eSWay Awards: The Best Soundtracks of 2023

It is that time of year again where I would like to reflect on the previous year and celebrate its highlights, including our eSWay Awards. We left the pandemic behind us in 2023, and everything is open again, but for some reason, I found myself less in the movie theater this year. There were only so many movies that I wanted to see, and when there were some, they were all clustered in a short period of time, making it impossible to catch them all. It did not stop me from reviewing scores, though. Especially with the rise of excellent video game music and music for TV and streaming services, I was able to write some thoughts for around 150 of them privately. This has resulted in 22 reviews and four spotlight articles this year. That is less than last year, but concerts have also started to pick up, resulting in quite a few concert reports written for this site.

In addition to these concerts, I also attended two festivals, the Krakow Film Music Festival and the World Soundtrack Awards. I have attended the Polish festival many times but have not been to the WSA in many years, and both were wonderful experiences. I was also invited to the Hollywood Music Workshop in Baden this year, which was a highlight. I have learned a lot about film music in just a couple of days, and I had the chance to talk to Conrad Pope, who is one of the best orchestrators of film music. It is not the only interview I published this year. I also had the pleasure of talking to Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab during the WSA, which was also a magnificent and insightful conversation.

While all the content is written by me this year, I could not have done it without the people helping me behind the scenes. May it be by proofreading my work actively, supporting me during festivals, or standing by in case I need help. These fantastic people are:

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

I cannot imagine a world where Soundtrack World would have been without them, and I owe them many thanks.

To close out 2023, it is time to hand out the eSWay Awards. These awards are a perfect reflection of what I consider to be the best scores of 2023. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Soundtrack of the Year

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse – Daniel Pemberton

A very good soundtrack fits perfectly with what is happening on screen. In addition, the music needs to be an enjoyable listening experience on its own and be able to tell the same story without the images on screen. What makes a perfect score is going that extra mile that makes your jaw drop, which is what Daniel Pemberton has done for Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse. I was sitting on the edge of my seat during the whole movie, and the music was one of the reasons for that. Who else would use the sounds of a goose, let a DJ scratch with that sound, and mix that into a score? That is only one of Pemberton’s crazy ideas for this soundtrack. You can read my thoughts in more detail in my review of Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse. I will not give honorable mentions here this year in this category because most of the other candidates are in the top spots in other categories for the eSWay Awards.

Composer of the Year

Gordy Haab

To find my Composer of the Year I always look at the top five of all the categories to see if one composer stands out. This year, there was one such composer, and I was surprised about my conclusion, but half a second later, I was totally convinced I had a clear winner, and that winner was Gordy Haab. His work in 2023 consists of the music for the game Star Wars Jedi: Survivor (together with Stephen Barton) and for the Chinese movie Creation of The Gods I – Kingdom of Storms, both of them masterpieces. 

I also love the fact that I could talk to him this year and tell him how much I loved his work. In my interview with him and Stephen, they teased me about his next project. I knew there was an Indiana Jones game in the works, and his career started with writing music for an Indiana Jones game, so I guessed that would be that new game, but I did not want to mention it to him. I am now very excited about what kind of music he will bring to Indiana Jones and the Great Circle. Honorable mentions go to Stephen Barton for his work on Star Wars Jedi: Survivor and Picard Season 3 and to John Powell for his fantastic work on Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie and Migration.

Best Soundtrack for Dutch Media

De Oneindige Slijmfilm – Jeffrey van Rossum and Thomas van der Burg

When it comes to Dutch music for media that I like, there is quite a big chance that it is music written for a children’s movie, which is also the case this year, with De Oneindige Slijmfilm being the winner. Jeffrey van Rossum and Thomas van der Burg wrote a gorgeous orchestral score that more people should hear, as can be read in my Spotlight. Other music for Dutch media that stood out to me this year was Merlijn Snitker’s Dag en Nacht score and the delightful music by Karl Heortweard for De Nieuwe Vermeer.

Breakthrough Composer of the Year

Corey Wallace

I love it when I sometimes hear a score that just blows my mind and then see that the music was written by an unfamiliar composer to me. This year, that was the case for Supercell by Corey Wallace. The music is a gorgeous orchestral score with stunning emotional melodies. I did not write a review about his music for Supercell, a movie about a young stormchaser trying to follow in his father’s footsteps, but I should have. I will be keeping my eye on Wallace. Hopefully we will keep hearing from him. Other music that I did like this year that are from breakthrough composers was by Jeffrey Van Rossum, who writes the music for De Tatta’s movies and the previously mentioned De Oneindige Slijmfilm and a composer by the name Mika, who composed the soundtrack for Zodi et Tehu: Freres du desert.

