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My Top 30 Scores For 2021
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• Posted by: Craig Richard Lysy   <Send E-Mail>
• Date: Saturday, January 15, 2022, at 12:00 p.m.
• IP Address:

Well, dear friends and kindred spirits, 2021 has been another year where the pall of COVID continues to weigh heavily upon my existence. Being retired, it has been easier for me to isolate, and my daily five-mile walks listening to my tunes provide some solace, yet I continue to feel what the Japanese call “mono no aware”; an awareness of the transience of life and sadness about this state of the world. It is clear that there is much less of life’s path ahead of me than behind. I find in the winter of my life that my musical tastes have indeed changed with me preferring intimacy, eloquence and romanticism, over technical brilliance, dynamism and innovation. This will be reflected in my choices.

I believe 2021 was a wonderful, and bountiful year for scores, but also a year of continuing on a path, which takes me further and further from mainstream popular soundtrack culture. For the several years, I have become increasingly disenchanted with, and estranged from, the in vogue, post-modernist, Hollywood sound, which has fundamentally transformed the role, prominence, and eloquence of film music. For a guy who lives for forthright, unabashed romanticism in music, I feel like I am wandering is a desert, which desiccates my soul. To be fair, I admit that there remain some treasured oases to be found in this Hollywood desert, (six made my Top 30), but not enough to quench my thirst. So, what do you do when you do not like the path you are on? Well, stop whining, and take another path!

For the last few years, I am routinely finding happiness in the far east with Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese films and TV series, as well as across the Atlantic with Independent European and Middle Eastern films and TV. In these regions the main stream directorial culture continues to embrace music with leitmotifs, melody, and romanticism. They in general recognize, and appreciate the enormous benefit of using prominent music to enhance their storytelling, and empower their films. I have always believed in what my hero, the renown Hollywood producer David O. Selznick (the father of Hollywood film scores) espoused, that the musical score is the single most important film element, and it is essential for a film’s ultimate success. Truth be told, I watch films not because of directors, actors, or even plot, I watch to hear the score. Everything else, while important, is secondary to me. I regret any offense to my Cinephile friends.

My finalized Top 10 offers all foreign, non-Hollywood productions. My list is not a “Best” of 2021 list, but instead my “Favorites” of 2021 list. I believe best is pretentious term, and so I with all humility prefer the more personal “Favorite”. I only saw eight of my Top 30 at the theater or on TV, and so I cannot objectively make a qualitative judgement on how well most of my choices functioned in film context. My criteria therefore were very simple; foremost to me is romanticism, which for clarity I define musically as;

Original and individualistic emotional expression, which is intensely personal, dramatic and characterized by lyrical, song-like melodicism, and chromatic harmonies. It places forthright emotional expression and narrative content above form so as to foster musical story-telling.

For me music is like making love; you feel it, you do not think it, and the more intense and unbridled the passion, the better it is. This factored into why I chose the scores on my list and I offer no apologies for seeking, and embracing scores which offer romanticism, while eschewing those that do not. My list celebrates scores, which offered beautiful melodies, that catalyzed within me, a powerful, enduring and sometimes, profound emotional response. Now, to ensure I am not misconstrued, I advise that if you are into modernist sound design, droning, non-melodic, textural, or deafening wall of sound scores, that is fine. I am happy that you can find, and enjoy your type of music. My eschewing this type of music applies to only the music itself, and not to the person who happens to enjoy it. I drink vodka and do not dislike friends who drink Whiskey. We agree to disagree respectfully, with civility, and good will. 

Lastly, only my Top 2 are rated 5* this year. Every one of my Top 30 offer 10 -14 minute 5* suites, which I created, and what could be better than that! So, without further ado, I humbly offer my favorite scores of 2021, my Composer of the year, my 20 favorite cues, and my Special Award. I am just one voice in our community choir, who happens to be on a road less traveled. All the best.

Composer of the Year
I select Ivan Palomares for an outstanding 2021 Opus, earning two of my Top Twenty spots;
07 La Cocinera de Castamar (The Cook of Castamar)
11 La Templaza (The Vineyard)

Palomares music offers a stirring romanticism for which I thirst and desperately seek. His capacity to penetrate the very sinews of my heart often elicits a quiver and a tear. I love the man.

