eSWay Awards: The Best Soundtracks of 2022

2022 has been quite a year of contrasts, in which COVID problems started to fade from most of our personal lives. The year started with The Netherlands still in lockdown, but within a couple of months, I was able to once again attend concerts in fully sold-out arenas, beginning with Hans Zimmer Live in Amsterdam. Most of us were able to pick up our lives again, but things have changed. One change is that I do not go to the movie theaters as often as I did in my pre-COVID days. The main reason for it was that I did not have to. I was able to experience many excellent soundtracks without having to leave my home. Most TV shows are now available on streaming services, and many movies have found their way onto those platforms as well, resulting in many reviews of interesting music that I did not experience in a movie theater.

Fortunately, I did not always stay home watching shows in my living room, and I was able to attend some amazing concerts in 2022 again, both inside and outside of the Netherlands. Three highlights stand out, two of which are concerts that both focused on a brilliant composer: John Powell’s concert in Poland and The Nightmare Before Christmas in London with Danny Elfman performing on stage. The third highlight was Through Composers’ Eyes, which I attended last month, and that event was one of the best film music concerts I have experienced in the Netherlands in recent years. I love writing reviews of soundtracks, but being able to write concert reports again was a very welcome change. 

In 2022 I have written 30 soundtrack reviews and have reported on 13 concerts and festivals. I could not have written these without the help of a group of friends, who have been helping me for many years by proofreading my work and providing me with helpful advice:

  • Chris Broekema
  • Dennis van der Laan
  • Erik Schreiber
  • Gerard Aalbers
  • Johannes Oudolf
  • Ola Ziółek
  • Ronald Wijlens
  • Saskia Schreiber
  • Stefan Bosman

They have my deepest gratitude; without them, I would not have been so proud of the content of Soundtrack World as it is now.

It is time to conclude my content for 2022, with the last thing I still owe you, which is presenting Soundtrack World’s “eSWay Awards” of 2022! They are my awards to celebrate what I think is the best 2022 had to offer concerning soundtracks.

Soundtrack of the Year

Bubble – Hiroyuki Sawano

There you have it: my favorite soundtrack of the year. The music for the Japanese Netflix animation Bubble is most likely a soundtrack you have never heard of before, and this is why I love soundtracks so much. You can find the most magnificent scores in all parts of the world, written for different media. I am drawn most of the time to melodic soundtracks, with superb theme integration that does not only fit a scene perfectly but also elevates the medium to a higher level. There are mental bonus points to be earned if the music has an identifiable and unique soundscape throughout the movie. This year many soundtracks fit that description, like The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, The Batman and A Plague Tale: Requiem, but Bubble did it slightly better. It is a soundtrack that stuck with me, with the female vocalist singing the notes from the main theme and the slapping bass guitar supporting the magnificent action music that supports the parkour sequences in the movie. It is, from start to finish, a masterpiece.

Composer of the Year

Bear McCreary

Many exceptional scores came out for different media in 2022, and at the top of many categories, one name can be found: Bear McCreary. His music for the tv show The Rings of Power and the game God of War Ragnarök are masterpieces, showcasing perfect integration of themes into superb orchestral scores. It does not stop there; he continued to work on the new seasons of The Walking Dead and Outlander and has written a fun ’70s-style score for the animation film Paws of Fury. Most soundtracks he composes are pure gold, making him one of my favorite composers, and this year he even tops that list.

Best Soundtrack for Dutch Media

Wolf – Matthijs Kieboom

As I mentioned in my review of the music for the nature movie Wolf by Matthijs Kieboom, I was looking forward to hearing the music for that film because I adore his score for Wild. The soundtrack for Wolf is a perfect fit for the story the film wants to tell. The main theme is a delight and is masterfully integrated into a more serious and down-to-earth score than the music for Wild. Kieboom understands nature movies exceptionally well and can write a perfect score for them.

Breakthrough Composer of the Year

Hesham Nazih

There are different career paths that lead to becoming a Breakthrough Composer. It is possible to become one by creating a perfect score in the beginning of a professional career or by being a musician in a band who starts writing music for media, but in this case, it is a composer that has been creating soundtracks for a long time in his own country and has finally gained international recognition by composing a masterpiece for a high-profile media project for an international audience. In 2022, this was the case for the Egyptian composer Hesham Nazih, who wrote the music for the Marvel TV show Moon Knight, which is an excellent score that combines orchestral elements with Arabian influences, and on top of that: it has a brilliant main theme.

Best Soundtrack for a Television Series

Moon Knight – Hesham Nazih

Moon Knight - Hesham Nazih

One of the reasons Hesham Nazih receives the eSWay Award for Breakthrough Composer of the Year is that I consider the music for Moon Knight the best music that has been written for television in 2022. It is a perfect example of elevating a series to the next level by providing the best musical support. For me, it even outclasses the perfect score Bear McCreary wrote for The Rings of Power. It was tough for me to pick between these two scores, but Moon Knight added a few more innovative elements to the music.

