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Filmtracks Awards: 2017
Decorative Nonsense
Not the strongest of years, 2017 passed without any momentous, spectacularly new scores for a fresh concept despite many solid efforts by some of the industry's stalwarts. In Filmtracks' 2016 awards, it was mentioned that no film score from that year could have competed with John Williams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens from 2015, and the same can be said of all scores in 2017 as well. Nothing from this year will be recalled in the future as a true "classic."

Like 2016, multiple four-star scores are represented in the top five overall this year, and the selections are weighted towards the genre of historical drama. While Williams' enduring productivity is no longer as widely awarded (or even acclaimed in the mainstream) as it once was, he dominates the Filmtracks awards in 2017. Casual listeners may take his continuing presence for granted, but the maestro's ability to exercise precise emotional responses in his music remains unmatched by the younger generations of composers.

Only rarely does one composer sweep all three of Filmtracks' award categories, but Williams' impressive duo of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Dear Basketball earn him that challenging task. Williams leads the field with five nominations, followed closely by two composers with impressive years; both Benjamin Wallfisch and Patrick Doyle are rewarded with four nominations. In a breakthrough year, George Kallis receives three nominations, and Alan Menken, A.R. Rahman, and Michael Giacchino follow with two apiece.
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 •Beauty and the Beast (Alan Menken)
 •Bitter Harvest (Benjamin Wallfisch)
 •Murder on the Orient Express (Patrick Doyle)
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (John Williams)
 •Viceroy's House (A.R. Rahman)

Critics and mainstream audiences varied considerably in their determinations about the best film music of 2017, though Alexandre Desplat's The Shape of Water and Jonny Greenwood's Phantom Thread received the bulk of such recognition. In the fantasy and science fiction realms, Desplat's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and Williams' Star Wars: The Last Jedi were widely applauded by film music collectors. Sadly ignored was an incredible score re-envisioning for Disney's Beauty and the Beast, perhaps in part due to its release early in the year.

At Filmtracks, the top 2017 award was only a two-horse race, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Beauty and the Beast battling in a game of nostalgia that the latter soundtrack lost, not due to the magnificently mature evolution of Menken's score, but because of the questionable vocal casting that nearly ruined some of the inextricably accompanying songs. Williams' mastery of the "Star Wars" genre, despite many misgivings we might have about the film itself, is nearly unassailable, his music superior and exhilarating beyond all reasonable expectations.

In third and fourth place, respectively, come Rahman's heartbreaking Viceroy's House and Wallfisch's respectful Bitter Harvest, both thoughtful, melodic, and engaging ethnic dramas overachieving their productions. Rounding out the top five is Doyle's superbly intelligent Murder on the Orient Express, one of the best musical narratives of any score in recent times. Just missing the cut is the sadly underappreciated The Mummy by Brian Tyler, a true romp of an adventure score that wears its rambunctious heart on its sleeve without hesitation.

While some listeners will disqualify Williams' Dear Basketball because it exists for an animated short film, no other score of 2017 elicits as much raw emotion as this brief work. Behind it in the remaining top ten are Kallis' raucously entertaining The Last Warrior, Desplat's highly textured and wildly eclectic Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and, bringing up the rear, Theodore Shapiro's extremely amusing Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, a heroic endeavor complete with choral accents not easily forgotten even if you wish to.
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 •Patrick Doyle
 •Michael Giacchino
 •George Kallis
 •Benjamin Wallfisch
John Williams

In 2011, Patrick Doyle and John Williams were entangled in a race for the "Top Composer" award at Filmtracks up until the very end, and 2017 reprised that matchup. This time, however, Williams prevails, earning the award for the first time since his semi-retirement after 2005. Though Doyle's The Emoji Movie and A United Kingdom, the latter arguably a 2016 film, are strong entries to consider alongside Murder on the Orient Express, one simply cannot dismiss the impressive reliability of Williams' continued output at his age.

A trio of mainstream successes for Michael Giacchino afford him a much-deserved nomination, his music for Coco an especially difficult and rewarding assignment and War for the Planet of the Apes no less an intellectual challenge despite its more accessible payoff at the end. Benjamin Wallfisch and George Kallis both experienced breakthrough years with significant quantities of interesting music. Wallfisch overcomes some poor collaborative work with Hans Zimmer to achieve a nomination due to the strengths of Bitter Harvest and A Cure For Wellness while Kallis impresses with the accomplished international trio of The Last Warrior, Albion: The Enchanted Stallion, and The Black Prince.

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 •Albion: The Enchanted Stallion (George Kallis)  "A Wonderful Place of Nature"
 •Beauty and the Beast (Alan Menken)  "Wolves Attack Belle"
 •Bitter Harvest (Benjamin Wallfisch)  "Elegy For Ukraine"
 •The Boss Baby (Conrad Pope/Various)  "Love"
 •Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (Theodore Shapiro)  "Saving the Day"
 •Coco (Michael Giacchino)  "Crossing the Marigold Bridge"
 •A Cure For Wellness (Benjamin Wallfisch)  "Actually I'm Feeling Much Better"
Dear Basketball (John Williams)  "Dear Basketball"
 •The Emoji Movie (Patrick Doyle)  "Gene Saves Textopolis"
 •Honnouji Hotel (Naoki Sato)  "Main Theme"
 •The Last Warrior (George Kallis)  "The Battle for the Crystal"
 •LBJ (Marc Shaiman)  "Writing the Speech"
 •The Mummy (Brian Tyler)  "The Mummy End Title Suite"
 •Murder on the Orient Express (Patrick Doyle)  "Orient Express Suite"
 •The Post (John Williams)  "The Presses Roll"
 •Star Wars: The Last Jedi (John Williams)  "The Spark"
 •Thor: Ragnarok (Mark Mothersbaugh)  "Ragnarok Suite"
 •Tokyo Ghoul (Don Davis)  "The Kaneki Metamorphosis"
 •Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (A. Desplat)  "Medusa"
 •Viceroy's House (A.R. Rahman)  "Swearing In"