Cues of the year
1. “Alapu Upala Requiem” from Gojira Shingyura Pointo (Godzilla Singular Point) by Chan Sawada.
2. “Grand Finale” from Coppelia by Maurizio Malagnini.
3. “Coppelia – Radio Suite” from Coppelia by Maurizio Malagnini.
4. “Expect” from Jué Xǐng Nián Dài (The Age of Awakening) by Roc Chen.
5. “Still” from Jué Xǐng Nián Dài (The Age of Awakening) by Roc Chen.
6. “The Final Battle” from Wǒ hé wǒ de fùqīn (My Fathers and Me” by Gordy Haab.
7. “Homeland” from Wǒ hé wǒ de fùqīn (My Fathers and Me” by Gordy Haab.
8. “Walking Out” from Mistrz (The Champion of Auschwitz) by Bartosz Chajdecki.
9. “Tema Principal” from Claret by Oscar Leanizbarrutia.
10. “Main Titles” from Al Ikhtiyar 2: Regal Al Zel (The Choice 2: Men of Shadow) by Khaled Al Kamar.
11. “From The Bridge” from Gái Già Lắm Chiêu 5 (The Camelia Sisters) by Garrett Crosby.
12. “Turandot Theme” from Tú lán duǒ de zǔzhòu (The Curse of Turandot) by Simon Franglen.
13. “Throne Room Battle” from Tú lán duǒ de zǔzhòu (The Curse of Turandot) by Simon Franglen.
14. “Clara y Diego” from La Cocinera de Castamar by Ivan Palomares
15. “The Kiss” from La Templaza by Ivan Palomares
16. “Penthouse” from Penteuhauseu: Salm-ui Jeonjaeng (The Penthouse: War in Life) by Jung Se Rin.
17. “To Olivia” from To Olivia by Debbie Wiseman.
18. “I Lift My Eyes” from Old World by Christopher Tin
19. “Artic Foxes” from A Perfect Planet by Ilan Eshkeri.
20. “Running On Raindrops” from Raya and the Dragon by James Newton Howard.
21. “Shiawase Na Jikanoffers” from Masukarēdo Naito by Naoki Sato.

Special Award of the Year
David Newman’s outstanding adaptation of Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s iconic 1961 score and songs from “West Side Story”. Its songs and score remain on my 1961 Top 10 list.

My Top 10 Favorite Scores

1. Otsomae Bolkeun Kkeutong (The Red Sleeve Cuff) by Noh Hyung-woo [Korea]
From my favorite Korean Sageuk (historical) TV series of 2021. It tells the tragic tale of love between King Yeongjo and court lady Seong Deok-im. He falls in love with her, but she refuses his advances preferring to keep her autonomy and freedom, which she would lose becoming one of his concubines. Eventually the power, passion, and persistence of his genuine love overcomes her and she allows him to bed her. He cherishes her, and she does come to eventually love him only to lose their crown prince to small pox and then die while pregnant with their second child. On her death bed she asks that he walk past her in the afterlife as she would like to live it on her own terms. While weeping he asks whether she ever really loved him, as she grasps his hands tenderly and says yes. The powerful romanticism of this tragic love affair often left me with tears, and Noh’s music in episode after episode achieved a sublime confluence, elevating and enhancing the powerful emotions unfolding on the screen. Regretfully, there is no commercial release of this score. My personal and IFMCA efforts to obtain a promo from the composer and production company failed, so you can only experience the score watching the TV series. When I can finally purchase the actual episodes, I will extract the music and make my suite.

2. Coppelia by Maurizio Malagnini [Germany]
This late year arrival was wonderous! I believe my dear friend and editor Jon Broxton best describes my feelings; “Raptures. Absolute raptures. Maurizio Malagnini's new score for the partly-animated fantasy film COPPELIA is sensational. Fully orchestral, sweeping, thematic, emotional. Just beautiful”. The “Grand Finale” cue is my second favorite of the year. As a fantasy I see myself dancing the ballet in my mind and I adore this score.