Best Soundtrack for a Video Game

A Plague Tale: Requiem – Olivier Derivière

The trend of being in second place in the gaming category continues for Bear McCreary. His work on God of War Ragnarök is masterful and a fantastic continuation of the music he wrote for its predecessor God of War. French composer Olivier Derivière did something similar by writing a magnificent soundtrack for A Plague Tale: Requiem. By adding the Estonian Choir together with the aggressive cello performances to the music, however, he adds an extra emotional layer to the continuation of the story from the first game. Another criterion for me for an excellent score is that it can be enjoyed without images of the medium, and this is wonderfully demonstrated by a live concert with the game’s music.

Music Composition of the Year

“The Songcord” from Avatar: The Way of Water by Simon Franglen

My choice for the Best Music Composition of the Year differs from the one I would traditionally choose. Most of the time, it is the track I played the most in a particular year. That would make “BATTLEKOUR” from Bubble, “Naru’s Way” from Prey or the main theme from A Plague Tale: Requiem strong candidates to win this category, but then I saw Avatar: The Way of Water in the movie theater. The soundtrack that Simon Franglen wrote for the new Avatar movie is excellent, but other scores from 2022 resonated more with me to win awards, except for the main theme from the film. I think the theme’s melody is superb, and the main reason is that its origin lies in the emotional song “The Songcord,” as it is sung in the movie by Zoe Saldana.

Best Soundtrack for a Drama/Thriller/Horror Film

Don’t Worry Darling – John Powell

John Powell was a master in writing stunning action scores decades ago, and his transition to writing terrific scores for mostly animation movies has made him one of the best film music composers in the industry. He only writes a few soundtracks in a year and has not written for a drama thriller in a long time. His music for Don’t Worry Darling is dark and ominous to support the mysterious story perfectly. It is not the most pleasant score to listen to on its own, but the ideas used in the music are outstanding. The music also shows the skill of a master in writing film music, who can bring originality to a score.

Best Soundtrack for a Comedy Film

Catherine Called Birdy – Carter Burwell

This category is the most challenging to find candidates for, since I do not tend to watch many comedies. I have listened to some great scores for comedies that have come out in 2022, like The Lost King by Alexandre Desplat and See How They Run by Daniel Pemberton, but the one that stood out to me the most was the music for Catherine Called Birdy, written by Carter Burwell. He wrote a delightful soundtrack consisting of many cues that only vocalists perform on. It is probably not a new concept, but I have not listened to a score like that in recent years. I love this idea of the human voice being the main focus of the music, and I want to honor it by giving the music for Catherine Called Birdy the Best Soundtrack for a Comedy Film award.

Best Soundtrack for an Action/Adventure Film

The Batman – Michael Giacchino

If you had asked me in 2021 if it is possible to create a complete score based on a four-note pattern, three of which are identical, I would have laughed. If one composer can make that work, though, it is Michael Giacchino, as he has done in the music for The Batman. The score contains some other terrific thematic ideas, and the second theme for Batman, which represents his more human side, is also stunning. As such it is the perfect score for a dark superhero movie.

Best Soundtrack for an Animated Feature

Bubble – Hiroyuki Sawano

Only a little needs to be added to what I have already said about Bubble being the Best Soundtrack of 2022. I only want to say that if you are looking for outstanding scores for animated movies, explore the ones that are created in Japan. Hiroyuki Sawano is a stellar composer, who has also written the music for the anime Attack on Titan, but there are many more composers in Japan who can write fascinating soundtracks.

Best Soundtrack for a Documentary

Wolf – Matthijs Kieboom

In addition to winning the Best Soundtrack for Dutch Media award, Wolf also wins Best Documentary. Some wonderful scores have been written for documentaries in 2022, including the music for Onze Natuur by Dirk Brosse and Polar Bear by Harry Gregson-Williams, but the music for Wolf was slightly better. Maybe I am biased as a Dutch person, but I am certainly not the only one who likes his music as it was nominated for Best Original Score for a Documentary for the 2022 IFMCA Awards.

Best Soundtrack Side Project

Traveler – A Journey Symphony – Austin Wintory

The Best Soundtrack Side Project award will not be presented every year, but sometimes an incredible musical project is released that has close ties with soundtracks. I have to admit that the award’s name is not the most brilliant one, but it fits the category perfectly. I would like to give this award this year to Traveler – A Journey Symphony, a gorgeous musical project composed by Austin Wintory. This reimagined music for the game Journey, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, is truly a masterpiece, and it is a refreshingly new take on the music of an already perfect score.

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