This was an exceedingly hard list to put together, harder than either the main TV or movie selections. 2018 has an absolute cavalcade of great film music to choose from, so selecting a top 5 was hugely subjective. There are plenty of other albums that could have made it.
As a result, I’ve added below a Spotify link to 40 different film tracks from 40 different movies, many of which didn’t make my personal top 5. Hopefully you may pick out some more film music treats from that expanded list.
Anyway, here we go with my Top 5 film score tracks of 2018…
5. ‘Goodman’s Theme: End Titles’ (Ghost Stories – Frank Ilfman)
Perhaps the least known composer on this list, Frank Ilfman excels himself with his score to Jeremy Dyson & Andy Nyman’s British curio, Ghost Stories. A portmanteau chiller, framed around a researcher (played by Nyman) investigating the unsolved cases of a mysterious old ghost hunter, the result is a slightly fractured but often effective film which contains more than a few decent jump scares, accompanied by a varied score.
‘Goodman’s Theme’ brings the curtain down on Ghost Stories to really quite beautiful effect, with an appropriately haunting combination of mournful violin with a gorgeous background piano refrain which reflects the sadness inherent in the climactic beat of a picture which… well, let’s not spoil it. Ilfman simply creates a swirling final piece which recalls the tragic waltz of Phantom Thread‘s ‘House of Woodcock’, mentioned in my earlier list.
It outdoes the film, in all honesty, but it shows Ilfman has some sumptuous film music within him. Hopefully Ghost Stories is just the beginning.
4. ‘A Comedy of Terrors’ (End Titles) (The Death of Stalin – Christopher Willis)
This was a late entry but, let’s be honest, you can’t talk about the best film music of 2018 without having a conversation about The Death of Stalin. Christopher Willis’ entire album is pretty magnificent from start to finish, bringing a rousing combination of orchestration to Armando Iannucci’s uneven political satire about, well, the death of Soviet demagogue Josef Stalin.
‘A Comedy of Terrors’ is another end titles piece which encapsulates an album that quite expertly underscores the ridiculous grandeur of the Soviet regime around the time of Stalin’s death. If James Newton Howard provided a dark and operatic Russian palette for Red Sparrow, Willis understands the pomp and bluster of the Kremlin and the buffoons who must clean up the post-Stalinist mess. This brief piece is full of fast violins, booming drums and brassy fanfares, with the odd break for some jaunty woodwind.
A superlative album to a decent, if flawed film. The Death of Stalin should be seen but most assuredly heard.
3. ‘The Exchange’ (Mission Impossible: Fallout – Lorne Balfe)
The Mission: Impossible films have always been defined, in many respects, by their scores. Brian De Palma’s original had a tricksy update of Lalo Schifrin from Danny Elfman, who ditched his usual whimsy for playful subterfuge. You can practically hear Hans Zimmer’s leather jacket creaking behind the wanky guitar rock stylings of M:I 2, before Michael Giacchino riffs off Schifrin in his own inimitable orchestral style for M:I 3 and Ghost Protocol.
Given Joe Kraemer delivered one of the scores of 2015 with Rogue Nation’s grand, lyrical improvement (believe it or not) on what Giacchino laid down, you would have expected him back for Chris McQuarrie’s follow up, but Lorne Balfe’s Zimmer-esque, percussive, booming and rumbling undulation across Fallout just fits to an absolute tee. It may, admittedly, sound a lot like The Dark Knight, but imitation and flattery and all that. Plus, Balfe just manages to amp everything up to the next level of scale in tracks like ‘The Exchange,’ which combines the Zimmer stylings with Schifrin’s original riffs effortlessly, building tension effortlessly.
It’s so unlike any other M:I score, and it certainly wouldn’t be to the tastes of those who like their music much more sweeping and orchestral over electronic, but man does Fallout pack an even greater punch thanks to Balfe’s work. The score that should put this composer on the map, once and for all.
2. ‘The Landing’ (First Man – Justin Hurwitz)
It pains me that no one went to see First Man. You can read more on why it’s one of the best films of 2018 here, but it also contains one of the most striking and unique scores of the year too. Justin Hurwitz teams up with director Damien Chazelle for the third time, after massive successes with both Whiplash and La La Land, but this time to create a very different musical palette for a very different movie.
‘The Landing’ represents the apex of First Man‘s musical achievement for me. Hurwitz underscores the journey of legendary astronaut Neil Armstrong’s successful trip to land on the Moon in 1969, reflecting the films underlying themes of loss that Chazelle’s film, and Armstrong’s journey, are really all about. ‘The Landing’ accompanies the tensest scene in the movie, as the lunar lander descends toward the surface, and Hurwitz draws out the track and builds that tension powerfully, as violins repeat, drums build and trumpets blare. Rarely does a piece of music so perfectly match the visuals on screen as this does here.
First Man is about discovery but through a voyage inside and Justin Hurwitz creates a varied, experimental score to brilliantly reflect that. Don’t miss either the score or film.
1 – ‘United Nations/End Titles’ (Black Panther – Ludwig Goransson)
As films, let alone superhero films, go in 2018, it is hard to see past Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther as one of the best. A superbly directed, well scripted thrill ride into the world of Wakanda, Coogler instantaneously grounds the Marvel Cinematic Universe in characters who could lead the next, post-Avengers phase of this epic narrative for the next decade. Remarkably, you could say the same about Ludwig Goransson’s masterpiece of a score.
‘United Nations/End Titles’ is a bravura stringing together of the myriad themes Goransson weaves across Black Panther as he develops a distinctive thematic sound for T’Challa and Wakanda that is missing from the majority of MCU scores. Not since Henry Jackman’s excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier has an MCU score landed with me in terms of being distinctive and effective beyond the film itself and Goransson blasts even that out of the water. His fusion of African sounds and chorus with traditional action fanfares give Black Panther a score like no other – immediately likeable, immediately memorable, and incredibly hummable.
There is no score I have listened to more in 2018 than I have Black Panther. It is a masterwork, and one I will champion for many years to come.
As promised, here’s my Spotify expansion of my favourite tracks from 2018. Not all of the scores themselves are perfect but I implore you to explore them anyway…
I’ll be back soon for my Top 5 Film choices of 2018, so stay tuned…