3. Jué Xǐng Nián Dài (The Age of Awakening) by Roc Chen [China]
Roc Chen is legend in the Chinese film and TV industry and is one of my favorite living composers. His scores for “Jue Dae Shuang Jiao” (2020), “He Li Hua Ting” (2019), “Hao Lan Zhuan” (2019) and “Hua Xu Yin” (2015) are exceptional and this latest 2021 effort sustains his brilliance. The 43-episode Chinese TV series explores the origin and founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Chen empowers its clearly nationalist and propagandist intent with music, which is eloquent, inspiring and surprisingly romantic. I fell in love with this score from the first note, and relisten often, with the “Still” and “Expect” cues on of my favorites of the year.

4. Tú lán duǒ de zǔzhòu (The Curse of Turandot) by Simon Franglen [China]
Franglen’s effort is a bolt from the blue, impressive in every way. I hear echoes of Horner’s sensibilities in the notes, yet in the final analysis this score is authentic and Franglen’s voice. He blends Oriental and Occidental sensibilities, and fully captures the exquisite tragedy of unrequited love, eliciting tears with his music, which overwhelms my soul. The Turandot Theme is a masterpiece cue full of tear-evoking pathos.

5. Wǒ hé wǒ de fùqīn (Me and My Fathers) by Gordy Haab [China]
Haab caught my attention with his dynamic video game writing for Star Wars. With this effort he demonstrates his compositional skills, with music that achieves a breath-taking confluence of occidental and oriental sensibilities. He fully captures this segment of the TV series’ which explores the lives of four Chinese families in different regions of the country. The score offers a Main Theme for the ages, a flute pastorale which is sublime. Hi music offers grandeur, inspired national pride, as well as the tranquil serenity of nature. The writing for Chinese flute and interplay of violin and cello brought a quiver and a tear. The “Final Battle” cue is awesome, and elicits quivers and tears with every listen! This guy needs a big film to score.

6. Gojira Shingyura Pointo (Godzilla Singular Point) by Chan Sawada [Japan]
Well, another bolt from the blue as I was unfamiliar with this composer. This score just blew me right out of my chair with some of the most awesome music of the year. He infuses his soundscape with primal power, drama, great choral work, melodic eloquence and some outstanding action writing. Although he pays homage to the legendary Akira Ifukube, his score is authentic and original. The tear evoking “Alapu Upala Requiem” offers a masterpiece composition and my favorite cue of the decade.

7. Mistrz (The Champion of Auschwitz) by Bartosz Chajdecki [Poland]
I first became acquainted with Chajdecki in 2008 for his outstanding score for the Czas Honoru TV series, and later, the film Baczynski, my #2 score for 2013. The man’s musical eloquence and skill for dramatic and impassioned writing affirms him as Poland’s premier composer, and for me, one of the finest European composers of his generation. This latest work supports a man forced to box as he copes with the impending doom that awaits all Nazi prisoners at Auschwitz. The pathos of strings and haunting wordless vocals bring a quiver and a tear as you are overwhelmed by heart wrenching crescendos of despair. The “Walking Out” cue is a profoundly moving and one of my favorite cues of the year.

8. Al Ikhtiyar 2: Regal Al Zel (The Choice 2: Men of Shadow) by Khaled Al Kamar [Egypt]
The solitary trumpet declaration that opens the Main Title and ushers in a gorgeous cello soliloquy brought tears for one of the finest main titles of 2021. What captures my heart is Al Kamar’s exquisite writing for cello, which he drapes with subtle ethnic Arabic auras to create a stirring pathos of unsurpassed beauty. I adore any human whose music can reach the sinews of my heart with such profound beauty as to elicit tears.

9. La Cocinera de Castamar (The Cook of Castamar) by Ivan Palomares [Spain]
Palomares graces us with exquisite European classicism and old-world charm. A pervasive sadness permeates the score and speaks of loss, regret and heartache as Diego and Clara, both wounded souls, try through the power of love to heal each other. Gorgeous, beautiful string borne themes and piano offer a romanticism, which captured my heart with every note offering a precious gift.

10. Claret by Oscar Leanizbarrutia [Spain]
This was another bolt from the blue from a composer for which I had never heard. Due to its narrative, Leanizbarrutia bathes us in religioso auras with a score that is intimate, introspective, and contemplative. The piano work, and writing for strings when joined with chorus is sublime, once again offering a profoundly moving listening experience. The “Tema Principal” cue was profoundly moving.

