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The Best Movie Scores of the 21st Century

Needless to say, music in the movies has come on leaps and bounds in the last century or so. So far in the 21st century, we have seen a remarkably evolutionary and active period for movie scores. Without forgetting the formative and bold achievements of such old masters as Toru Takemitsu and Bernard Hermann, the popularity of independent film and the challenge provided by the digital age have changed how we perceive musical accompaniment.

Such Avant-garde and rock musicians as Mica Levi and Jonny Greenwood have been inspired by narrative projects in expanding their repertoire, while more conventional composers like Carter Burwell and Alexandre Desplat answered the call by composing some of the most stunning work of their professional careers. Some of the best film scores in recent times didn’t necessarily break new ground but that doesn’t mean they didn’t give us some of the finest film scores in history.

The Hours by Philip Glass

Philip Glass may just have been the perfect composer to write a score for a film about Virginia Woolf. Each is an Avant-garde pioneer. Where Woolf managed to make life’s daily banalities interesting, Glass sees beauty in repetition. The score calls back to some of the composer’s more accessible work, opting for delicate melodies as opposed to droning cacophonies.

Catch Me If You Can by John Williams

The screenplay that resulted in another teaming of John Williams and Steven Spielberg didn’t feature a menacing foe, such as an SS tyrant or a shark. Catch Me If You Can is a story about Frankl Abagnale Jr, a gifted con artist being chased by an FBI agent who begins to have an affinity for the boy. In commentary from behind the scenes, Williams spoke about his jazz-inflected score, describing it as entertaining and amusing. Many of the beats slightly wave, as hard to catch as the New Yorker who posed as a lawyer, a pilot, and a doctor. Williams’ compositions were spoofing a mild disaster and earned him his 42nd Oscar nomination.

The Childhood of a Leader by Scott Walker

While the story is set in the year 1918, the score sounds far more like 2016. Composed by art-pop master Scott Walker, the score begins with a 17-second piece of music that features an orchestra warming up. It seems as if it serves as a warning for what to expect. When the panicky accompaniment cuts into the soundtrack, we see strings cut into WW1 archival footage with soldiers marching in a deadly formation. The warning was indeed just.

The coming-of-age story takes us inside a young boy’s dark and formative experiences. The director depends on the score to translate the anger that lives within the young protagonist. The music proceeds with authority. In one piece of music, violent strings collide with a war balustrade of trumpets. Each respite written into the score is designed to give the viewer a false sense of security so that we are relaxed enough to be struck by terror once more.