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Filmtracks Awards: 2018
Decorative Nonsense
After two years without the debut of a new film score that could be classified as a true "classic," 2018 offered more than one such gem. It was a year in which a handful of truly fantastic scores excelled far beyond otherwise mediocre competition, many of them existing as part of an explicit franchise or continuing concept. Seven of the top eight scores of the year returned some element of melody or style from a related score of the past.

The legendary John Williams dominated Filmtracks' 2017 awards, and his influence, often in direct thematic reference, can be heard in many of the top scores of 2018. The genres of these champions span fantasy, drama, animation, and comedy, a healthy representation of animation and the broader children's genre a refreshing change. Composers based outside of the Hollywood complex could not compete with the veterans and rising stars of the industry, the top music of 2018 featuring ambitiously rendered symphonic recordings.

The winners of Filmtracks' 2018 awards are split between four separate composers, a rarity caused by the triumph of a co-written score. The year was resurgent for James Newton Howard, who dominates the nominations with five. Due to the strength of Solo: A Star Wars Story, John Powell and John Williams (both credited for the score here) each earn three nominations. Mark McKenzie and Alan Silvestri also achieve three nominations, and Michael Giacchino, Ludwig Göransson, Bear McCreary, and Marc Shaiman all receive two apiece.
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TOP FILM SCORES
 •The Cloverfield Paradox (Bear McCreary)
 •Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (James Newton Howard)
 •Mary Poppins Returns (Marc Shaiman)
 •Max & Me (Mark McKenzie)
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Solo: A Star Wars Story (John Powell/John Williams)

No consensus pick about film music appealed to the mainstream aside from the prominence of musicals in 2018. The film score community almost universally lauded Powell and Williams' Solo: A Star Wars Story, but the film was a substantial failure. Marc Shaiman's Mary Poppins Returns received significant praise from critics but, by its nature, did not inspire many soundtrack enthusiasts detached from its genre. A variety of "social commentary" film scores caught the fancy of others.

The highly intelligent duo of Solo: A Star Wars Story and Mary Poppins Returns presented a relatively rare dilemma for Filmtracks' 2018 awards; both scores are destined to be fully qualified classics. The magical magnificence of Shaiman's work for the Disney sequel, however, never succeeded in supplanting Solo: A Star Wars Story during the consideration for Filmtracks' top award, the latter remaining too immeasurably entertaining in each of its brilliant parts to defeat. The music of "Star Wars" remains strong with the Force in the 2010's, the franchise's scores winning three "Top Film Score" awards at Filmtracks in four years. Powell also won this award in 2014.

A solid third place finish awaited McKenzie's Max & Me, a simplistically rendered but utterly gorgeous score of religious intent, its older sibling, The Greatest Miracle nominated for the same award in 2011. Meanwhile, McCreary's own ascendance is clearly evident in the surprisingly complex and stirring The Cloverfield Paradox, a score that continues to reveal delicious details with each listen. Finally, Howard's Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald may not be on par with its predecessor, but the continued strength of the concept's music cannot be discounted. The runner-up for 2018 is the wildly apocalyptic and thematically robust Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom by Giacchino.

The honorable mentions for 2018 include Atli Örvarsson's infectiously enthusiastic and occasionally lovely Ploey: You Never Fly Alone and Silvestri's nostalgic tribute to the recent past in the rousing Ready Player One. Following are Göransson's popular and stylish Black Panther and Rahman's introspective and lyrical Beyond the Clouds. While falling outside of the top ten this year, contending to the very end were Nitin Sawhney's intoxicatingly ethnic Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle and Ralf Wengenmayr's whirlwind journey for Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver (Jim Knopf und Lukas der Lokomotivführer).
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TOP COMPOSERS
 •Roque Baños
 •Michael Giacchino
 •Ludwig Göransson
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James Newton Howard
 •Alan Silvestri

While the box office and mainstream acclaim may point to Göransson as the winner of the "Top Composer" award in 2018, his impressive work for Black Panther and Creed II is countered by a badly substandard entry in Venom. Meanwhile, Howard's trio of Red Sparrow, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald proves his continued mastery of the craft, each of those scores supplying one "Top Film Cue" nomination and coming close to achieving more. Howard has been nominated many times for this award, and his last win came in 2006.

Silvestri enjoyed his best yearly output since 2001, Ready Player One, Avengers: Infinity War, and Welcome to Marwen ranging from solidly proficient to uniquely exemplary. For the fourth year in a row, Giacchino has earned a nomination in this category, this year for his extremely varied trio of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Incredibles 2, and Bad Times at the El Royale. The final nomination goes to Spanish composer Roque Baños, whose prolific output in 2018 was highlighted by The Miracle Season, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, and The Girl in the Spider's Web. While McCreary also supplied a fantastic variety of music this year, much of it existed outside of film.

