For me, the score or soundtrack is one of the most vital pieces of a film. It doesn't just set the tone for the story — it shapes the way you feel about it. Music can pull you right out of a scene if it doesn't fit or push you over the edge if you're on the verge of tears. It can fill your heart with happiness or punch you right in the gut. Music can also make you feel completely and totally understood.
None of us would be writing for /Film if we weren't compulsive in our love of movies and TV, but of all my obsessions — which also include books and comics — music is the one that I've always had the deepest ties to. I listen to music when I do literally anything. It's my gospel, the altar at which I worship, my lifeline. I truly believe my life would be meaningless without a soundtrack. So, believe me when I tell you that I take this list quite seriously.
Some projects use music so prominently that it becomes a character all its own and music is integral to the magic of film. The score is a largely under-appreciated aspect of movies and TV, rarely getting more than a passing mention in reviews, despite its undeniable impact. Plus, never underestimate the immense power of a well-placed needle drop, because nothing establishes mood like a song. So, let's celebrate the best film scores and soundtracks of 2022.
Ti West's "X" is a slasher throwback, taking place in rural Texas in 1979, about a group of aspiring filmmakers who think they're making a porn film, but are, in fact, starring in a horror movie. I had a lot of fun with this film, and the score from Tyler Bates and Chelsea Wolfe really contributes to the overall success of "X." Bates has had multiple collaborations with directors as varied as James Gunn, David Leitch, and Zack Snyder, but may be best known for his work on the "John Wick" franchise. As for Wolfe, this is her first time contributing to a film score, but the singer-songwriter has been releasing great albums for years. She also does a haunting cover of "Oui, Oui, Marie" for the film's soundtrack.
Bates told Consequence of Sound that he places the score "somewhere between 'Rosemary's Baby' and 'Debbie Does Dallas'" and if I had to describe the music of this movie, I can't think of a better way to do so. The synth-driven score is quite eerie and atmospheric, but also at times has the "bow chicka wow wow" that we associate with the adult films of a certain era. Wolfe primarily uses her voice as her instrument, with evocative, breathy vocals that really get inside the individual characters' heads. Sexy and scary is a tough balancing act to pull off, but Bates and Wolfe really set the tone for West's film. Also, there is the rather excellent placement of Blue Öyster Cult's (Don't Fear) The Reaper. I haven't seen the track used that well since "Supernatural" season 1.
I won't delve too deeply into the plot of "Fresh," because I do believe it's best to go in knowing as little as possible about the film. However, I will say that Mimi Cave's thriller tackles perhaps the scariest subject of all: modern romance. "Fresh" skewers the dating scene in a way that is both delightful and terrifying and does so with a killer soundtrack. Cave got her start directing music videos and it shows in the interesting choices she makes throughout the film. Alex Somers' score provides the perfect backdrop because there is a sinister quality lurking beneath its dreamy veneer, as though even the music knows Noa's (Daisy Edgar-Jones) new beau Steve (Sebastian Stan) is too good to be true.
The movie features some pretty great needle drops and I, for one, will never hear Animotion's "Obsession" the same way ever again. Admittedly, I've not spent much time in my life ruminating on Peter Cetera's "Restless Heart," but Steve belting it out is now forever etched into my memory. The way Steve sings these tunes in such horrific situations only serves to highlight how demented he truly is. We've also got Blood Orange, Duran Duran's cover of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day," and a particularly disturbing scene soundtracked by Vitamin String Quartet's cover of Radiohead's "Exit Music (For a Film)."
"I Hear a New World" by Joe Meek also appears at a pivotal moment and while I was unfamiliar with the song, I now can't stop marveling at how wildly ahead of its time the 1960 tune actually was! Also, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Heads Will Roll" couldn't have arrived at a more opportune time.
Guillermo Del Toro's Pinocchio
It's wild that "Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio" released in such close proximity to Disney's own less-than-stellar remake, as it only highlights just how unoriginal the House of Mouse's approach to retelling fairy tales has become. "Pinocchio," a stop-motion animated version of Carlo Collodi's 1883 novel has all the hallmarks of a del Toro classic. Co-directed with Mark Gustafson, the movie is heartfelt and, at times, soul-crushing, but overall, it's a wonderful film that breathes new life into what could easily have been a tired old tale. As much as I loved the film's undeniably compelling visuals, it was the score I could not get out of my head after leaving the theater.
