Music Break: Top 10 Favorite Film Scores of 2014

Top10FaveFilmScores2014I’m so behind on my year-end top ten lists, but hey, I think January is still a great time for those lists right? 😉 I was listening to NPR two nights ago and caught host Robert Siegel interviewing composer Thomas Newman (The Shawshank Redemption, The Road To Perdition, Wall•E, etc.) and naturally I started thinking about some of my favorite scores from 2014.

Well, there are a few that I know would make my list, but it was pretty challenging to settle on the last three or four of them. If you’ve been keeping up with my Music Break posts, you might not be surprised by some of my picks here. Now, for this list, I’m focusing on instrumental film scores instead of songs. Thus you won’t see soundtracks of The Guardians of The Galaxy for example, though I think that’s awesome! I will cover the Top 10 Songs in a separate post.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

1. Belle – Rachel Portman

For some reason I had never paid attention to Rachel Portman‘s work before, though she had quite a stellar resume scoring for Emma (that won her an Oscar), Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, Never Let Me Go, etc. I absolutely adore her lush and elegant score she did for Belle and it just suits the tone of the film so well. I’ve listened to the entire soundtrack and loved every second! If you read my review, you know how much I adore this film and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s portrayal of Dido Elizabeth Belle. Portman’s music somehow captures Belle’s emotional journey as well as the romantic side of her relationship with John Davinier.

2. Breathe In – Dustin O’Halloran

After I saw this film, I was inspired to do a list of memorable piano moments on film, but I haven’t posted the score from the film. I’m not familiar with composer/pianist Dustin O’Halloran at all, but after this one, I definitely will keep an eye (and ear) out for him. There’s a bit of Philip Glass’ influence in his work here, and sure enough, when I checked on his Wiki page, he’s influenced by Glass as well as another favorite composer of mine, Ennio Morricone. I grew up listening to piano music as my mother’s a huge fan of French pianist Richard Clayderman. There’s something so ethereal about this score that makes me swoon. The film is atmospheric and intimate, and this music complements that tone beautifully.

3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Henry Jackman

One of my favorite Marvel superhero movies also have one of my fave soundtracks ever. Henry Jackman should just score every Marvel movie as I LOVE LOVE his X-Men: First Class soundtrack. I thought that Alan Silvestri’s fantastic job for the first Captain America film was hard to top, yet I think Jackman managed to do an equally phenomenal work here. The first one had a strong retro vibe with unabashed patriotism that’s fun and infectious. This one the nationalistic sensibilities is toned down a bit, but the score is still dynamic but a little darker and more ominous. It’s as if the music reflects Captain’s more conflicted moral sense as he navigates the more complex and intricate world he’s suddenly thrown into.

4. Gone Girl – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

I’m not always fond of electronic music but there’s something so hypnotic about the somber sound of Gone Girl’s score. It’s as beautiful as Amy Dunne, but just as unsettling. This Technically, Missing track is perhaps my favorite of the entire album. It’s spine-tingling yet lush, melodious yet haunting, exactly how you’d feel about this story. Every time the repetitive three notes are played, it always takes me back to that big sprawling house where the doomed couple descend into madness. This is Reznor/Ross’ third collaboration with David Fincher and they seem to be even more adept at capturing the psychology of his work.

5. Grand Budapest Hotel Alexandre Desplat

I first heard of the Desplat when he worked on The King’s Speech back in 2011, and ever since then I’ve become a big fan of this prolific and brilliant composer. I LOVE the more classical-tinged style of his work like The Painted Veil or Tree of Life, but I can’t help being entertained by the playfulness of this score. Just like the film, it’s just so quirky and whimsical and it definitely has a strong eastern-European sound. Desplat incorporates Russian folk songs and pieces and some were performed by the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra.

6. How To Train Your Dragon 2 – John Powell

I LOVE John Powell‘s work for this animated feature. I actually love the score for the first film more, but the score of the sequel is equally excellent. I have featured the soaring Beyond the Clouds track before in a Music Break post back in June. Now this one is just simply a lush track including the sweet choir sound that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. It’s truly an amazing and inspiring work that I love listening to time and time again.

