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10 Scores and Soundtracks You Should Know About

At first glance, film is a visual medium. But if done right, the score or soundtrack can create an entirely auditory experience for viewers. A score is a musical piece, often instrumental, specially composed for scenes and moments within a film, while a soundtrack is a selection of songs that make up the film. The sound of a movie can tell a story in and of itself. It can challenge, enhance, and add another dynamic to the unfolding narrative. The right sound can create mood, express tone, and give context. Here are 10 scores and soundtracks that take you on a journey of their own.

1. Blade Runner 2049

Sounds of machinery calculating, technology whirring, and automated voices characterize the fully formed fictional future of Bladerunner 2049. Hans Zimmer, also known as the composer behind Interstellar, The Dark Knight, and Dunkirk, utilizes slow, echoey, radar-like synths to fill the vast planes of land and flying car travel seen in Officer K’s world. The genius of Zimmer’s score is its reverberative quality that becomes almost meditative as the film progresses. The synths blend and sound similar to wind blowing, waves unfurling and echo the tension between the future and past, organic and inorganic, natural and artificial created thought the film. Songs from the past, such as "Can't Help Falling in Love" and "Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presely are also incorporated throughout the film and help unite the viewer and Agent K by constructing a notion of the past that both can relate to.

2. If Beale Street Could Talk

Nicholas Britell creates the sound of love in his score for If Beale Street Could Talk. The fluttering trumpet and sweet strings throughout somehow slow down time and help us experience the love between Fonny and Tish. Every piece provides a distinctive emotion for each moment of the film, such as admiration, loss, fear, and freedom. Paired with Tish’s narration, the score further deepens the weight of her dialogue. It’s the feeling of butterflies in your stomach, or when you catch each other’s eye from across the room… I’ll stop before I melt into a puddle of mush.

3. The Social Network

The Social Network faced a skeptical audience and a preceding reputation upon release. Despite this, Trent Reznor did what Trent Reznor does best, with the help of Atticus Ross. Nine-Inch Nails’ former frontman began his career shocking audiences and followed suit in creating the sound behind Facebook’s controversial origin story. The clean, simplistic piano line throughout gives just enough emotion to the cold and cutthroat undercurrent of the business dealings portrayed. The electronic and digital “whirrings” offer a backdrop to some of the most intense scenes and indicate Facebook’s meteoric impact it will come to have on digitalizing human interconnection.

4. Good Time

The score of Good Time introduced audiences to the Safdie Brothers’ signature style. We have come to know their projects to be suffocating, anxiety-inducing, and emotionally exhaustive, but in the best kind of way. The film’s electronic heartbeat, created by Oneohtrix Point Never, often mimics Robert Pattinson’s, and eventually our own, rushing adrenaline. The score makes questions such as- are the cops just around the corner? Will they get caught? Do they have enough time? that much more dire. It also makes Conny's love for his brother that much more desperate. The film's sound, complemented with its unrelenting neon lighting scheme, immerses viewers into the film's chaos and its shady New York underworld.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey

At over 50 years old, the score of Kubrick’s impact on American cinema remains unprecedented. The opening composition, Also sprach Zarathustra, can be recognized by all within the first few notes. The piece has taken on a life of its own- often sampled to create drama and build tension within other content. Another iconic composition is Blue Danube, a waltz song that conveys the peaceful floating state, sheer beauty, and the weightlessness of the spacecraft. The invasiveness and haunting quality of the operatic voices in, Reqiuem for Soprano often has viewers begging for the scene to be over. Stand alone, or considered together, each of these compositions is a masterpiece in its own right and contributes to the magnitude that is 2001: A Space Odyssey.

6. The Graduate

God Bless Mrs. Robinson, whoever she really is. And if you didn’t catch that reference, you may have missed every cougar joke, ever. The Simon & Garfunkel (and Dave Grusin) soundtrack defined a generation that was vehemently protesting the Vietnam war and passionate about changing the world around them. The movie conveys the confusion and feeling of loss associated with just graduating college- a strange phase of life that no one quite prepares you for. Even more so, it tells a story of a young adult who’s struggling to define adulthood and to untie their life from their parents. The soundtrack songs equally tell their own stories, with Simon & Garfunkel’s talent for songwriting shining through. With classics like The Sound of Silence, Mrs. Robinson, and Scarborough Fair, the soundtrack leaves audiences feeling a bit more understood and with tunes that evoke a potent feeling of nostalgia.

7. Black Panther

With big names like SZA, 2 Chains, ScHoolboy Q, Jorja Smith, Kendrick, and Travis Scott contributing to Black Panther's soundtrack, it didn’t have a choice but to break the system. This roster is reflective of all the hands that wanted to create the black universe of Wakanda. The entire production is a celebration of black excellence and talent, and the artistry of the soundtrack ignited a fuse to bring diversity and inclusion to the industry. Kendrick is considered to be at the helm of the soundtrack, and the struggles with identity, celebration of blackness, and “kingship” of his own music, can be felt throughout. At times it can feel as if the soundtrack relies on its big names and falls into cliches, but Lamar counteracts this with his fearlessness in breaking down genres and drawing inspiration from different places. Rap has entered the Marvel Universe flawlessly, and we wish whoever dares to follow in Black Panther’s footsteps the best of luck.

8. Do The Right Thing

Spike Lee has created one of the most identifiable style’s in cinematic history, and the same could be said of Public Enemy’s legacy in the music industry. The opening sequence of Rosie Perez dancing to “Fight The Power,” has become engrained in film history. Both works, film, and soundtrack, are unafraid to confront racial issues and bring an unapologetic Brooklyn identity to the American film industry. Perhaps lesser-known about the soundtrack is that it includes “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the black national anthem that celebrates “the variety of cultures inside the United States” and was most recently featured in Beyonce’s 2018 Coachella performance, according to Forbes.

9. Waves

A24 and Trey Edward Schults’ Waves show the “grey area” and many dichotomies of life. Filled with unknown talent and featuring a provocative mix of soundtrack and score, Waves' world is equally dependent on it’s visual as it is on it’s sound. Reznor’s additions to the sound build the emotional intensity of certain scenes and Schults’ attributes his “The Light Shines Through” as the heart of the film. The score is both light and dark, intense and soft; these pairings are thread throughout. The soundtrack songs often reflect Tyler’s state of mind and reflect the film’s symbolism throughout. The soundtrack boasts big names such as Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky, Chance The Rapper, and appropriately so, as these artists are known for their ability to convey complex emotion and ability to create mood.

10. Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting is considered to be a film that is timeless and beloved by all, and the same can be said of it’s soundtrack. The Elliot Smith heavy soundtrack brings a sensitivity to the unique portrait and homage to a rough coming of age in Boston. The songs sprinkled throughout add a layer of interiority and grants us access to the love, fear, and pain that Will is struggling with. But what Danny Elfman and Smith draw out with the sound behind Good Will Hunting is the blossoming relationship between Will and his mentor Sean, played by Robin Williams. It is the sincere love and safety that Sean shows Will, echoed in the sweet melodies crafted by Elliot Smith, which enable him to begin to heal and thus, to go see about a girl.

Honorable Mentions:

  1. Shrek- If you don’t know all the lyrics to Smash Mouth’s All-Star… figure it out.

  2. Euphoria- You’re gonna want to pull out Shazam for this one.

  3. Project X- Put it on while you’re getting ready to go out- can’t promise you’ll remember everything that happens afterward.

  4. Insecure- How is it always so on the money?! Issa Rae is everything.

  5. School of Rock- Rock got no reason. Rock got no rhyme

  6. Tarzan- No one asked Phil Collins to do that to us.

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