It’s been two weeks since I experienced it in the theater, and I still can’t get Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk out of my mind. It’s the best film of 2018 and one of the best of the decade, by the way. I encourage you to see it in a theater with someone you love and then tell everyone you love about it.
One of the big reasons it continues to haunt me is Nicholas Britell’s extraordinary score. The themes he created (especially “Eros” and “Hypertension”) ear-wormed their way into the ever-present background music of my mind, and when they work their way to the forefront…Barry Jenkins’ images, James Baldwin’s characters, the performances, and most importantly, the feelings all come rushing back. When I first heard “Eros” in the theater in the context of a poignant love scene, I instantly thought, “This might be one of the best film scores of all time.” Then there was “Hypertension” like a hammering heart building up to a panic attack in the background of that scene where Fonny’s friend, fresh from prison, slowly reveals his thoughts on his brief stint in prison and the worst part of it…the fear. It’s echoed later when a racist cop harasses Fonny and Tish outside an Italian market. You feel the fear not just through the characters, but through Britell’s music. I knew right then, indeed, Britell had composed something for the ages.
My favorite film scores often mirror (and elevate) my favorite films. They can’t be extracted from the context of the film they help breathe deeper life into. When I hear the music in my head, images and feelings from those beloved films rush through me. Memories from my life at the time I first saw the film, or from ensuing years where thoughts of the film or revisits punctuated pain, joy, and transitions often mix with the memories of the film. All of it forming a rich tapestry or sound and images and feelings.
Britell’s amazing work got me thinking about those other film’s whose music routinely haunts me…the original scores I sometimes find myself conjuring during the strangest of times, in the middle of the day staring out a window, walking down a long hallway in a cavernous office building, while lying awake at night in the twilight before sleep, those transportive film themes that continue to bring me brief moments of reverie, peace, and deep thought.
Listed in chronological order from oldest to newest…my favorite film scores appear below. I welcome you to share your own in the comments form.
- The Third Man – Anton Karas
- Vertigo – Bernard Herrmann
- To Kill a Mockingbird – Elmer Bernstein
- Paris, Texas – Ry Cooder
- The Piano – Michael Nyman
- Fargo – Carter Burwell
- The English Patient – Gabriel Yared
- Birth – Alexandre Desplat
- There Will Be Blood – Jonny Greenwood
- Phantom Thread – Jonny Greenwood
- If Beale Street Could Talk – Nicholas Britell