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Filmtracks Awards: 2016
Decorative Nonsense
Although 2016 will not be remembered as a fruitful year for classic new film scores, it produced more than the usual amount of really strong music of the four-star variety from start to finish. Many of the most satisfying scores belonged within franchises, but these entries managed to steer the sound of those concepts towards intelligently fresh realms.

Multiple four-star scores cracked the top five this year, and it's safe to say that none of this year's best could have competed favorably against the triumphant winner of 2015, John Williams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But the selections offered here, while weighted towards the genres of magnificent visceral appeal, still represent outstanding music from all corners of the globe, especially Scandinavia and the Far East.

The leader of the nomination count in 2016 is industry workhorse John Debney, his four nominations well deserved and yielding a "Best Composer" win. Earning three nominations apiece are Michael Giacchino, James Newton Howard, and Panu Aaltio. Both Danny Elfman and Naoki Sato enjoy multiple nominations as well. The year is a rare and final instance in which John Williams, James Horner, Danny Elfman, and Hans Zimmer will all be nominated together.
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TOP FILM SCORES
 •Alice Through the Looking Glass (Danny Elfman)
 •Assassination Classroom: Graduation (Naoki Sato)
 •Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (James Newton Howard)
 •The Jungle Book (John Debney)
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Tale of a Lake (Järven Tarina) (Panu Aaltio)

Far from being a "consensus year" like 2015, this year produced a wide disparity in leading critic choices for the top position. While Justin Hurwitz's musical, La La Land, swept all the major mainstream awards, the best music put to film in 2016 existed for a comparatively little known Finnish nature documentary. Aaltio's Tale of a Lake transcends its limited budget with incredible melodic grace, delightful orchestrations, and a masterful recording mix. The nominations for Aaltio this year are his first at Filmtracks.

Coming in a strong second place is Debney's The Jungle Book, an extremely gratifying modernization of an old favorite into the modern adventure genre sound. Of nearly the same appeal are Howard's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Elfman's Alice Through the Looking Glass, two scores exhibiting the prime fantasy mode of their composers. Rounding out the top five is Assassination Classroom: Graduation by Sato, who produced an insane amount of music for various media in 2016; his sequel to this manga concept supplied an unnecessarily engaging personality for its oddball topic. All of these other four composers had previously been nominated in this category. It is Elfman's seventh "Top Film Score" nod without a win, by far the most such near-misses in Filmtracks history to date.

The unexpected runner-up of 2016 is Klaus Badelt's ethnically grand Queen of the Desert, an epic failure of a film that technically opened in 2015 but received its widest release a year later as studios struggled to salvage the project. Just a step behind is another resounding selection unreleased on album as of the time of these awards, Debney's roaring and fun League of Gods. Rounding out the top ten as honorable mentions are Moana, the best Disney musical in many years, courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa'I, and Mark Mancina, The Last King (Birkebeinerne), the Norwegian historical adventure/drama scored with evocative vocals and thunderous orchestral tones by Gaute Storaas, and The Light Between Oceans, Alexandre Desplat's agonizingly precise blend of tumult and tenderness.
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TOP COMPOSERS
 •Panu Aaltio
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John Debney
 •Michael Giacchino
 •James Newton Howard
 •Fernando Velázquez

Most listeners pointed to Michael Giacchino for this award in 2016, and he certainly achieved a stellar year of fantasy music by the time he tackled Rogue One: A Star Wars Story at the last minute. But Giacchino, the "Top Composer" winner from 2015, was edged out by Debney's magnificent tandem of The Jungle Book and League of Gods in 2016, supported by overachieving entries for The Young Messiah and Ice Age: Collision Course, the former a clever expansion of his famous The Passion of the Christ score.

No stranger to this category is Howard, whose year was magically punctuated by Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them after impressing with The Huntsman: Winter's War, both large-scale efforts once again proving the composer's unquestionable value to major franchises. Newcomers to this category are Fernando Velázquez, whose productive year was topped by the affable children's adventure Zipi y Zape y la Isla del Capitán and the stoically dramatic Gernika, and Aaltio, whose Tale of a Lake is joined by the flighty Finnish children's fantasy, Rölli and the Secret of All Time.

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TOP FILM CUES
 •10 Cloverfield Lane (Bear McCreary)  "10 Cloverfield Lane"
 •Alice Through the Looking Glass (Danny Elfman)  "Alice"
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Assassination Classroom: Graduation (Naoki Sato)  "Goodbye/Killing Me"
 •The BFG (John Williams)  "Sophie and the BFG"
 •Doctor Strange (Michael Giacchino)  "Strange Days Ahead"
 •Emerald Green (Smaragdgrün) (Philipp F. Kölmel)  "Practice Makes Perfect"
 •Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (J. N. Howard)  "A Man and His Beasts"
 •The Handmaiden (Jo-Yeung Wook)  "My Tamako, My Sookee"
 •The Jungle Book (John Debney)  "Elephant Waterfall"
 •Kung Fu Panda 3 (Hans Zimmer/Lorne Balfe)  "The Panda Village"
 •La La Land (Justin Hurwitz)  "Credits"
 •League of Gods (John Debney)  "Main Title"
 •The Light Between Oceans (Alexandre Desplat)  "The Dinghy"
 •The Magnificent Seven (James Horner/Simon Franglen)  "Faraday's Ride"
 •Now You See Me 2 (Brian Tyler)  "Now You See Me 2 Fanfare"
 •Pete's Dragon (Daniel Hart)  "Reverie"
 •Queen of the Desert (Klaus Badelt)  "She is the Uncrowned Queen of the Desert" *
 •Star Trek Beyond (Michael Giacchino)  "Night on the Yorktown"
 •Suicide Squad (Steven Price)  "Harley and Joker"
 •Tale of a Lake (Järven Tarina) (Panu Aaltio)  "The Birds' Farewell"

