Another year, gone. There’s been a few ups and downs, but overall we’ve had some seriously solid entries into the soundtrack world this year, and now they will fight to the death in another nail-bitingly tense Best Scores competition. This time with a twist.
2020 hasn’t been the greatest of recent years, and film music has certainly taken a few hits as a result. Due to the pandemic the film industry pretty much shut down entirely this year, and is only just now starting to come back to life. As a result there haven’t been many film score releases, with many of the expected 2020 scores delayed to 2021 instead. As such, I’ve decided to do my “Best Of” list a little differently this year. You may have noticed the distinct lack of “Film” in the “Zanobard’s Best Scores Of 2020” title, and that’s because I’ve decided, just for this year, to open up the Top 10 floor to not just film but TV and game scores too. We’ve had some great releases from those respective areas this year, and given the reasonable lack of god tier film scores at the moment I felt it was high time they had their time to shine.
As per usual with these “best of” lists it’s all just my opinion, and please do feel free to comment your own lists below for comparison, it’s always interesting to see what other people think too. So without further ado, let’s begin.
10. The Invisible Man
By Benjamin Wallfisch
Benjamin Wallfisch’s The Invisible Man was a spine-chillingly creepy entry into the horror music genre this year, with final track Denouement (which plays over the end credits) being the star of the hair-raising show with eerie strings and solemn piano notes closing the album on a dramatically sombre note. The score overall utilises a combination of creepy orchestra and ominous electronics to establish a particularly unsettling tone throughout the album, and in essence, if you listened to Blade Runner 2049 and thought it might work better as a horror score, then this is the album for you.
9. The Call Of The Wild
By John Powell
John Powell has had quite a year with the release of the long-awaited score expansions for Solo: A Star Wars Story and How To Train Your Dragon, but in February a brand new and rather brilliant musical adventure of his was released in the form of The Call Of The Wild. Like with many of his scores it leans heavily into loud, brass-heavy triumphant action, which as usual results in some absolutely terrific, fun-filled music. I sadly never quite got around to reviewing this particular soundtrack this year, but that didn’t stop me from listening to it repeatedly through the past few months and overall concluding it as one of the best film scores of 2020.
8. His Dark Materials (Series 2)
By Lorne Balfe
His Dark Materials is the first of the non-film best scores of this year, and what an album it is. Composer Lorne Balfe absolutely knocked it out of the park with his music for the first season of the TV show last year, and this year’s score for the second season is just as richly orchestrated and gorgeously thematic as the first, if not even more so. Balfe quite simply goes all out with it, utilising stunning orchestral vistas for some truly breathtaking score and epic new themes, all-in-all resulting in an album that absolutely deserves a place among the top scores of the year.
7. The Witches
By Alan Silvestri
It wouldn’t be a true top ten list with an Alan Silvestri score, now would it? The Witches is a highly enjoyable feature, with some rather exquisite action setpieces (as expected really at this point with this composer) and many a well-crafted and memorable theme all together making for one of the better scores of the year. The end credits suite listed above is an excellent summary of the best parts of the score, with several bold appearances by the main theme and a few excerpts from standout action moments. Overall, The Witches features an action-orchestra film score style similar to the likes of Ready Player One at a time when such scores are very few and far between, with some truly spectacular results.
6. The Mandalorian (Season 2)
By Ludwig Göransson
Ludwig Göransson returned to The Mandalorian on startling form with season two, upping his orchestral and electronic a-game while also incorporating a whole host of exquisite themes both intriguing new and iconic old. New highlights include a brilliantly bold motif for Bo Katan and her Mandalorian crew, a proudly Western cue for marshal Cobb Vanth and a heroic orchestral piece for a certain returning Jedi, while certain other highlights practically bring a tear to your eye with Göransson lovingly bringing back Kevin Kiner’s now heartwrenching motif for Ahsoka and John Williams’ heroic Resistance theme, as well as finally delivering the long-awaited payoff of Williams’ legendary Force theme at the end of the season. All-in, season two’s score is a major improvement on the first, and one very deserving of a spot on this year’s top ten.
By Blake Neely
Blake Neely’s Greyhound score was one of the surprise highlights of the year for me, in particular the absolutely stunning main theme showcased at glorious length above in the ten minute end credits cue But At What Cost. The score also features a particularly creepy electronic motif for the enemy submarines in the movie (set in World War II) as well as several gently melancholic strings-based setpieces that make the album overall a real joy to listen to, and one well worthy of a spot on this list.
4. Birds Of Prey
By Daniel Pemberton
Birds Of Prey feels like it came out years ago now, but that doesn’t stop it from actually being one of the best scores of 2020. I always look forward to new releases from composer Daniel Pemberton as he always manages to make them so utterly unique compared to everything else, and this album is certainly no exception. From the surprisingly epic bird cries representing the titular heroes to the breathtakingly loud operatic vocals and in-your-face electric guitars for the malevolent Harley Quinn, this score packs many a surprising and stylistically unique musical punch while all still coming together to make a solidly entertaining film score, and a brilliant one at that.
3. Ori And The Will Of The Wisps
By Gareth Coker
Gareth Coker blew our minds with his utterly beautiful score for Ori And The Blind Forest (which earned a Perfect Score award on this site) and so it should come as no surprise to anyone that his work for the sequel is equally (and at points I think even surpassingly) stunning. The main theme from the first score returns in glorious form alongside a number of exquisitely crafted new motifs, and these combined with many a brilliantly epic action setpiece and gently melancholic strings effort easily makes Ori And The Will Of The Wisps one of the best scores of the year.
2. Wonder Woman 1984
By Hans Zimmer
After repeated delays and a number of musical teases by WaterTower Music we finally got to hear Hans Zimmer’s Wonder Woman 1984 score in all its glory last week, and it was absolutely worth the wait. Not only does the composer’s now rather iconic theme for the character return in epic form, it also gets expanded and built upon alongside a whole host of amazing new motifs, chief among which is the beautifully sad love theme for Steve and Diana that features heavily in the cue listed above. We also get some particularly foreboding villain motifs for Cheetah and Maxwell Lord as well as a brilliantly vocal Themyscira piece, and these along with a surprisingly orchestral style (for Zimmer, anyway) make the Wonder Woman sequel one of the composer’s best musical efforts in recent years.
1. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
By Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is my favourite score of the year. While the game came out last year, a soundtrack album didn’t follow, and I spent what felt like an eternity waiting and hoping for it to be released (which it finally was in September), and when it did I fell in love with Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab’s music for the game all over again. The composers have John Williams’ musical style for Star Wars down to a T and its used brilliantly to enhance the score, lovingly connecting it to Star Wars while also allowing the composers to go in their own unique musical direction. Indeed, Fallen Order‘s happily lengthy album features an abundance of musical creativity, whether its the triumphantly heroic main theme for Cal Kestis or the dramatically foreboding piece for villain The Second Sister, not to mention it’s perfect balance of well-crafted action pieces and gently atmospheric cues that make the album overall a genuine joy to listen to, and (in my opinion anyway) the best score of 2020.
Happy Holidays all, I’ll see you all next year.