Didn’t I just get done with 2017? Welcome back to the series that never sleeps, that series of course being the MMJ Music in Movies series. 2018 has already proved to be a big year in film, as there has seemingly been something for everyone whether you’re the comic book geek or the horror aficionado. That also means the year in film is primed for a diverse sonic palette of soundtracks and scores.

For those unaware of what this feature (now five years old) is all about, think of it as a spotlight on some of the better musical pieces I personally found in films that I viewed during the year that were released in 2018. Don’t consider this a pure ranking (I may dabble with a top 25 track list at the end of the year), but again, just a series to give some attention to some musical work I found to be compelling, catchy, mesmerizing, all of the above, etc., in said films.

Don’t consider this a comprehensive list, either. I try to see everything I can, but of course, a big film (or two or three) with a killer score may not always be found here, not because I don’t like its music, but because I simply didn’t watch the film. In my opinion,  I cannot honestly blurb about what I liked/felt about the song chosen without watching the actual film—kind of like watching a film! Context is important! Feel free to let me know in the comments sections as to what I need to listen to and what, if anything, I got right.

A few short-ish notes:

  • This series isn’t my thoughts on movies, though an extremely brief feeling on said movie may be found. As such, the occasional spoiler may be found in my thoughts on the scores/tracks on it, though I’ll do my best to refrain from doing so. Also, some track names bluntly make reference to specific parts in the movie, keep that in mind.
  • All of the songs I’ve selected appear in their respected movie. Some movies will have the official motion picture soundtrack as well as the score. The score will (almost) always appear in the movie, whereas the soundtrack may appear here and there. Which leads me to the next point…
  • Generally, the songs I have selected are from their respective scores. But, there are a few selections I’ve chosen from the soundtrack, if applicable, because said song adds to the movie immensely.
  • I will try to link to every musical piece via Spotify. Best quality, and the music is legitimately able to be there with no copyright issue. But for some reason, if I can only access via YouTube/Soundcloud, I’ll link there. I obviously have no control over what does and doesn’t get removed.
  • I’m no musical whiz, nor know every exact instrument (though I do still play the trumpet from time to time :)), I just try to highlight what I really enjoy about the featured selection/selections, sometimes grouped and looked at more collectively than individually. Just depends.
  • I’ve tried to start at the beginning of the year and work through it, though there may be the occasional film that I finally got around to listening to (after watching the movie) that makes its appearance later in the series.

Make sense? Throw those Beats on.

Den of Thieves (composed by Cliff Martinez)

Traffic Up Ahead

Low Calorie Shootout

Biggest surprise of the 2018 year to this early point might just go to Den of Thieves for being surprisingly competent as an action-crime thriller. It’s a poor man’s Heat, but it does it well, if that makes sense. I’m not saying this next point just to say it, either, but this movie has one of the better action scenes of the decade.

As for the score, it’s directed by Cliff Martinez, who gives a lot of edge and unforgettable numbers to the movies he composes with a recognizable rough electric sound. He precedes and punctuates a thrilling eleven minutes with Traffic Up Ahead, a piece that drives home the impending last Alamo-like stand against cop team and robber team, and Low Calorie Shootout, a pulse-pounding 2:30 or so that eventually transitions into a more somber feeling. Again, shots below the very best in the genre, but a surprisingly entertaining genre movie with notable sound production.

The Commuter (composed by Roque Baños)

A Commuter’s Trip

To paraphrase one of my favorite bloggers, The Commuter is pretty bleghhh. Perhaps the one standout moment is the beginning montage, which leads us through the lead character’s life. The way it’s edited is weirdly attention-grabbing, and the track that plays over by Roque Baños creates a sense of normalcy and importance in the little minutiae of a regular day via the keys and clockwork sound-effects.

Black Panther (composed by Ludwig Göransson)

Warrior Falls

Waterfall Fight

Glory to Bast

MCU scores have oft been criticized for sounding too alike. That’s not something that Black Panther has to worry about. If there were one movie to bet on that was going to go in a different route sonically, this was going to be it. That’s not to say that there aren’t any traditional heroic tracks in the score composed by Ludwig Göransson, the requisite hero horns and heavy strings are present. But there’s so much more textually, be it the Congo-like drums, the tribal chants, or light woodwinds. There’s a lot that’s going on with this score, and hearing all of these approaches work together to form a cohesive whole is spectacular.