I first became aware of Oscar-winner Alexandre Desplat through his work with Wes Anderson — he has penned the score for all the director's films since "Fantastic Mr. Fox" — but the French composer has crafted unforgettable music for countless movies and his second team-up with del Toro (the first was "The Shape of Water") is no exception. Much of the action is powered by Desplat's lovely music, which underscores the tender moments even more so. Desplat created the score for the boy made of wood using only wooden instruments to "reflect the soul of the film," but this still included a wide array of sounds to cover the full spectrum of human emotion.
You might not pick up on this aspect of the score, but it certainly does capture the spirit of the story. Aside from his imaginative instrumentation, Desplat also composed original songs for the film, which feature lyrics from Roeban Katz and del Toro himself. "Ciao Papa," which is sung by Gregory Mann's Pinocchio, in particular, is quite moving.
Crafting a score for Robert Eggers' Viking revenge tale couldn't have been an easy job. Thankfully, Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough were up to the task. "The Northman" has a stacked cast that includes Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Nicole Kidman, and even Björk. The two artists who scored the film are largely known for electronic music, so "The Northman" definitely presented a whole new set of challenges for the duo's first time composing a film score — though they did find some surprising inspiration in club music. Carolan told Pitchfork, "The world of 'The Northman' is hard. Everything is covered in dirt and everyone looks rough, so the score had to mirror the hardship of being alive at that time." The duo worked on the score for 18 months straight and you can feel all the effort that went into it.
The music of "The Northman" is both anxiety-inducing and adrenaline-pumping, and it's got some sounds even music aficionados might not recognize. That's because Carolan and Gainsborough did a ton of research and used some archaic instruments, composing on several that they had no idea how to play initially. There was even debate on incorporating drums because while it's believed the Vikings used them, there really hasn't been much evidence found to support this. In the end, it's good that they included those sweeping string arrangements and propulsive drum beats, which made the movie's highs and lows resonate that much more. The music drives the film, whether it's soundtracking a savage battle sequence or the realization that vengeance is never as sweet as one imagines.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
Soundtracks aren't really a strong selling point for the majority of movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, James Gunn made sure the "Guardians of the Galaxy" movies had some great tunes, but that was kind of it. At least, until the release of "Black Panther." Aside from Ludwig Göransson's Oscar-winning score, the film featured a stellar soundtrack produced by Kendrick Lamar. "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever" had quite a heavy burden to shoulder and the film's music was integral to the emotional journey at its center. "Wakanda Forever" needed to find a way to forge ahead without the utterly irreplaceable Chadwick Boseman — who the movie lovingly pays tribute to — explain T'Challa's absence, and get the audience onboard with someone else taking on the mantle of Black Panther. Göransson's fantastic score reflects the film's many dimensions, as well as all of its multicultural characters. He even worked with music archeologists to unearth long-lost Mayan music to represent Namor's underwater home of Talokan.
As amazing as the film's score is, "Wakanda Forever" also has an incredible soundtrack. It gave us the first new music from Rihanna in five years and "Lift Me Up" perfectly encapsulates the spirit of this movie, playing when we're all already reaching for our tissues. There's plenty more to be found on the soundtrack album as well, including Burna Boy, E-40, Tobe Nwigwe, Alemán, Fireboy DML, PinkPantheress, and many more. Göransson worked on both the score and the companion soundtrack, incorporating instrumental versions of key tracks that don't appear in their entirety in the movie. Everything was written specifically for "Wakanda Forever." Göransson explained to Esquire, "Thematically, we wanted to move the audience from grief to celebration. When you listen to the soundtrack, you can close your eyes and relive the experience of the movie. That was the intention."
Whether or not you're a fan of Andrew Dominik's "Blonde" — and honestly, I didn't love it — there is no denying that Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have done impressive work on yet another film score. I know I'm biased because I'm a huge Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fan, but the duo's scores are always awesome. The film is beautifully shot, but in the end, all this movie made me feel was hollowed out and sad. I'm not mad at it, because honestly, I'm pretty sure that was the filmmaker's intention. While I could certainly never sit through "Blonde" again, I have repeatedly listened to Cave and Ellis' haunting score from the film.
The music is impossibly sad, as you would expect. After all, it has to be. However, it's also undeniably beautiful and serves "Blonde" incredibly well. The film is rife with heartache and trauma, so much so that watching feels like an exercise in torture. Cave and Ellis' score understands the tragedy of Marilyn Monroe's life, or at least this mostly fictional account of it, following Ana De Armas' starlet through each terrible moment.
