2014 in movies: the 10 best soundtracks

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The holidays are coming and you’ll need music to accompany your revelling. And as luck would have it, we have ten ear-thrilling soundtracks’ worth of the stuff to fill any awkward silences between The Sound Of Music and the Queen’s speech. Reluctantly omitting some ace soundtracks that accompanied this year’s theatrical releases but were released outside these 12 months (Inside Llewyn Davis’ soundtrack came out too early and Inherent Vice’s Jonny Greenwood score too late), here what's been on heavy rotation on Empire’s office stereo this year.

1. The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel soundtrack

Artist: Alexandre Desplat/Various

The melodies for Wes Anderson’s Mitteleuropa were provided by Alexandre Desplat, a composer who, if not at the top of his game, was certainly inching towards the summit this year, preparing to plant a big fat flag in it. The best of Desplat’s five scores this year was a jaunty, spry and only very occasionally sinister musical landscape that helped his director give voice to the fictional republic of Zubrowka. Folk music, especially Russian balalaika tunes and the nagriish of the Osipov State Russian Folk Orchestra, offer a springboard to magical faraway places your eardrums had never been before. You won’t be able to coax them back.

Bonus Feature “I'm a very lazy person, that's why I work so hard.”



At times between his scores for The Monuments Men, Unbroken, Godzilla, The Imitation Game and the finest of the lot, The Grand Budapest Hotel, it felt like Alexandre Desplat was just showing off, skipping gleefully from genre to genre and musical school to musical school like that annoying kid in class who’s just really bloody good at everything. Of course, turning out five soundtracks (even Hans Zimmer only managed four) encompassing Ron Goodwin-style war themes and giant orchestratral sci-fi pieces, and just about everything in between, took serious elbow grease. Hollywood’s French musician of the moment talked us through the year’s highlights.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is Empire’s soundtrack of the year. Congratulations.

Thank you!

It’s been a great year for you.

The great moments of joy come when I finally nail something I was desperately trying to find. There have been a few [of those], like when I finally found the tune for The Monuments Men or I sat with Wes Anderson – it’s always like two boys playing with their toys in their bedroom. We try everything we can, and it’s incredibly fun. Then the first time I played Godzilla with the orchestra in Los Angeles, and Gareth heard it and felt the impact of his first big soundtrack recording. In the last two months, when I saw The Imitation Game, it was so moving and beautiful as a film, and for Unbroken it was when I met with Louis Zamperini in his house. He lives on the same street as me!

"There is a dimension of fantasy in Wes’s film, which is undeniably strong."

Have you had any sleep?

(Chuckles) Not much. I sleep on trains, cars and planes. But that’s my choice, I can’t blame anyone for that. I could do only two movies a year, but that does not turn me on. I like the excitement; to be waking up in the morning with angst and a journey to go through and a deadline, that’s what keeps me excited, I guess. I’m not sure it keeps me happy, but it keeps me excited.

You’d make a good journalist. We wouldn’t do anything without deadlines.

Exactly. I think I’m certainly a very lazy person, that’s why I work so hard. I wouldn’t work that hard, I wouldn’t do anything... just walk on the beach. But I’m fortunate to have great directors calling me and offering me beautiful movies. Each time it’s a different topic, different size of score and different storytelling, and that’s what I like. I’m in a dream and everyday the dream changes.

You wrote a lovely motif for Ralph Fiennes’ M. Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel. You’ve talked before about how the hotel is a character and the music is a character...

Yes, with Wes we try to keep a diversity of scenes, which can be by character, situations or moments, and when we find a motif we like to divert it to other kinds of colours or shapes or instrumentation or tempi, like we did on Fantastic Mr. Fox. When you play with your soldiers in your room, sometimes you want to put them on the hill and sometimes on the ground, and sometimes you want the black army to win and sometimes the white army. It’s the same. We try to have fun and, of course, reflect what the film is calling for. There is a dimension of fantasy in Wes’s film, which is undeniably strong.

You managed to get 50 balalaika players together. Where did you find them?

There are big Russian communities all over the world, [in London], in New York, in Paris. It’s not that difficult to find them, you just have to catch them at the right moment.

Do you have any keepsakes from the film?

(Laughs) I got a purple robe. I also have the original puppet of the Badger from Mr. Fox and a little puppet from Godzilla.

Lastly, it’s Christmas. Which album would you like to see under your tree?

I haven’t see many movies this year, so I’m not sure about soundtracks, but maybe there’s a new album by (alto sax player) David Sanborn...

2. Guardians Of The Galaxy

Guardians Of The Galaxy soundtrack

Artist: Various

There were some terrific jukebox soundtracks this year but Guardians Of The Galaxy just sneaks into Empire’s top ten ahead of the likes of Boyhood and Pride. Why? Because, like Quentin Tarantino before him, director James Gunn’s OST protocol involved making musical alchemy in which rarer cuts (Elvin Bishop’s ‘Fooled Around And Fell In Love’) and more familiar fare (Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’ and B. J. Thomas's ‘Hooked On A Feeling’, of course, was a Reservoir Dogs pick) combined to make soundtrack gold. All that, and it had a cool name. And it sparked a mixtape revival. What’s not to fall in love with? Bring on Awesome Mix Vol. 2.

3. The Guest

The Guest soundtrack

Artist: Various

Last year’s retro-’80s soundtrack joy came courtesy of Warm Bodies, a zom-romcom that sported Springsteen and Guns ‘N Roses tunes and even dusted off John Waite ‘Missing You’. A couple of years before that it was Drive, a neon-soundscape packed with synths and pulsing Cliff Martinez cues. Taking up the retro mantle in 2014 was Adam Wingard’s 12-track-strong soundtrack for The Guest. Leading the charge on a Clan Of Xymox revival (the cult Dutch rockers provided three tracks, including the doom dance of ‘A Day’), Wingard’s icily Goth score has Sisters Of Mercy rubbing up against Stevie B’s ‘Because I Love You’, and Mike Simonetti’s ‘The Magician’ bristling with nearly as much menace as Dan Steven’s super-soldier himself.