Best Soundtrack for a Television Series

One Piece – Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli

I still remember the four hours I spent driving through the French countryside while listening to the full score for One Piece by Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli. The music they wrote for it is a masterpiece, filled with many themes that are brilliantly integrated, as can be read in my Spotlight article. I watched the series when I got home, and I cannot wait for a second season to hear more of their music. More music for TV that I liked was the brilliant score for Picard Season 3, by Stephen Barton and Frederik Wiedmann and the beautiful melodies of Blue Eye Samurai by Amy Doherty.

Best Soundtrack for a Video Game

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor – Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab

With Gordy Haab being the composer of the year, it should not be a big surprise that Star Wars Jedi: Survivor is my winner in this category. Haab and Stephen Barton are masters in writing Star Wars music without using the John Williams themes. I loved the music already before even talking to the composers in Gent, and I was quite happy that I was able to ask them questions about this fantastic score. You can read more about this score in my Star Wars Jedi: Survivor review. Other brilliant video game scores for me this year that are worth listening to are the beautiful melodies from Planet of Lana by Takeshi Furuwaka and the music by Dan Le Sac for the game TRON: Identity.

Music Composition of the Year

“Flight” from Star Wars Jedi: Survivor
Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab

Star Wars Jedi: Survivoris going to win two awards this year. When I saw the sequence in the game that is represented by the track “Flight,” I knew from that moment that it would be a contender to win this award. It is a masterpiece, written mainly by Haab, as mentioned in my interview with the composers, and has been played a ludicrous number of times this year on my devices. The combination of the two main themes and the Star Wars colors surrounding them makes it the perfect piece of music and is the highlight of the game and this year for me. I would also give a shout-out to “West Qi_Homeland” from Creation of The Gods I – Kingdom of Storms, which Gordy Haab also wrote, and I, of course, need to mention the gorgeous “Helena’s Theme” by John Williams from Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

Best Soundtrack for a Drama/Thriller/Horror Film

Oppenheimer – Ludwig Göransson

One of the movies this year that took the world by storm was Oppenheimer. I also loved the movie, and the music that Ludwig Göransson wrote contributed to it. It was a perfect fit to highlight Oppenheimer as a person but also showcased the grace of science with music. You can read more about this score in my Oppenheimer review. Other works that I liked in this category are the magnificent music that Christopher Young wrote for the horror movie The Piper and the emotional score that Michael Giacchino composed for Society of Snow.

Best Soundtrack for a Comedy Film

Barbie – Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt

The other movie this year that took the world by storm was Barbie. I am not the biggest comedy fan, but the music by Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt is quite fitting and entertaining. I have to mention the songs that were created for the movie as well to make the musical experience for that film complete. Other exceptional comedy scores are the divine sounds of Juste Ciel by Mathieu Lamboley and the Oscar-nominated jazz score for American Fiction by Laura Karpman.

Best Soundtrack for an Action/Adventure Film

Creation of The Gods I – Kingdom of Storms – Gordy Haab

One Piece was not the only score that took my breath away while driving through the French countryside. The other score that did that to me was Gordy Haab’s Creation of The Gods I – Kingdom of Storms. As I mentioned in my Spotlight review, Haab used the orchestra perfectly for this Chinese epic fantasy film, with music ranging from emotional scenes to epic battles. Other scores in this category that are worth mentioning are the magnificent Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny by John Williams and the music Daniel Hart wrote for Peter Pan & Wendy with its gorgeous melodies.

Best Soundtrack for an Animated Feature

Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse – Daniel Pemberton

As the winner of Soundtrack of the Year, it is logical that Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse also wins in this category. A fun fact is that this is now the second score winning the eSWay Score of the Year award, which is an animation. It showcases how wonderful animation is to write music for. The competition was quite strong in this category, with both masters of animation music contributing to 2023, with Joe Hisaishi for The Boy and the Heron and John Powell for Migration.

Best Soundtrack for a Documentary

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie – John Powell

John Powell did not win an award for Migration, but his other work this year definitely did. Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie is a wonderful score that showcases the brilliant and witty mind of Michael J. Fox more than his horrible disease. It is a side of Powell that I had not heard before, and as I have mentioned in my review, this score shows how creative Powell can be and that he can write so much more than only for animation. Honorable mentions in this category go to two gorgeous scores written for nature documentaries: Blue Whales: Return Of The Giants by Steven Price and Wild Isles by George Fenton.

There you have it, the eSWay awards of 2023. What I love about the winners this year is that there were quite some surprises and quite a few new names who have received an award. What also stood out to me was that many of the winners resulted from a collaboration between multiple composers, highlighting that writing music for media is often an effort of various people working together instead of one composer doing it all. I have started to explore the first scores of 2024. So let us see what the next year will bring!

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