Andrew Collins' Top Film Scores of 2017

20 December 2017, 15:35 | Updated: 4 January 2024, 19:17

By Amy MacKenzie

After much deliberation, The Saturday Night at the Movies team has chosen their top ten film scores of 2017. Does your favourite feature?

It’s been a landmark year for innovation in film music, in wartime drama, biopics, horror and the franchised blockbuster. Hans Zimmer’s transcendent soundtrack to Dunkirk generated as much praise and discussion as the movie itself, which is good for a wider appreciation of the form. 

The Saturday Night at the Movies team has settled upon its ten favourite scores (sorry, La La Land!) and you can hear selections from these, and more, in the best-of-the-year show on December 30. Check out the video above for Andrew's thoughts on the top five and read the full top ten below:

Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
Set in snowbound Wyoming, this elemental whodunit thriller needs only the sparsest music to point up the vast unknown the landscape represents. Cave and Ellis use weeping fiddle and snowflake-like chimes to match the purity of the freeze and the terrible secrets it blankets over.

Rupert Gregson-Williams
Some surprising feminism from Marvel’s narrative-industrial complex as Gal Gadot’s Amazonian Wonder Woman inspires Gregson-Williams to leaven crashing majesty with emotional passages pertinent to the First World War setting and builds gradually to a swirl of enlightenment while avoiding past-master Zimmer’s sturm und drang.

Anne Dudley
A challenging French drama about sexual assault and the patriarchal world of sexualised videogames that offers no easy resolutions, Anne Dudley’s affecting score takes a noirish thriller route to the heart of a Hitchcockian story dominated by Isabelle Huppert’s strong woman. Deep and dark yet beautiful. 

Carter Burwell
The ever-inventive Burwell also brought his adaptable genius to Goodbye Christopher Robin, but his almost illogically syncopated rhythms and generous use of unexpected instruments – double bass and xylophone in particular in this off-kilter biopic of McDonald’s pioneer Ray Croc – bring sheer personality to the project. 

Philip Glass
In the year that saw a remix/mash-up of the second movement of his Violin Concerto applied to devastating effect in TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Glass also brought a stunning original score to bear upon this National Geographic documentary about primatologist Jane Goodall. Swirling strings and attack snare combine with trademark piano to weave a beguiling canvas.

Michael Giacchino
While a conventional recognised-franchise instalment on paper, this existential, ecological saga is deep and questioning, and crowd-pleaser Giacchino delivers, with a recurring motif hinting at the deep sadness that appears in minimal piano form and with a full choir. There are action cues, but it’s the emotional story that fixes it in your mind.

Nicholas Britell
A close associate of Natalie Portman’s, Britell has only scored around ten films, but it was his moody, hip-hop-influenced work on the Oscar-winning Moonlight that put him on the map – and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score. Percussive strings, ambient sounds, serial-style piano, sustained notes and fluid tempos mark him out for atmospheric greatness.

Michael Abels
A new name to cinema, Abels, from Arizona, is best known for orchestral and choral works, but provided some of the year’s most arresting music for slavery-themed horror Get Out, the writing and directorial debut of comedian Jordan Peele. Mining the socially frank nightmare’s African-American roots, Abels’ score upends horror tropes using blues and a refrain sung in Swahili, meeting Peele’s brief to make it “distinctly black.”

Mica Levi
Released last year in the States, Pablo Larraín’s biopic of the recently widowed Jackie Kennedy arrived in the UK in January. Mica Levi’s Oscar-nominated, dream-like music was only her second feature-film score (after the eerie Under the Skin) and it scaled new heights of off-kilter delight, heightening the woozy solemnity with chiming starbursts that sound like advertising stings and a flute so intimately recorded you can hear the player’s every breath.

Hans Zimmer
Quite unlike any other score, Zimmer’s music fuses with Christopher Nolan’s visuals to create something that transcends musical accompaniment. Inspired by a pocket watch belonging to Nolan – sampled, naturally – Zimmer drives the maritime action with unrelenting power. When Elgar’s Nimrod emerges, expertly woven in by rising star composer Benjamin Wallfisch, it’s like dawn breaking. As Nolan explained to us on the day of the UK Premiere, “the emotion at the end of the film has to feel earned, narratively and musically”. Zimmer should clear his trophy cabinet.