In restricting this category to twenty choices, three or four outstanding cues were struck from the list in final survey of the year. As per usual in recent years, the top twenty "Top Film Cue" selections are supplemented by five top runner-ups and over a dozen other cues that were considered up until the very end of the campaign. For the second year in a row, no single score produced two cues on the list of nominees.

Despite no personal interest in basketball, the Los Angeles Lakers, or star Kobe Bryant and his retirement, John Williams provided in just a few minutes of recordings for Dear Basketball a universal expression of aspiration, appreciation, and gratitude. The animated short film is beautifully rendered, and Williams' music can reduce you to tears with its vintage orchestral mastery. The lack of sufficient critical recognition in 2017 and 2018 for this beautiful, albeit brief score is tragic, and its single cue prior to the end credits prevails here with ease.

The other most competitive cues for this category in 2017 are Conrad Pope's "Love" from The Boss Baby, a romantic "guest cue" by the veteran orchestrator to an otherwise average score, Alan Menken's massively evolved "Wolves Attack Belle" from Beauty and the Beast, Williams' extremely memorable "The Spark" from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Naoki Sato's utterly gorgeous "Main Theme" from Honnouji Hotel, and Mark Mothersbaugh's ridiculously fun "Ragnarok Suite" from Thor: Ragnarok, one of the most ballsy film score arrangements of the decade.

In the second tier of this category are Michael Giacchino's highly impactful "Crossing the Marigold Bridge" from Coco, Benjamin Wallfisch's devastating "Elegy For Ukraine" from Bitter Harvest, Don Davis' resoundingly melodic "The Kaneki Metamorphosis" from Tokyo Ghoul, Theodore Shapiro's hilariously victorious "Saving the Day" from Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, and a pair of assembled suites that, on album, represent the listening highlights from their scores: "The Mummy End Title Suite" from Brian Tyler's The Mummy and "Orient Express Suite" summarizing the brighter elements of Patrick Doyle's Murder on the Orient Express.

Rounding out the "Top Film Cue" nominees in 2017 are A.R. Rahman's optimistically buoyant "Swearing In" from Viceroy's House, Marc Shaiman's propulsive and stately "Writing the Speech" from LBJ, Wallfisch's eerily alluring "Actually I'm Feeling Much Better" from A Cure For Wellness, Doyle's keen synthetic/symphonic blend in "Gene Saves Textopolis" from The Emoji Movie, Williams' nervous anticipation in "The Presses Roll" from The Post, Alexandre Desplat's stylish "Medusa" from Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and a pair of George Kallis' fantasy and adventure cues from the year: "A Wonderful Place of Nature" from Albion: The Enchanted Stallion and "The Battle for the Crystal" from The Last Warrior.

Barely missing the cut in this category are two remarkable runner-up cues from best score nominees: Menken's "Wolf Chase" from Beauty and the Beast (its sibling cue nominated above) and Williams' "Holdo's Resolve" for the extraordinary suicide ramming scene of Star Wars: The Last Jedi (worked into the end credits arrangement on album). Also in contention were Michael Giacchino's redemptive "Paradise Found" from War for the Planet of the Apes, Nicholas Britell's ebullient "Victory" from Battle of the Sexes, and Andrew Lockington's inspirational melodic highlight, "Biplane," from The Space Between Us.

Although eliminated earlier in the selection process, the following cues (listed alphabetically by film title) were short-listed for consideration: Nigel Westlake's tasteful ethnic blend in "Train Station Wedding" from Ali's Wedding, Menken's poignantly summarizing "Overture" from Beauty and the Beast, Wallfisch's stoic but pretty regional theme in "Rusalka" from Bitter Harvest, Kallis' impressively layered "Death and Coronation" from The Black Prince, Christopher Willis' humorously pompous "Let the People Come" from The Death of Stalin, Rolfe Kent's bright and airy "The World is Amazed" from Downsizing, and Doyle's agonizingly effective "Justice" from Murder on the Orient Express, a cue that could have enjoyed a nomination without much controversy.

Also falling out of the top 25 cues were Diego Navarro's string and piano melodicism in "Passage to Dawn Main Theme" from Passage to Dawn, Gabriel Yared's feathery and ethereal "Farewell" from The Prophet, Akira Senju's vocalized lyricism in "Reminiscence (End Theme)" from Reminiscence, Williams' exciting "Escape" from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Desplat's awe-inspiring "Pearls Power" from Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, and Rupert Gregson-Williams and Thomas Farnon's heroic attitude in "Lightning Strikes" from Wonder Woman.

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