An instrumental version of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' gut-wrenching tune, "Bright Horses" is included in the score. The original version of the song was released on "Ghosteen," the 2019 album that saw the artist trying to rebuild after an unfathomable loss. A sense of heartache permeates the score of "Blonde," but there's something else in that music as well: compassion for a woman desperately in need of some.
"Kimi" kind of came out of nowhere and I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed the Steven Soderbergh thriller. The film follows Angela (an incredible Zoë Kravitz), an agoraphobic tech employee whose job is monitoring and correcting data streams from an Alexa-like device known as Kimi. Angela finds the safety of her routine completely upended when she hears something she shouldn't have in one of the streams. I have to admit, I was on the edge of my seat throughout much of this movie, but one aspect that really struck me was the superb score from Cliff Martinez.
Martinez is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Soderbergh, as well as with Nicolas Winding Refn. He does amazing work here and it's quite distinct from what he's done in previous projects. The score really feels like it's soundtracking Angela's inner thoughts and feelings. Whether she is struggling to interact with the world around her or running for her life, the music is always very specific to her emotional state.
Much of the music revolves around a sort of recurring theme for Angela, whose point of view is the focus of the film. The score is quite pretty and almost delicate. Even when Angela is in imminent danger, the tone is more sinister than overly dramatic. Plus, there's Billie Eilish and Massive Attack, a crucial scene that plays out to Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," and the use of Elastica's "Connection" is particularly brilliant.
Wendell & Wild
Do you know what's a perfect combination that I never knew I needed until I got it? Henry Selick and Jordan Peele! With "Wendell & Wild" the "Coraline" and "Nope" filmmakers crafted a truly original tale about Kat (Lyric Ross), a young girl with literal demons (Peele and his partner in crime, Keegan-Michael Key) to face. The film is an absolute delight from start to finish, but one of the best things about this movie is its punk rock soundtrack. Seriously, when I heard X-Ray Spex playing in the first few minutes of the film, I knew this movie was for me. Not only is the band played in Kat's parents' car when she was a kid, but she also later walks into her all-girls Catholic school, boombox in hand, blasting it for all the world.
Punk rock is something rarely heard in films focusing on characters of color and much of the music showcased in "Wendell & Wild" is specifically Black-fronted or Black punk/rock bands — some of whom have gone unappreciated for far too long. The music holds a special place for Kat, not only serving as a link to the father she lost as a child, but also helping her make sense of the world around her. As someone who uses music much in the same way, I could relate.
Where do I even begin with this spectacular soundtrack? Aside from the aforementioned X-Ray Spex, there's Death, The Specials, Fishbone, Living Colour, the Brat, Big Joanie, and so many others, plus the climactic battle of the film plays out to TV on the Radio's "Wolf Like Me." I would also be remiss if I didn't mention the wonderful score from Bruno Coulais, who I first become acquainted with thanks to his memorable score for "Coraline," which almost had a very different soundtrack altogether.
The Woman King
A movie as grand as Gina Prince-Bythewood's "The Woman King" needs an extraordinary score to match its intensity and frequent Spike Lee collaborator Terence Blanchard certainly created one. The historical drama is action-packed from start to finish, boasting outstanding performances from Viola Davis — who spent six years trying to get the movie made — Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, and Sheila Atim, among others. Taking place in the West African kingdom of Dahomey in the 1820s, the film centers on Davis' General Nanisca as she leads the Agojie, Dahomey's all-female team of warriors, against all who would threaten their home.
The project marks the 80th film score for Blanchard, who had previously worked with Prince-Bythewood on "Love & Basketball." Blanchard explained to Gold Derby that he wanted to have "that full array of colors to tell the story," and pushed back on the idea of using mostly African instruments to score the film, not wanting to "implicate that people of color have never played in orchestras." The combination of both elements proved a winning one for "The Woman King," whose score is alternately triumphant and heartbreaking. The music soundtracking those thrilling battle sequences is undeniably exceptional, with sweeping orchestration that fuels every win and loss. However, there's also a warmth that Blanchard brings to the music that highlights the unbreakable bond between the Agojie. The choral aspects of the arrangements only add to the overall power of the score, with the vocals making the hard moments hit even harder. I won't spoil the scene that brought me to tears, but Blanchard imbued it with a sadness that I could feel in my bones.
