Tyler work on a sound that was unique to Power Rangers and by thoughtful song choice for key scenes of the movie. Remember how I mentioned in my opening that modern blockbusters have a problem with original scores because directors want their composers to make something that sounds like an existing score? Not a problem here. In fact, Israelite does something fairly uncommon anymore, devoting an entire shot to serve as both a major point of the movie and a giant feature piece for Tyler’s score. The soundtrack is no slouch either. I don’t like some of the artists they use, but they’ve so perfectly matched the songs to the scenes, I don’t even care. That said, the film’s crowning moment is the use of Bootstraps’ cover of “Stand By Me” in Billy’s scene. Seriously, tell me you don’t need a tissue ready.
Wonder Woman – Rupert Gregson-Williams
I know. Shock. Wonder Woman made the list. Hands down, this is by far my favorite score of this year, maybe of this decade. It’s just that good. Gregson-Williams is an example of not judging a person based on their past work, because he’s spent a LOT of time scoring Adam Sandler movies. And then… this. Multiple songs are standouts by just how well they captured the essence of Wonder Woman and its story. “No Man’s Land” alone helped seal Diana’s climb out of the trenches as one of the most brilliant cinematic scenes ever (yes, I said it), but the emotional hits keep on coming. Later, in the climax of Diana’s fight with Ares, it’s “Hell Hath No Fury” that makes us burn with Diana’s rage and loss from Steve Trevor’s sacrifice. It’s not just high emotional moments either. “Trafalgar Celebration” is at once both the balm after the hurt, hopeful, and yet somber in reminding us just what this newfound peace has cost. Yes, Sia’s “To Be Human” featuring Labrinth is a great cap for the ending credits, but the score truly helps make this film a masterpiece.
Atomic Blonde Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
This film is on the list purely for the song selection. A wild, gritty, noir style romp in the days before the Berlin Wall falls, Atomic Blonde’s soundtrack is an ode to 1980’s nihilism and debauchery at its finest. You know you’re in for a treat when the Peter Schilling cover of “Major Tom” crescendos in a wild car fight serving as Lorraine’s “welcome” to Berlin. Treats like HEALTH’s cover of “Blue Monday” and a veritable Who’s Who lineup of 80’s standouts like David Bowie, George Michael, Queen, and more solidify this soundtrack as one of the most high octane and flat out fun of the year. All of that said, it wouldn’t have been complete without the original Cold War bop itself, “99 Luftballons” which Atomic Blonde not only gives us once, through a cover by Kaleida (which is admittedly more somber) but also the original poppy version by Nena. What more can you ask for?