7. The Imitation Game – Alexandre Desplat

It’s incredible how different this score is from The Grand Budapest Hotel, and this one sounds more like something I’d expect from Desplat. I love classical music and there’s definitely a lot of classical influence in his work. This particular score somehow captures that enigmatic and mysterious quality of the subject matter that is Alan Turing. It also has a tinge of sadness that really hits you in the gut as you listen to it. The repetitive quality somehow makes me think of the Turing Machine and its mechanical process. It’s amazing that according to IMDb, Desplat only had three weeks to score this film, and that’s that’s three weeks from signing on to finishing the last recording session! He said he had the same amount of time to score The Queen, too. Wow, they certainly got a genius to score a film about a genius.

8. Interstellar – Hans Zimmer

Speaking of a genius, is there anything Mr. Zimmer can’t do? Seems that no matter what genre, Zimmer somehow could create a music that complement the subject matter. Now, I’ve mentioned in my Interstellar review that I didn’t like how overpowering the music was when it’s played over scenes with dialog. But when I listened to it afterwards, I fell in love with it. Now that I think about it, I think I love the soundtrack much more than the film. It’s like a love letter to space exploration in musical term. It somehow captures the more grounded familial love theme of the story, as well as the grandiose cosmological journey that the characters – and us the viewers – experience. The entire soundtrack is phenomenal, but I like the slower, more introspective music than the more intense versions like the one used in the docking scene.

9. John Wick – Tyler Bates & Joel J. Richard

Yet another electronic style music I’m loving from this year. This soundtrack, and this track in particular, has become a staple during my workout routine. It always adds a dose of adrenaline rush whenever I’m not feeling that motivated to get on the elliptical machine. There’s a retro vibe to this soundtrack that adds to the cool factor. It’s one of those pulsating soundtracks that a DJ could spin in a dance club, as John Wick himself performed lots of his dance of death in nightclubs or discotheques.


10. Maleficent – James Newton Howard

In keeping with the darker, more mature story of Sleeping Beauty’s villain, gone are the chirpy and dreamy-like music of the original. Once Upon A Dream is one of my all time favorite Disney songs, and Lana Del Rey’s rendition will surely end up in my favorite 2014 songs list. Now, the score itself still retains that magical/fairy-tale quality with the composer commanding a large orchestra with a full choir. It’s lush and playful at times but not too Disney-fied the way say, Frozen was. This Maleficent Flies score, complete with the fairy dust sound effects, is just so ethereal and gorgeous. It’s easily my favorite and the one I remember most from the film.


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Michael Giacchino

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – Howard Shore

Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part I – James Newton Howard


So what do you think of my picks of favorite 2014 scores? Feel free to share your own favorites!

36 thoughts on “Music Break: Top 10 Favorite Film Scores of 2014

  1. My favorite film scores this year are from Gone Girl, Birdman, Grand Budapest Hotel, Frank, and The Raid 2. I’m sure more is to come as I’m trying to get finalize what films to watch for the last days of the year.

    1. There are still a bunch of movies I haven’t seen yet, including Frank and The Raid 2. I have a feeling Frank would make lots of people’s list as it’s a music-themed story.

  2. Wonderful picks, Ruth! I forgot that I really want to see John Wick for its score. My favorites at the moment would be: The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Birdman, Interstellar, Noah, and Under the Skin.

    1. Thanks Josh! John Wick is a lot of fun, I really enjoyed that one and Keanu at his best. I honestly can’t remember the score for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but I hated the movie. I should check out Under the Skin soon!

  3. Nice picks Ruth! If we are talking about doing something unique and different, this year I think I’d go with Under The Skin by Mica Levi, and Grand Budapest Hotel by Alexandre Desplat.
    If we are talking of which new score I have listened to the most outside of the movie in 2014 , that would be Gone Girl. I really like the John Wick track you shared!

