Dr. Strangelist Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the List

Not every "best of" list has to look like mine. This one is so different, it's beautiful.

I love “best of” lists. I read them often and write them myself. For the most part, “best of” lists offer perspective and catalyze conversation (for better or for worse). They engage my mind and offer glimpses of gems I might have forgotten or simply overlooked. If the author is particularly astute, they might even proffer an angle so unique it alters the way I look at (or hear) a score. I love film music so much it pains me to dislike anything, so if an author can successfully enlighten me with a perspective circumventing my own prism, I consider that a rare gift.

Last week Jessica Kiang and Rodrigo Perez of The Playlist published their list of “The 50 Best Film Scores Of The 21st Century So Far.” If you look through the list, you’ll notice something rather peculiar (at least from my perspective). There is no mention of John Williams, or Thomas Newman, or Michael Giacchino, nor any of the ubiquitous “big guns” often equated with film music (Hans Zimmer being an exception).

This is precisely what makes this one of the most important articles on film music you’ll read this year. This list wildly contrasts every other potential ranking by a film music expert (including mine!) and that’s why it has so much value.

Kiang and Perez are not composers, nor are they voracious consumers of film music like I am. They’re film critics and they consume mass quantities of movies, so naturally their perspective is going to be distinct. There are a few titles on their list I adore, but there are so many scores that I don’t even consider to be good. Those are the ones I focus on the most. What was I not hearing? As film critics, what perspectives can they offer me? Why was that particular score so affective for them?

At the end of every year, after I publish my “best of” list, I’m flummoxed by the multitude of comments demonstrating folks’ unquenchable desire for validation. They’re enraged when my rankings contrast theirs and empowered when they’re not. It seems I have to say it over and over again: “Your opinion is perfectly valid already, you don’t need my article for that.” In fact, my favorite “best of” lists are the ones that differ from mine entirely. How boring is it to read a list that mirrors your own? What value would that have if you’re not seeking validation? What’s even more bizarre is that many often look to validate the author as well by determining how a particular rankings stack up against their own. If there are indeed major discrepancies, they become empowered by a false sense of superiority and the author is dismissed entirely. If you don’t agree with the author, then it’s the author who doesn’t know what they're talking about.

The most beautiful aspect of the “best of” list is that you don’t need to be an expert to have one. Everybody is qualified to love music! In fact, that’s really the only qualification. We are all different people with different lives, backgrounds, vocations, and degrees in which we consume music (in cinema or elsewhere). When filtered through these variances, the potential of what can be elevated as one's “best” is astronomically huge. That’s why they’re so damn interesting to read.

My perspective is unique in that I’m a film composer who writes about film music, who also lectures about it, broadcasts it, teaches it, studies it, performs it, and generally consumes it with a voracious appetite that grows with age. But guess what? That doesn’t qualify me to have any overruling power of any other individual’s perspective. I like to think mine is unique which is why I bother writing and am given the platform to do so, but make no mistake, I’m no more of an “expert” at loving film music than you are.

This cements the founding reality that music touches people in vastly different ways. It affects us all on a visceral level that transcends what is “good or bad.” It’s one of my professional goals as a writer to not interfere with another’s passion for a particular art form even when I’m critical of it. If your “best of” lists differs from mine, I’ll be it’s greatest champion…and that’s exactly what we have here in this article. Check it out.

“The 50 Best Film Scores of the 21st Century So Far”

by Jessica Kiang and Rodrigo Perez