Sunday, February 16, 2014

Music: Original Score and Original Song

I like to listen to music. I date musicians. I have gone to the symphony and to concerts. For that, I don't know a thing about music in a technical or professional sense. I have not predisposition, inclination, or aptitude.

But I'm going to write anyway. How's that for selling it?

The films with nominations

Original Score

  • The Book Thief 
  • Gravity
  • Her
  • Philomena 
  • Saving Mr. Banks
Original Song
  • Alone Yet Not Alone (nomination revoked
  • Despicable Me 2
  • Frozen
  • Her
  • Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
The Book Thief was both an unexpected treasure and an unexpected  disappointment. I had avoided any press in it, so consider my wonder when I should find out Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush (whom I incorrectly thought would win supporting actor in 2011) star along with the unendingly charming Sophie NĂ©lisse. The film was quite well acted, though nothing to garner a nomination (justifiably), but the pacing of the script seemed a bit slow. It was a well done film, but I certainly understand why original score was it's only nomination. The strings swell and fall beautifully underscoring the film's thematic elements elegantly. Each instrument adds drama each note carries the movie along. John Williams (whose last of five Oscar wins was for the similarly timed Schindler's List) works his wonderful magic here. It's never a surprise to see his name in the list of nominees.

For a film that was originally not going to have a score and for a composer with so few credits to his name, the pairing of Steven Price to Gravity could not have been better arranged. So much emphasis was put on the sound work that it would have been a shame to not have a dramatic and defining score. Prince's work feels almost apocalyptic and that should Dr. Stone fail in her efforts, all of Earth will be ill of future due to her loss. Nearly having been neglected in totality, the score seems to be begging to be recognized and legitimized. Point made.

The composition in Her truly manifests the cold, lonely future bereft of romantic hope. If I'd had a copy of this when I was getting divorced, I would have listened to it all day every day. The music succeeds wonderfully in that regard, but it never really gets the knack of hopeful New Relationship Energy one might expect from the score for such an intimate love story. The musical themes while well established and executed do grow a bit tired and stale by the end of the film.

Alexandre Desplat makes some charmingly sweeping compositions and his work on Philomena is no different. The music paralles Phil very well, but, if anything, Desplat seems toned down and a little lackluster. Philomena isn't a vivacious woman, but her story is. If I'm honest, and I'm nothing if not, I think it deserved more.

Saving Mr. Banks is another film I don't think got the appreciation it deserves and could have easily had a best actress nomination in Emma Thompson. What's the problem, too many other 50+ year old nominees already? The score is charming, and lively and grand and at times reminiscent and wistful. There's a wonderful energy to this movie that is elucidated with a wonderful touch.

To me the contest for original score comes down to Gravity and Saving Mr. Banks. I'm more likely to sit down and listen to the former, but I think the latter ever so infinitesimally achieved more for its characters and adhered to the spirit of its film. After eleven nominations for original score, my money is on Thomas Newman to finally reel in the prize.

The original songs then.

Let's be honest, the revocation of Alone Yet Not Alone's nomination has nothing to do with the winner here. It's simply not a terribly good song. All you have is a woman with an okay voice, a piano, and nothing really exciting. I was constantly left aching for some rise but no such luck. In its place I propose nominating "Please Mr. Kennedy" a song maligned in its own film.

"Happy" from Despicable Me 2 is fun, but almost patronizingly so. It feels contrived and, while fun for the movie, not particularly pleasing.

Frozen's "Let It Go" is everything I might have wanted "Alone Yet Not Alone" to be. Idina Manzel is fantastic with power and range behind her voice that really conveys a lot of emotion. The instrumentation is perhaps overpowering out of context but works perfectly in the film. This is definitely the version to listen to rather than the Demi Lovato rendition.

"The Moon Song" plucked out of Her is appropriately charming and simple. It's almost exactly what I want the love song for Samantha and Theodore to be. My main issue is Scarlet Johansson's voice. I can't tell is she's understating her voice or just can't sing. I'm sure it's the former, but this song is performed so much more admirably by its creator. Of course, the latter version isn't the one in the film, but the film performance is a big part of what I'm going with.

Lastly there's "Ordinary Love" in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. Paul Hewson er, uh, Bono is on point here. I used to listen to a lot of U2, but with only two studio albums over the last decade, neither of which really resonating with me, I had fallen out with the band a bit. I kept waiting for a solid single. Now, not to cry a return of U2, but "Ordinary Love" is a very solid single.

As for original song, I'm struggling terribly to decide between "Let It Go" and "Ordinary Love." I don't think the former is a bad guess for what will win, but as for personal choice it's nearly a coin toss. As the award is for the song and not technically the performance, I've decidedto look at covers for the* tiebreaker in an attempt to decouple the two. To me, "Let It Go" while grand is overreaching a bit. It's perfect for the scene that it is in, but "Ordinary Love" is a better song out of context. U2 did something very nice here and in my most did difficult choice yet, I'm going to side with them.

* Can I please just listen to them tell stories to each other all day? 

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