* using wide international release year

Like 2015, there was an abundance of extremely worthy cues to consider for 2016, about 25 true contenders narrowed down to the maximum of twenty choices. No single score produced two cues on the list, though the year's "Top Film Score" contenders each came close to achieving that honor.

Ultimately vying for the "Top Film Cue" award this year were Bear McCreary's eerily powerful melodic summary "10 Cloverfield Lane" from 10 Cloverfield Lane, Elfman's clever expansion on his prior themes in "Alice" from Alice Through the Looking Glass (based on 2010's "Top Film Cue"), Brian Tyler's equally impressive adaptation of previous material into "Now You See Me 2 Fanfare" for Now You See Me 2, Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe's stunningly beautiful (but terribly butchered in the film) "The Panda Village" from Kung Fu Panda 3, and the final winner of the category, Sato's emotional powerhouse "Goodbye/Killing Me" from Assassination Classroom: Graduation, the composer at his dramatic finest.

Nearly as competitive are Howard's dynamically diverse "A Man and His Beasts" from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Giacchino's attractive, otherworldly duo of "Strange Days Ahead" from Doctor Strange and "Night on the Yorktown" from Star Trek Beyond. Aaltio's bittersweet "The Birds' Farewell" from Tale of a Lake and Debney's lovely "Elephant Waterfall" from The Jungle Book are among many highlights from those scores, as is the infectiously bright "Reverie" from Pete's Dragon by Daniel Hart and the solemnly beautiful finale, "She is the Uncrowned Queen of the Desert," by Badelt for Queen of the Desert. From Jo-Yeung Wook's The Handmaiden is the classically romantic "My Tamako, My Sookee," and from the same string-based sense of trepidation and a hint of despair comes Desplat's "The Dinghy" from The Light Between Oceans.

In the next tier of competition in this category for 2016 was John Williams' typically masterful suite of The BFG themes in "Sophie and the BFG," Hurwitz's rowdy instrumental rendition of the song "Another Day of Sun" in the "Credits" of La La Land, Philipp F. Kölmel's propulsive and cool "Practice Makes Perfect" from Emerald Green (Smaragdgrün) (Kölmel has earned a "Top Film Cue" nomination in this franchise before), Debney's modern fantasy explosion in "Main Title" from League of Gods, Simon Franglen's heartbreaking arrangement of James Horner's material for "Faraday's Ride" from The Magnificent Seven, and Steven Price's appropriately troubled but addictive love theme, "Harley and Joker," from Suicide Squad.

The five runner-ups that barely missed the cut this time around were Marco Beltrami's immense guilty pleasure, "Coronation," from Gods of Egypt (something of a source cue given all the drum-banging and horn-blaring on screen), the defiantly powerful vocalizations of "Birkibeinar Titull" from Storaas' The Last King (Birkebeinerne), Mancina's gorgeous adaptation of the song melodies of Moana into the victorious "Toe Feiloa'i," the optimism of Aaltio's closing "The Water Cycle" from Tale of a Lake, and Velázquez's redemptive and spirited "Hasta Siempre, Amigos Míos" from Zipi y Zape y la Isla del Capitán.

Eliminated earlier in the process of determining these nominations but still worth mentioning are Christopher Young's "Bailongma, The White Dragon Horse" from the solid sequel score The Monkey King 2, Ilan Eshkeri's swashbuckling "The Flying Boat" from Swallows and Amazons, Dario Marianelli's pretty "Hanzo's Fortress" from Kubo and the Two Strings, Aaltio's boisterous "The Whole Story" from Rölli and the Secret of All Time, Velázquez's beefy "Gernika Under the Bombs" from Gernika, Sato's customary piano elegance in "Hontouha - Boku No Rie Chan Nan Da!" from Rudolf the Black Cat, John Ottman's monumental "The Transference" from X-Men: Apocalypse, and Abel Korzeniowski's creepy and nostalgic "Wayward Sisters" from Nocturnal Animals. Dropped in favor of superior cues from the same scores were Howard's whirlwind "Main Titles" from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Sato's melodramatic "Assassin and Target" from Assassination Classroom: Graduation, and Elfman's exciting "Saving the Ship" from Alice Through the Looking Glass.

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