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TOP FILM CUES
 •Avengers: Infinity War (Alan Silvestri)  "Forge"
 •Beyond the Clouds (A.R. Rahman)  "Son of Mumbai"
 •Black Panther (Ludwig Göransson)  "A King's Sunset"
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The Cloverfield Paradox (Bear McCreary)  "The Cloverfield Paradox"
 •Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (J.N. Howard)  "The Thestral Chase"
 •Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (Michael Giacchino)  "At Jurassic World's End Credits/Suite"
 •Mary Poppins Returns (Marc Shaiman)  "Race to Big Ben (Extended Version)"
 •Mary Queen of Scots (Max Richter)  "Finale"
 •Max & Me (Mark McKenzie)  "If You Are So Intelligent Why Don't You Believe?"
 •Max & Me (Mark McKenzie)  "Triumph Over Fear"
 •Mortal Engines (Tom Holkenborg)  "Windflower"
 •Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (Nitin Sawhney)  "Khan's End"
 •The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (J.N. Howard)  "Clara Finds the Key"
 •Ploey: You Never Fly Alone (Atli Örvarsson)  "Top to the Mountain"
 •Ready Player One (Alan Silvestri)  "Looking For a Truck"
 •Red Sparrow (James Newton Howard)  "Didn't I Do Well?"
 •Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero (Patrick Doyle)  "Memoriae Tuae"
 •Solo: A Star Wars Story (John Powell/John Williams)  "Spaceport"
 •Solo: A Star Wars Story (John Powell/John Williams)  "Flying With Chewie"
 •Super Furball (Panu Aaltio)  "Clean Water"

This category's nominations remain the most challenging each year, the field restricted to twenty "Top Film Cue" selections and supplemented by five top runner-ups and over a dozen other cues that were short-listed for a nomination throughout the year. Two scores managed to land multiple cues in this field, almost joined by a third. One score, Solo: A Star Wars Story, nearly earned three nominations in this category alone.

Conventional wisdom would indicate that a cue from one of the year's three unequivocal five-star scores (Solo: A Star Wars Story, Mary Poppins Returns, and Max & Me) should win this category, but these scores are all appealing due to the general consistency of their entire sum. The battle came down to the outstanding summary suites of "The Cloverfield Paradox" from McCreary's The Cloverfield Paradox and "At Jurassic World's End Credits/Suite" from Giacchino's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, along with the extended (film) version of the exciting "Race to Big Ben" from Shaiman's Mary Poppins Returns.

Ultimately, the mesmerizing thematic creativity of McCreary's The Cloverfield Paradox yielded the victory. McCreary was also nominated at Filmtracks for his eerie thematic suite for 10 Cloverfield Lane in 2016, and this is his first win in any category. From Powell and Williams' Solo: A Star Wars Story, both the heartbreaking "Spaceport" and optimistic "Flying With Chewie" netted nominations, and from McKenzie's Max & Me, "Triumph Over Fear" and "If You Are So Intelligent Why Don't You Believe?" represent the best of that score. Of the many lyrical highlights of Örvarsson's Ploey: You Never Fly Alone, "Top to the Mountain" is a motivational highlight.

From the other top scores of the year are "Top Film Cue" nominations for the ominously forceful "The Thestral Chase" opening Howard's Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the rowdy "Looking For a Truck" from Silvestri's Ready Player One, the resolute "A King's Sunset" from Göransson's Black Panther, the heart-warming "Son of Mumbai" from Rahman's Beyond the Clouds, and the ethnically impressive "Khan's End" closing out Sawhney's Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. Also figuring prominently are the beautiful "Clara Finds the Key" from Howard's The Nutcracker and the Four Realms and "Didn't I Do Well?" from the composer's Red Sparrow.

In the lower tier of this category are the simplistic but weighty theme in "Finale" from Max Richter's Mary Queen of Scots, the muscular "Forge" from Silvestri's Avengers: Infinity War, the redemptive "Clean Water" from Panu Aaltio's Super Furball, the resolute solo vocals of "Windflower" from Tom Holkenborg's Mortal Engines, and the stoically choral "Memoriae Tuae" from Patrick Doyle's Sgt. Stubby: An American Hero, a tribute of sorts to his famous Henry V.

The five runner-ups for this category in 2018 include additional cues from the year's top two scores: the riveting "Train Heist" from Powell and Williams' Solo: A Star Wars Story and the gorgeous sentimentality of "Goodbye Old Friend" from Shaiman's Mary Poppins Returns. The other three are less obvious highlights of their scores, from the wholesome "The Best Friends" from Baños' The Miracle Season to a pair of alluring choral lamentations in "Saved" from Andrew Lockington's Rampage and "Death and Resurrection" from Mario Darianelli's Bumblebee.

In contention but eliminated earlier in the selection process were the following cues (listed alphabetically by film title): the compelling development of "Swimming Lessons" from Rupert Gregson-Williams' Aquaman, the wholesome heart of "Benji" from Kostas Christides' Benji, the melodramatic "Twist of Destiny" from Rahman's Beyond the Clouds, the massive "The Great Mound Battle" from Göransson's Black Panther, the conclusive "A Stable Beam" from McCreary's The Cloverfield Paradox, and Howard's monumental "Wands Into the Earth" from Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Also contending but eliminated were the Bernard Herrmann-like "Main Title/The Birth of a Dragon" from Baños' The Girl in the Spider's Web, the exuberant "Halvdans Vandringar" from Gaute Storaas' Halvdan Viking, the tear-jerking "Volcano to Death" from Giacchino's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the hip and contemporary "Love, Simon" from Rob Simonsen's Love, Simon, the continuing beauty of "A Mother's Prayer" from McKenzie's Max & Me, the summarizing "Ready Player One - End Credits" from Silvestri's Ready Player One, and the inspiring "Miracles Can Happen" from Pinar Toprak's The Tides of Fate.

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