Bones And All
As a longtime Nine Inch Nails fan, I never would've guessed Trent Reznor's career trajectory. He and Atticus Ross have spent the past decade carving out their space as some of the best composers in the business. The Oscar-winning duo has crafted unforgettable scores for "The Social Network," "Soul" (with John Batiste), and "Watchmen," to name a few. The first thing that struck me while watching "Bones and All" is how, well, sweet the score is. Luca Guadagnino's project is many things at once: a road movie, a cannibal film that perhaps also serves as a treatise on the horrors of meat consumption, but most importantly, it's a love story between Lee (Timothée Chalamet) and Marin (Taylor Russell).
According to IndieWire, Guadagnino told the composers he wanted the music to be a character in the film and that's a goal they certainly accomplished. The score is imbued with a powerful sense of longing: it's beautiful, but invokes feelings of loneliness too, serving to help you fall in love with these characters as they fall in love with each other. Of course, the score is also excellent at building tension when the script calls for it and there are some truly horrific moments in this movie.
The composers wrote the original track, "(You Make Me Feel Like) Home," which plays during a particularly heartrending moment in the story. There are a couple of great needle drops too. I might not be a KISS fan, but it turns out I am a fan of watching Chalamet dance around to "Lick It Up." Plus, we get both Joy Division and the band that sprung from its ashes, New Order, each of which adds a whole new dimension to their respective scenes.
If there was a more epic film than "RRR" this year, I certainly didn't see it. S.S. Rajamouli's story about the fictional friendship between two real-life Indian revolutionaries, Bheem (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) and Raju (Ram Charan), was everything I didn't even know I was looking for in a movie — and the fact that the film is only on Netflix is Hindi, rather than its original language of Telugu should be an actual crime. "RRR" is brimming with moments that must be seen to be believed, so I won't spoil them here, but there is nothing about this movie I didn't love, and that includes the soundtrack, which is every bit as epic as the movie itself.
You may already be familiar with "Naatu Naatu" — or at least you should be — the centerpiece of an unforgettable dance sequence, but there are plenty of other electrifying musical moments to be found in "RRR" as well. "Komuram Bheemudo," for one, comes to mind immediately. The film was scored by Rajamouli's cousin and regular collaborator, M. M. Keeravani. Aside from Keeravani, who composed the film's songs and wrote some lyrics too, many talented lyricists and performers contributed to the tunes as well, though their credits are too numerous to list here. These songs rightfully take center stage at several key points throughout the film. The movie is spectacular, but it's the music that really gets to the heart of Raju and Bheem as characters and truly adds even more depth to their friendship. I can't wait for the sequel!
One of my favorite aspects of any film is if it gets me into music I've never heard and Jordan Peele's "Nope" did exactly that. From the moment I heard Exuma's "Exuma, the Obeah Man" play as OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) rides Lucky out heroically to face Jean Jacket — a sentence that will only make sense if you've seen this movie — I was hooked. Ever since I've not been able to stop listening to the entire 1970 debut album from the Bahamian musician.
Anyway, that's just one outstanding needle drop in a movie with several. What about that moment when Corey Hart's "Sunglasses at Night" plays? It's pretty awesome, not to mention the use of Dionne Warwick's classic, "Walk On By" or the Lost Generation's "This Is the Lost Generation." Speaking of which, do you think OJ and Em (Keke Palmer) would let me hang out with them and listen to their record collection? I'd risk a Jean Jacket encounter.
Those tracks aren't the only thing putting this film so high on the list. Michael Abels, who previously worked with Peele on both "Get Out" and "Us," has crafted a pretty remarkable score for "Nope" as well. Abels told IndieWire the music needed to have both a sense of "Oh s***" and "Oh my god" to reflect the dichotomy of the film, using the analogy that you'd stare awestruck at the Grand Canyon, but you wouldn't want to fall into it. His score does indeed take many shapes and, as such, is the best possible accompaniment to Peele's genre mashup. The music is eerie, but it's also scary, and by the end of "Nope," Abels sounds like he's soundtracking a straight-up adventure movie. It's an impressive feat to make all that blend together so seamlessly.
