There’s always a trick when picking out the best scores. Is the measure of great music for film and TV that it can survive on its own merits? Or is the real trick to create something that seems so inextricable from its visual accompaniment that you can almost replay the story from just a handful of notes?
In the spirit of year-end celebration, our task was to find the scores that somehow manage to do both. As with any other category overview, we strove to find a healthy mix of the familiar masters of the craft with some emerging stars who hopefully have plenty more musical magic to share in the years to come. Fortunately, we didn’t have to search far to hear a rich tapestry of sounds to go with some of our favorite films and series of 2021.
Some have the orchestral sweep of years past. Many more have dissected that traditional sound and deconstructed it to serve a storytelling purpose. They all feed into that sense of discovery, of finding (and listening to) worlds worthy of escaping our own to live in for a while. Even on the TV side, where only two shows from last year’s list returned in 2021 — Nathan Barr’s and Ronit Kirchman’s work on “The Great” and “The Sinner,” respectively, remain great even if we came up with 10 other picks — there was a wealth of choices to be found.
Below, you’ll find our twin top tens for a fascinating year in music. First, a rundown of the best from the year in TV, followed by a selection of the best scores that the film world had to offer.