There’s something downright magical when the fusion of music and images results in perfect, cinematic alchemy. In a year full of actual movie musicals and some great original scores, here are ten of the most exciting movie music moments of 2018.
“Shallow” from “A Star is Born”
It’s almost passé to talk about this song now, which first took pop culture by storm back when the trailer dropped and has been endlessly referenced, memed, and karaoked across the land. But that’s because of the tune’s catchiness and the giddy rollercoaster of emotions we feel with Ally (Lady Gaga) as Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) reveals that he was listening intently enough to her half-baked song idea the night before to write a new arrangement for his band, then pull her out in front of a crowd of thousands — the slow uphill climb of her nervous tension, and finally the euphoric plummet of a musical supernova at the moment of its birth.
“Warrior Falls” from “Black Panther”
The most innovative score for a Marvel movie yet, Ludwig Göransson grounded Ryan Coogler’s film in authentic African rhythms, instrumentation, and actual voices. The entire score is a masterpiece, epitomized in the goosebump moment leading up to T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) coronation as new king of Wakanda. Jubilant choir and tribal drums take us to Warrior Falls, and the Black Panther theme is heralded on horns. As the grand spectacle is revealed of many tribes gathered on this vertical arena stretching into the sky — chanting a hymn to T’Challa in the language of Xhosa — a wave of strings rolls in to join the chorus for a goosebump thrill.
“Volk” from “Suspiria”
Thom Yorke’s score for Luca Guadagnino’s deeply weird, melancholic remake of the Italian horror classic was equally off-piste, full of freaky sorrow. The showstopper is “Volk,” a piece of warbly, queasy music for retro synths that Yorke composed to accompany the dance that plays a key role in the film. As Susie (Dakota Johnson) twists and contorts to the Radiohead frontman’s incantation, the body of an unlucky dancer in another room is violently manipulated in tandem for one of the movie’s most sickening and unforgettable sequences.
“The Landing” from “First Man”
In keeping with the focus of Damien Chazelle’s film about Neil Armstrong, Justin Hurwitz’s score is less concerned with cosmic spectacle than it is with the internal grief and heartbeat of the main character. His hypnotic, dancelike theme for Armstrong’s unwavering determination to get to the moon and the delicate lullaby theme for Karen, the astronaut’s little girl who dies near the beginning of the film, finally commingle in the heartstopping moon landing sequence — perfectly expressing that she was the reason he lunged for the stars, and she was with him when he finally arrived.
“Eros” from “If Beale Street Could Talk”
There’s a layer of sadness that hangs over Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s novel, a constant reminder of cruel injustice that threatens the love between Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James). But there is also deep, liberated passion, which is embodied in their tender love scene. As two beautiful young bodies swirl and merge, the five chords of Nicholas Britell’s “Eros” theme spin with trancelike repetition, and a haunting melody on solo cello continuously ascends and ascends on its path of recurrent obsession. “I wanted it to feel like you’re in another state of consciousness at this point,” explained the composer.
“The Shape Hunts Allyson” from “Halloween”
John Carpenter, who directed and scored the original 1978 film about “The Shape” pursuing babysitters on Halloween night, was wise enough to lean heavily on the power of musical nostalgia in his score for the 2018 reboot. But the film’s most exhilarating cocktail of music and sequence is actually a brand new theme. Laurie Strode’s granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), finds her friend (Drew Scheid) impaled on a gate, and suddenly the motion-sensor lights come on to reveal The Shape standing right behind the body. An addictive high synth groove kicks in, punctuated with a syncopated beat and a siren-like howl as she flees him in breathless panic.
“Runnin” from “Creed II”
The training montage is a musical act unto itself, and the gold standard is Bill Conti’s from the original “Rocky.” But Ludwig Göransson has expertly picked up the mantle, and he composed an inspired fugue for Adonis Creed’s comeback training sequence, which throws the boxer’s determined motif into the ring with Victor Drago’s (Florian Munteanu) theme as the foes both push their bodies to the limit. In a moment of exhausted repose, Creed watches his infant daughter on a phone screen, accompanied by the spiritual strains of Jacob Banks’ baritone — which mounts into a full throttle climax of Creed’s hero theme and A$AP Rocky rapping, “Two middle fingers to you all till I’m dead and gone” over a shot of Creed running like Superman on a desert road.
“Dick’s Heart is Healthier Than Ever” from “Vice”
One of the funniest gags in Adam McKay’s grab-bag satire about Dick Cheney owes much of its power to Nicholas Britell’s score. Midway through the movie, McKay inserts a fake finale of a happy, healthy Cheney bowing out of politics to enjoy time with his adoring family. The score is a genuinely beautiful, albeit sarcastic fanfare for French horns and orchestra that swells into over-the-top majesty as the phony end credits begin to roll. The director’s instructions to Britell were: “Obviously do a very nice job, but don’t do as good a job as you would normally do.”
“The Shores of Scotland” from “Mary Queen of Scots”
Max Richter introduces his main theme, a shared anthem for Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I, when young Mary first arrives on the stunning shores of Scotland. As this imperiously lovely young woman mounts her horse and children scurry around her in awe, Richter’s minimalist mantra of chords cycle over a ground bass line (rooting the music in Elizabethan tradition), and Mary’s melody is sung on the plaintive cor Anglais — setting the table for the rest of the film, which is a visual and musical feast.
“To San Francisco” from “The Sisters Brothers”
One of the best pieces of score written in 2018 belonged to this underappreciated, unorthodox western that subverts expectations at every turn. Alexandre Desplat wove a quirky musical tapestry for mostly a small jazz combo — including electric guitar, tack piano, and electric violin. As the brothers, played by John C. Reilly and Joaquin Phoenix, arrive at the ocean on horseback and wander wide-eyed into a bustling San Francisco, Desplat’s music trots along on an addictive, jangly rhythm and persistent fundamental note, and strings sweep in with chords shifting around in major and minor — beauty and light undercut by darkness and drive.