By now, we all know how pretty damn great Mica Levi’s “Under the Skin” score is: nerve-plucking, raw, hair-raisingly beautiful stuff. Whether by virtue of the film’s overall divisiveness, or the unsettling atonality of the music, the soundtrack is not likely to pick up any major awards this season save the noble critics’ groups who give Mica Levi her due.
“Under the Skin” aside, there are plenty of brilliant, innovative and unusual scores for unusual movies that deserve ample attention this year. Here are five original scores to consider:
“The Congress” (composer Max Richter)
Israeli auteur Ari Folman’s hybrid sci-fi epic may have disappointed those looking for a perfect followup to “Waltz with Bashir,” but it’s hard to deny the power of Max Richter’s lush, frightening and often tear-jerking score. His elegant chamber arrangements (even better than his stellar, though less complex work on HBO’s “The Leftovers”) capture the film’s doom and gloom—where thrill-seeking moviegoers are turned into drug addicts in a far-off, dystopian, cartoon world. But Richter’s score, heard on its own, more strongly evokes the film’s soaring highs and ambitions.
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“The Double” (composer Andrew Hewitt)
Hewitt’s nervy, operatic, electric orchestrations for Richard Ayoade’s “The Double” reshape chord progressions by Schubert to disorienting effect, sending star Jesse Eisenberg whirling mad through a Kafkaesque nightmare (though the film is adapted from a novella by Dostoevsky). This score is dangerously catchy, with a sense of delirious, contained chaos befitting of the doppelganger drama that’s also one of the best films of the year.
“Grand Piano” (composer Victor Reyes)
Hitchcock would have admired Eugenio Mira’s tightrope thriller “Grand Piano,” starring Elijah Wood as a storied concert pianist who’s told by an unknown assailant (voiced by John Cusack) that he will die if he plays one wrong note. And he would’ve admired composer Victor Reyes who, yup, composed an entire piano concerto for this film. This bold, ravishingly gorgeous soundtrack functions as both the music Wood’s character is playing onstage (on his Bosendorfer piano), and as the film score itself, riffing on Hitch fave Bernard Herrmann with throbbing violins and cellos.
“Listen Up Philip” (Keegan DeWitt)
American indie composer and singer/songwriter DeWitt’s jazz contributions, blending low-key piano riffs with melancholy brass, are as improvisatory and irresistible as Alex Ross Perry’s curmudgeon comedy. The terrific score perfectly suits this film about a pretentious literary blowhard who treats New York City as his playground for novel-writing. DeWitt evokes Miles Davis’ New Wave classic score for “Elevator to the Gallows,” another movie whose characters float listlessly through urban demimondes.
“Only Lovers Left Alive” (composer SQÜRL a.k.a. Jim Jarmusch)
This seductive, minimalist, strung-out soundtrack is many things, traversing both the film’s Detroit wasteland and the exotic streets of Tangier. But much of the heady, heavy score is composed by Jarmusch himself (with co-producer/actor Carter Logan and Shane Stonebeck), who mixes ambient, hypnotic, electric guitar with dizzying, otherworldly textures, pulling us deeper and deeper into the intoxicating world of two vampires who are bored to death with living but share an intense attraction.