Killmonger’s Challenge

Hey auntie. One of the best introductions to a villain is punctuated by Göransson’s Killmonger, a blend of the native sounds heard throughout the score and a bold, electric hip-hop bassline and snare. Erik Killmonger tracks are really the only score tracks that feature a hip hop sound, but that is intentional, for Erik is part Wakanda, part American. Putting the two sounds together more or less defines who Erik is: An product of his rough American environment with regal blood who’s been forced to suppress who he is.

Annihilation (composed by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow)

Approaching the Shimmer

For Those That Follow

Cells Divide

Whether it’s viewed in a theater or on a home screen, Annihilation needs to be viewed. Still, those who were unable to catch on the silver screen are missing out on an intense theater experience that cannot be replicated at home. Immediately, Annihilation brings the viewer into its mysterious, nightmarish, and frightening world in many ways, one of them attributed to the efforts of co-composers Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury. Don’t expect any melodic musings or motifs (though that eerie humming heard on a few pieces is close), but the tracks leave the distinct imagery that director Alex Garland created in a viewer’s mind.

The Bear and The Alien speak for themselves.

The Bear 

The Alien

Game Night (composed by Cliff Martinez)

You Have To Try This Cheese

Oh My God I Shot You

Ryan Spots The Egg

Isn’t That Your Neighbor

“This score may have been the biggest musical challenge of my career,” said Martinez. “When it comes to comedy, I doubt I’m at the top of most directors’ short list. I’m the guy you call when the film’s characters are doing drugs, getting shot, stabbed, beaten or blown up –unless of course, those things are supposed to be funny.”

“The first thing that the directors said to me was, ‘Don’t try to be funny. That’s our job. Just be yourself,’” Martinez joked.

These are statements made by Martinez taken from the PR soundtrack release of Game Night. Martinez’s typical sparse and dark track productions are at play here again, just this time juxtaposed by laughs. Combining an industrial, EDM-ish sound to mimic 8-bit memories of yesteryear is a winning combination.

Red Sparrow (composed by James Newton Howard)


Didn’t I Do Well?

End Titles

You can take the ballerina out of the stage, but you can’t take the ballerina out of the woman. James Newton Howard’s score is elegant, graceful, and with purpose, not unlike how a ballerina would move, with minimal usage of manufactured sounds, even in the darkest, twistiest moments of Red Sparrow. Cold as well, aptly fitting for a cold movie.

The Strangers: Prey at Night (composed by Adrian Johnston)

The Strangers Prey at Night

Is Somebody There? 

But We Just Started

Listen closely to Prey at Night’s title track and one can hear hints of John Carpenter’s Halloween and even a little of the classic-yet-still-underrated Phantasm theme. The Strangers sequel wears its late 70’s-early 80’s influence proudly to the point of overkill sometimes, but there is a reasonable sense of atmosphere and disorienting tension composer Adrian Johnston manages to build in his synth-heavy score.

Love, Simon (soundtrack by various artists and Bleachers, score by Rob Simonson)

Alfie’s Song (Not So Typical Love Song)


Keeping A Secret

Wild Heart

Weird Science. 16 Candles. Don’t You Forget About Me. Pretty in Pink. All of these are songs that appeared in John Hughes’ movies. Hughes was a brilliant filmmaker in style, approach, and simply writing exactly how teens spoke and felt…but another aspect of his (and any coming-of-age movie) that was just as important was curating the right songs to tell the stories.

Love, Simon has not just one memorable track, but four of them, two originally written for the movie, by the band Bleachers; their new-wave sound directly attributed to Hughes’ movies of yesteryear. It’s amazing how their lyrics capture damn near every emotion Simon experiences. Hope, angst, isolation; if a teen has experienced it, it’s found in their tracks. Their music has that old school, timeless quality that a person can see being played 50 years from now.

Something I Want to Tell You

Simon and Blue

Creekwood High

Not to be overlooked is the actual score to Love, Simon, handled by Rob Simonsen. There’s this warming calm yet slightly stormy aspect in many of the film’s cues that hit close to home. Like the soundtrack (except devoid of lyrics), it too evokes some of the genre’s best. It’s a perfect score that works well in the film but also as a standalone listen.

Photo credits go to wikipedia.org, filmmusicreporter.com, pitchfork.com, crackmagazine.net, kusc.org, last.fm, themusicuniverse.com, and bmi.com.

Follow me @Markjacksonisms/MovieManJackson. Part two coming…