Honorable Mentions Scores

11. La Templanza (The Vineyard) by Ivan Palomares [Spain]
Palomares caught my ear in 2018 with his wonderful score En Las Estrellas, and now he pens two of the finest romantic scores of 2021. He offers heart aching beauty and pathos for this Spanish TV romantic drama. The writing for strings, guitar, and piano elicited tears and offers the romantic eloquence I desperately long for, and seek in music. I adore this score.

12. Dalyi Ddeuneun Gang (River Where The Moon Rises) by Lee Yeon Ju, Jeon Jong-hyuk, Kim Su Hyun [Korea]
From my second favorite Korean Sageuk (historical) TV series of 2021, which explores the romance of the warrior Princess Pyeonggang and her lover, the gentle Ondal who hates violence. Yet she transforms him for defense of her kingdom into a ferocious, unstoppable and undefeatable warrior. He eventually for love gives up his life to save her, only to be brought back to life by a Shaman. For his return she abandons the palace to live humbly with him in the countryside happily ever after. The Korean composer team offers inspired scoring, which propels the many battles, court intrigue, romance of our lovers, as well as the serenity of the verdant Korean countryside. I just love this score!

13. Qinghai: Wǒmen de Guójiā Gōngyuán (Quinhai: Our National Park) by Chad Cannon [China]
I took notice of Cannon in 2016 for “Paper Lanterns” and then “CyberWork and the American Dream in 2019. His music supports a nature documentary of China’s first magnificent national park where the headwaters of the three mighty Yellow, Yangtze and Lancang rivers descend and bring life to China. He supports with a lyrical, and a sophisticated musical eloquence, which is just beautiful. The suite I create will inspire me on future nature hikes. I adore this score.

14. La Fine Fleur (The Fine Flower) by Mathieu Lamboley [France]
I like everything this new kid on the block writes! This score has an incredible lightness of being, a fragile, delicate, and gossamer quality, which likes a soft spring breeze carries my soul away. It offers elegance, wonderment and a refuge from a cruel world spiraling towards war. I adore every note and love Lamboley for this score.

15. To Olivia by Debbie Wiseman [United Kingdom]
An early year gem, where Wiseman graces us with a main theme for the ages, which immediately captured my heart. This is a tale of loss, yet also renewal and Wiseman demonstrates mastery of her craft in how she speaks to the transformation and intersection of these emotions. The “To Olivia” cue is wondrous. I love Wiseman for this score.

16. Gái Già Lắm Chiêu 5 (The Camellia Sisters) by Christopher Wong, Garrett Crosby, Ian Rees [Vietnam]
Christopher Wong has carved out a productive, and for me rewarding niche in the Vietnamese film industry. This latest effort may be for me his best. The opening cue “From “The Bridge”, which introduces the powerfully evocative Main Theme just sat me back in my chair, offering a testament to the capacity and power of music to inspire. This theme for me is my third favorite composition of the year. For the rest of the score, Wong and his team weave gorgeous piano playing and passionate romanticism, which elevates the musical narrative to the sublime.

17. Penteuhauseu: Salm-ui Jeonjaeng (The Penthouse: War in Life) by Kim Jun Suk, Jung Se Rin, Joo In Ro [Korea]
The one exception on my list where I succumbed to bombast. OMG! This is melodramatic, over the top scoring, but for this TV series of betrayal, greed, adultery, intrigue and murder, it works. The score blends a classic dramatic orchestral palette that features exquisite writing for strings with bombast, especially the main choral theme introduced in “Penthouse” (in my top cues of 2021), which puts Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana” to shame. This is a series about a bunch a very bad people doing terrible things to each other, and the score masterfully propels the sordid narrative, and just delivers the goods big time!

18. A Perfect Planet by Ilan Eshkeri [United Kingdom]
This Earth science series by the BBC offers from my perspective a contender for best documentary score of the year. Cue after cue is exceptionally beautiful and evocative. I have always liked Eshkeri and have been longing for a composition of this quality for years. It just does not get any better than this.

19. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings by Joel West [United States]
Well, I was unfamiliar with West, but no more as this score made me a believer. We have a Chinese superhero with a tale, which abounds with Chinese folk lore, mysticism and fantasy. How West infused and blended Oriental and Occidental sensibilities was praise-worthy. Nothing reels me in better than when we have a musical confluence of east and west. His score also gave us a memorable anthem (essential for any superhero film), kinetic action writing, and wonderful secondary themes.

20. Raya and the Last Dragon by James Newton Howard [United States]
Well, what can be better than Howard in fantasy mode. This was a very enjoyable score and once again he hits all the right notes and imbues the film with the right sensibilities, which fills you full of wonder. I very much enjoy this latest effort.

21. Lost In Space by Christopher Lennertz [United States]
The third and final season, which showcases Lennertz skill as a composer with music that is dynamic, thrilling, yet never loses its heart. Episode after episode the score elevates this franchise’s narrative. One of the finest TV franchise scores of the 21st century.

22. Jungle Cruise by James Newton Howard [United States]
Well, this offers some of the most complex and impressive writing in Howard’s career. It is fun and exciting from the first note and never lets you down or disappoints. The music is wonderful.

23. Old World by Christopher Tin [United States]
This is the road less traveled! I was transported back in time by an amazing and captivating musical odyssey! I am completely unfamiliar with this composer, but when I listened to the opening cue “I Lift My Eyes” with the haunting vocals by Abeer Neheme, I was overcome. In cue after cue Tin takes you back in time and bathes you in the ethnic auras and rhythms of ancient Rome, Carthage, Greece, Babylon, Assyria, Persia and Egypt. I love the vocals, and the writing for woodwinds and percussion is wondrous!

24. Wish Dragon by Philip Klein [United States]
What a follow-up to 2020’s “The Last Full Measure!” Shore and Howard have dominated the Fantasy genre for the century but with this effort Klein is ready to take up the mantle for a new generation. I found the melodic writing and use of oriental sensibilities within the score’s tapestry outstanding. This score for me was magical.

25. The Courier by Abel Korzeniowski [United Kingdom]
Well, the use of an eloquent valzer gentile for the main theme took me completely by surprise and I just loved it. Korzeniowski elegant European style of writing has made me a fan for many years and this wonderful, multi-thematic effort, full of suspense affirms that he is underemployed.

26. The Arctic: Our Last Great Wilderness by Alex Heffes [United States]
The third of four documentaries on my list. This superb score is for me Heffes’ best career effort. It is supremely melodic with wondrous choral support, with each cue a treasure.

27. Masukarēdo Naito (Masquerade Night) by Naoki Sato [Japan]
Sato continues to amaze with this excellent follow-up score to his masterwork, Masukarēdo Hoteru (2019). The album’s opening and concluding valzer dramatico is just delightful, with dark suspense cues and intense action joining for a compelling narrative. The film ending “Shiawase Na Jikanoffers” one of the best cues of the year.

28. Tunturin Tarina (Tale of the Sleeping Giants) by Panu Aaltio [Finland]
Aaltio completes the trilogy of nature documentaries and once again graces us by music and vocals, which is not only beautiful and stirring, but also sublime. I can hardly wait to put my earbuds in and play this on my next forest hike.

29. Black Widow by Lorne Balfe [United States]
Balfe continues on a magnificent career trajectory with a very thoughtful and well-conceived and executed score for a complex, tormented and conflicted superhero.

30. Yeonmo (The King’s Affection) by Park Min-Ji [Korea]
Another Korean Sageuk (historical) TV series. Twins are born to the King with the girl ordered by him killed for daring to share the queen’s womb with the Crown Prince. She is sent away safely by the queen and years later when her brother is murdered outside the palace, she assumes his identity at her mother’s behest. Hiding her gender becomes increasingly difficult when her young teacher Jung Ji-woon and cousin Prince Jaeun both fall in love with her. The Taegeun Group composed the series music, although my 5* suite is comprised of cues by composer Park Min-Ji. It offers wonderful themes and a free-flowing and wonderful romanticism.

Thank you all. I look forward to a bountiful year, where hopefully the world embraces kindness and a C Lydian modal expression. Onward!

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