Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Original Song and Score

I'm going to be honest from the get-go: I'm really not feeling these categories this year. I didn't watch a single film nominated for original song largely because it's unnecessary, but also because none of them are nominated for a single other award. Also, I didn't want to watch Fifty Shades of Grey. This is America dammit, and in America we spell it "gray!" Yes, with the exclamation point.

Furthermore, I'm rather disappointed with the nominees for score. The Revenant had one of the best scores of the year, but it is ineligible due to there being multiple composers. That's another sad blow for an Iñárritu project as the amazing score for Birdman was disallowed last year. Harkening back to yesterday's post on sound mixing and editing, the sonic elements are nearly a character unto themselves in Fury Road, and JunkieXL put together a score that blew me away. Hans Zimmer called it "absolutely phenomenal and mind-blowingly brilliant," and even though it eclipses two hours, the score never becomes tedious. Beyond those two, Alexandre Desplat had two of my favorite scores last year, and his work for The Danish Girl feels like version 2.0 of his beautiful score for The Imitation Game. I have absolutely nothing against the nominees, because they're all grand in their own right. I'm just amazed that three of my five favorite film scores this year failed to make the cut. However, that does leave two that did.

Music (Original Song):
  • “Earned It,” Fifty Shades of Grey
  • “Manta Ray,” Racing Extinction
  • “Simple Song #3,” Youth
  • “Til It Happens To You,” The Hunting Ground
  • “Writing’s On The Wall,” Spectre
I hate this category a little bit. I don't know anything about music. You probably shouldn't even be reading this. The Weeknd's "Earned It" is nominated for a Grammy. "Manta Ray" sounds a warbling mess that never quite coalesces. "Simple Song #3" is a gorgeous orchestral piece that put Youth on the map for me. And thank goodness, because Paolo Sorrentino's La grande bellezza which was as beautiful as it was unrelatable to me. I'm really hoping I find more to hold onto in Youth. Gaga's "Til It Happens To You" occupies a weird middle ground between her strong affectation and her much more natural singing voice. It is beautiful in ways, but gives the song a bombastic feel which is really doesn't deserve. As to "Writing's On The Wall," what is it with James Bond movies going with songs that are so contrary to the film's tone? I don't know. I don't think I've ever liked a James Bond song.

Should win: "Simple Song #3" from Youth
Will win: "Earned It"* from Fifty Shades of Grey

Music (Score):
  • Thomas Newman for Bridge of Spies
  • Carter Burwell for Carol
  • Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight
  • Jóhann Jóhannsson for Sicario
  • John Williams for Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Likely no one is surprised that Newmann is nominated for Bridge of Spies as he has been a force in the industry for two decades now, his last nomination being two years ago for the beautiful Saving Mr. Banks. It seems like a weird number of mid-century low-action war films have vaguely similar scores. Newmann falls into a sonic trope here and there, but he does create flashes to pull this soundtrack out of the mire. Is it enough? I don't think so. Ultimately the soundtrack serves rather than alleviates Bridge of Spies' tediousness.

Carter Burwell puts in an admirable effort on Carol. There's a haunting poignancy at times and a light joy at others. There are beautiful echoes and sharp piano strikes. I enjoyed Carol, but I never loved it. No, funnily, it was Burwell's work on the much more awkward romance of Anomalisa that I thought was his standout performance of the year.

Have you listened to The Hateful Eight? No? Go do it now. The soundtrack is impossibly rich. I'm pretty sure there's a contrabassoon in there I would marry, and I promised myself I'd never get married again. Morricone presents a hauntingly tense score that defines its film as well as anything else. That's a high achievement on any movie, certainly, and it's even more so on a Tarantino production.

Jóhannsson might be the favorite to win with his terrifying score for Sicario. It thrives on long deep notes that resonate to such a crescendo one could be forgiven for thinking the world was ending. They lend the film its deep suspense in a way that nothing else can. In some little ways it reminds me of Clint Mansell's work on the ill-fated Noah.**

Oh, John Williams. He has no fewer than fifty nominations over his lifetime. The record of fifty-nine held by Walt Disney is conceivably still within reach, and I suspect every year Williams will just tack on nominations if not awards. Let's just go ahead and pencil him in next year for The BFG. His work on Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a wonderful success from the bright and inquisitive theme for Rey to all the indulgent throwbacks to his original score for Star Wars. After forty years, Williams knows his audience and his film, and he plays to both masterfully.

The Hateful Eight and Sicario are the two film whose scores I adored that did get nominated. The former has, I think, the better stuff, and at eighty-seven years old with zero wins under his belt, I think the Academy gives this one to Morricone. I wouldn't be surprised to see either Jóhannsson or Williams take the award home, nor would I be disappointed. They're both fantastic collections of work, but I think a man with a lifetime achievement award finally gets his first contested statuette.

Should win: Junkie XL for Mad Max: Fury Road / Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight
Will win: Ennio Morricone for The Hateful Eight

* I refuse to make an "earned it" joke. Don't even tempt me.
** I refuse to refer to say that it sunk, drowned, or floundered.

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