    1. Hello Chris! I should listen to Under The Skin by Mica Levi, haven’t seen the film yet. Grand Budapest Hotel is definitely unique and quirky, it’s not my usual type of music I listen to but I enjoyed it. Glad you like the John Wick track, it’s so addictive!

  4. What a fantastic list! Gone Girl, Grand Budapest Hotel and Belle definitely had one of the best scores this year. Anyhow, I would add Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive to the list, although Under the Skin also had a great score, certainly one of the most unique ones.

    1. Hi Veronika, welcome to FC! Man, I haven’t seen Only Lovers Left Alive but I’m gonna listen to the soundtrack now, and Under the Skin too. Thanks for your comment!

  5. This year has been SO RICH for scores. I love that Belle tops yours, even if it has currently fallen out of my Top Five. Portman’s work is astonishing in most of her films. Beloved is probably my favorite of her resume.

    Gone Girl, Noah, Under the Skin, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Fury make my Top Five right now. I’m honestly in love with all five of these scores…like, IN LOVE!

    Could this be the single best year for film scores, like, ever?

    1. Hi Drew! Yeah it’s quite an eclectic list of scores we’ve got this year. I never thought I’d put a couple of electronic music on my list, and the folk string music of Grand Budapest Hotel isn’t normally my forte, but yet they’re alll great! So is Belle still on your top 10 then? I’m so in love w/ that score, and John Wick too, which are so different, ahah. I don’t know if this year is the best for film scores but pretty darn close I’d say.

    1. Yeah Desplat is so prolific yet he churns out fantastic work every time! He’s my fave too, he reminds me a bit of John Williams in terms of his genius body of work.

  6. Ted S.

    I only saw three of the movies on your list there, Interstellar, Capt America and John Wick. Of course my favorite is Interstellar, when the first teaser trailer used that Zimmer’s score, I thought maybe it’s only for the teaser. But I’m glad it’s used in the actual film too! I’ve listened to it countless times ever since I saw the film; I’m actually might go see it again this weekend, this time at a 4K theater. Just want to see how it will look compare to IMAX 70mm.

  7. Loving the inclusion of Gone Girl, TM is my second fav out of the soundtrack, right after Appearances, which is so sensual, mysterious and kinda captures the love/hate/playfulness of Amy and Nick’s relations. I prefer Interstellar’s OST to the actual movie too, ‘Mountains’ is my favorite movie track of the year

    1. Hi Sati! I remember you had TM on your blog and I LOVE listening to that. I’ve listened to the entire thing and I still love that one the most. Appearances is awesome too, you’re right it’s quite sensual and mysterious. Interstellar’s score kinda grew on me the more I listened to it, but it was way too loud when I saw the movie on the big screen.

  8. Interstellar’s soundtrack was so good! All of these are great, though. One of my favorite soundtracks of the year was for The Guest, it’s so 80’s and awesome.

  9. Thanks Ruth for turning me on to John Wick and Breath In. Awesome scores from films that I wouldn’t have checked out for a while.

    My faves this year have some along the lines of your picks but here’s some others..

    Force Majeure – Ola Fløttum . Potential Best Foreign Picture nominee from Sweden.

    The Double – Hewitt

    Speaking of electronic scores check out The Guest – V/A. 80’s at its best. Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) is terrific in this indie.

    Only Lovers Left Alive – Jozef Van Wissem

    The Theory Of Everything – Johann Jóhannsson

    Blue Ruin – Brooke & Will Blair. Great ominous and foreboding score.

    1. Hello Nika! Oh yeah that’s a great track featured in the beginning of the movie. I REALLY like Desplat’s work and glad he’s getting more and more work!

  10. Great picks! My favorite of the year so far has to be Antonio Sanchez’s work for Birdman. I just read that it’s ineligible for an Oscar and it’s truly one of the worst news I’ve gotten lately.

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  12. Great selections here, Ruth! Ya know, I knew the name Dustin O’Halloran sounded familiar. I really liked his score for the movie Like Crazy. I’ll have to check out Breathe In. The scores from Interstellar, The Imitation Game, and John Wick would all probably make my top ten list!

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