4. Interstellar

Interstellar soundtrack

Artist: Hans Zimmer

While a McConaughey-led singalong of ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’ – complete with a bracing round of “Outer spaaaaaaaace!” as his spacecraft passes through a wormhole – would have lightened the mood during Interstellar’s weighty midsection no end, Hans Zimmer was probably right to stick to the moodier tenor of a score equally rich in bombast and wonderment. His superlative score for Christopher Nolan’s space movie fulfilled a tricky brief: to provide a mournful requiem for a dying planet and an epic rhapsody for another, brighter future, all within the same 16-cue score. Here, with that insistent pipe organ motif lending a sense of spiritual grandeur, was Zimmer’s Creation Mass – ear worms for your nearest ear-wormhole.

5. Gone Girl

Gone Girl soundtrack

Artists: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Chillier than the Glacier Mints polar bear and 197 times as dangerous, Gone Girl’s mood of creeping menace is amplified by a subtle, underplayed score by David Fincher’s two-headed composing hydra, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. Unlike their work on The Social Network and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, both of which had moments of glitchy in-your-faceness, Reznoss’s scoring remains relatively subdued in the film’s mix, an almost ambient presence that starts off as a reassuring presence before steadily layering itself with unsettling edge. “The movie is about the facade of the good neighbour,” explained Fincher of his brief, “the good Christian, the good wife. So the notion was to start with music that’s attempting to give you a hug”.

6. Chef

Chef soundtrack

Artist: Various

Jon Favreau’s comedy-drama Chef was full of things you didn’t know you liked – cuban sandwiches! Chocolate lava cake! Robert Downey Jr. cameos! – and boogaloo was another. His soundtrack was full of tasty Nuyorican grooves like Joe Cuba’s ‘Bang! Bang!’ and the salsapocalypse of Roberto Roena’s ‘Que Se Sepa’, in a cooking-and-cha-cha-cha’ing feast that had your brain unsure who to contact first: your tummy or your hips. There were some surprises too, with the Wu-Tang given the workover treatment by Brooklyn’s El Michels Affair, in a cover version that’s funkier than a six-month old Monterey Jack, and the reggae lilt of Courtney John���s ‘Lucky Man’ bringing home the film’s themes of second chances and appreciating what you’ve got.

7. Under The Skin

Under The Skin

Artist: Mica Levi

When Empire met Jonathan Glazer to talk Under The Skin back in March, there was an uncomfortable moment when the name of his scorer, Mica Levi’s band fled headlong from our mind. “Micachu And The Shapes,” volunteered the director helpfully and the awkward moment passed. We thought no more of it until, two days later, an Amazon package landed on our desk containing Micachu’s 2012 album, Never. Cueing it up, it wasn’t hard to guess what Glazer had heard in her music. “A lot of the influences either came from quite visual directions or 20th century music,” she later told The Guardian of her Under The Skin score, citing modernist composers like John Cage, Giacinto Scelsi and Iannis Xenakis. The result was a soundscape as eerie, unsettling and strangely beautiful as the film itself.

8. Palo Alto

Palo Alto

Artist: Devonté Hynes/Various

Ex-Lightspeed Champion and current Blood Orange vocalist Devonté Hynes had a pretty terrible 2013. His New York apartment burnt to the ground and he lost his dog in the blaze. While no-one would pretend that curating an ace soundtrack for James Franco compensates for any of that (or bring Cupid back), his blissed-out funk and soul certainly perked the movie up no end, with his title track and Blood Orange’s fabulously Prince–y ‘Champagne Coast’ sitting cheek-by-jowl with contributions from Florida’s Tonstartssbandht and Canadian indie man Mac DeMarco’s ‘Ode To Viceroy’. Cheer him up by buying a copy for Christmas.

9. The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault In Our Stars soundtrack

Artists: Various

The soundtrack that had everyone singing “Bom! Falleralla, bom! Bom! falleralla, bom!” (wait, you weren’t singing that?!), The Fault In Our Stars’ OST spanned everything from Swedish hip-hop (Afasi & Filthy’s bom-falleralla’ing, er, ‘Bomfalleralla’) to Gallic electrogaze (M83’s lovely, Bon Iver-ish ‘Wait’). There was an Ed Sheeran ditty and Charli XCX’s actually-dangerously-infectious ‘Boom Clap’ to add uplift to the melancholy. Young adult movies are usually consciously well-stocked with tunes from artists both hip and au courant – this year brough the Junkie XL-scored Divergent and another aural cornucopia from The Hunger Games – but The Fault In Our Stars was the pick best of the bunch.

10. Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive soundtrack

Artists: SQÜRL, Jozef Van Wissem

As befits the slightly stoned nature of the film it accompanies, Only Lovers Left Alive’s soundtrack is an oppressive, mesmeric sequence of atmospherically grungy drone rock peppered with the more organic sounds of Dutch lute player and composer Jozef Van Wissem. It’s probably not like many other CDs in your collection. Taking cues from the film’s two major locations, the album is in rough halves evoking, respectively, the decaying Detroit and the crumbling Tangiers. Along with Wissem, principal contributors are Jim Jarmusch’s own band SQÜRL, and the standout tracks are the extraordinary slowed down, mangled up remix of Wanda Jackson’s ‘Funnel Of Love’, and Yasmine Hamdan’s haunting ‘Hal’.