Everything Everywhere All At Once
I was excited about "Everything Everywhere All At Once" from the moment I saw the trailer soundtracked by David Bowie's "Time" and the movie did not disappoint. In fact, it was my favorite film of the year. I cannot remember the last time a movie made me feel the way "Everything Everywhere All At Once" did. The end of that film moved me to tears before filling my heart with an intense amount of joy. I left the theater not only unable to stop thinking about the movie but also just feeling happier than I've felt after watching a film in a really long time. Aside from being visually arresting, the movie was an aural feast as well, thanks to an exceptional score from the three-piece experimental band Son Lux.
The music in this film is absolute perfection, whether it's highlighting the monotony of Evelyn's (the amazing Michelle Yeoh) daily grind or soundtracking her multiversal exploits. At times, it truly feels out of this world. Son Lux described the experience to Rolling Stone as feeling like they were scoring five different films, but still trying to make the music cohesive and carry emotional heft. The music does spin wildly out of control as Evelyn's world does the same, yet always manages to coalesce. Whether it's an awe-inspiring fight sequence or a quieter, more touching moment, Son Lux brings Daniels' multiversal madness to life.
Aside from the multiple uses of a 2000s one-hit wonder that wound up being integral to the film, the "Everything Everywhere All At Once" soundtrack also includes exciting collaborations with David Byrne, André 3000, Moses Sumney, Mitski, and Randy Newman. Echoing the title of the film, the music of this movie does indeed feel like everything is happening everywhere all at once, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Michael Giacchino's work on "The Batman" was more than the best music to soundtrack a superhero film this year, it was some of the best music, period. I've been a fan of Giacchino's scores since "Alias," but I could never have predicted just how ubiquitous and versatile the composer would turn out to be. From his instantly recognizable work on "Lost" to his numerous beloved Pixar scores, the maestro has now not only composed unforgettable themes for Marvel heroes, but for DC as well. He's had quite a year, scoring multiple films, including "Werewolf by Night," which he also directed. One might think that juggling so many important projects would adversely affect Giacchino's work, but the composer is on a roll!
Giacchino had some big shoes to fill, following the likes of Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer. However, much like Matt Reeves' "The Batman" managed to establish itself from the many incarnations of the Dark Knight that came before, Giacchino's music channels the essence of the character by creating an instantly iconic score that's as haunted, complex, and inexorable as the Caped Crusader himself. Even hearing Batman's theme in the film's promotional materials gave me chills.
It would be one thing to craft a memorable theme, but Giacchino's score is what propels the movie forward, building tension, but also hurtling it from one heart-pounding moment to the next. The music is also surprisingly tender at times as well, particularly when dealing with the blossoming romance between the Bat and the Cat. The flare scene hits hard, with Batman becoming a beacon of hope, but it's Giacchino's score that makes your heart truly swell at that moment. Additionally, the use of Nirvana's "Something in the Way" to bookend the film was also an inspired choice.
This list had been finalized before I saw "Babylon" — "The Batman" was number one — but the indelible music that fuels this film shoved everyone else out of the way, even barreling into my dreams. I thoroughly enjoyed Damien Chazelle's lush ode to a bygone era of Hollywood, with unforgettable turns from Margot Robbie, Diego Calva, and Brad Pitt. The movie may not always be greater than the sum of its admittedly incredible parts, but holy moly is Oscar-winner Justin Hurwitz's score absolutely phenomenal. His work for the three-hour epic required more than twice the amount of music Hurwitz has previously composed for one project and took three years to complete.
You might think, considering the time period, that 1920s jazz would have the biggest influence on the score. However, Hurwitz told IndieWire that he and Chazelle wanted to use the instrumentation of the period, but to "push it to be quite a bit more aggressive and unhinged, like so much of this movie is." The music is certainly jazzy, but you can also hear its roots steeped in rock 'n' roll and even house music. These elements come together to create quite a truly unique soundscape for the world of "Babylon."
Hurwitz is best known for his prior work with Chazelle (he's scored all the director's work) but with "Babylon" the composer has outdone himself. Not just anything could soundtrack the absolute debauchery of this movie or match its often frenzied tone. As on other projects from this duo, the score was a part of the film from the time the script was written, making the music feel fully integrated into the very fabric of "Babylon." The mark of a brilliant score is one that can stand on its own and the biggest compliment I can give the music of "Babylon" is that I cannot stop listening to it!
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The post The Best Movie Scores and Soundtracks of 2022, Ranked appeared first on /Film.