The Oscars: A Look at 2010′s Song & Score Nominees
By Erin V.
Leading up to the 83rd Academy Awards on February 27th, 2011, we will be having special coverage of the Oscars. From Tuesday until Friday, we are sharing our more in-depth thoughts on the nominees in ten of the main categories. Check back tomorrow for a look at the films nominated in the Best Director & Best Picture categories this year.
Music in film has been around since the beginning of cinema – even before sound, there was live music played to accompany what we saw on screen. Integral and never disposable, the best scores make it hard to imagine anything different in their respective films. The songs too, emphasize and sum up in an instant what the film was about. There is no doubt, songs or score, the following are some of the best of last year that did what music should – lift the film to a level beyond what it would have been without it.
The nominees for Best Original Score are:
How To Train Your Dragon – John Powell
Inception – Hans Zimmer
The King’s Speech – Alexandre Desplat
127 Hours – A.R. Rahman
The Social Network – Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The scores I want to hear, heighten emotions at the right moments, but never overpower the story being told on screen. Let’s look at how the above succeeded…
First up, How To Train Your Dragon. On Aug. 26th, I named this the best score of the year so far – and honestly, this easily remains my favourite of last year. I find it beautiful and amazingly well-rounded. It possesses a real power even in quieter moments, and composer John Powell successfully creates a definite musical fingerprint for the world of this film. The themes of the score have a celtic and classical feel, yet still manage to feel contemporary at the same time. While as of now it looks like The King’s Speech may sweep the Oscars, if I had a ballot there would be no doubt I’d be checking this one off.
The score for Inception is all about power. And Hans Zimmer does this really well. Driven by strong ostinato this is a tense score with both a classic and hard electronic sound – a juxtaposition matching the strange dream world of Inception. When the main theme practically stops and is taken over by a concert piano, there is no doubt it connected its audience to the film. There was a time when this score had more of a chance, but while it is a great piece of work, I don’t think I see it winning, although one never knows for sure until the envelope is opened.
The King’s Speech is a quiet film, and has an equally low-key score. The use of ostinato as the king struggles with his speech is very fitting, and when the score does break through, we are both familiar with, and enjoy hearing the main theme. The only thing in terms of voting, is that during the powerful final scenes, it is Beethoven’s music that is most memorable and not Desplat’s (not complaining – it worked brilliantly). Still, Desplat’s main theme is memorable as well, and his original music matches the time and setting of the film perfectly, and like everything else in this film, I wouldn’t change a thing. If this one does take home the award, it would be a deserving win.
A.R. Rahman’s score for 127 Hours is an example of one that is great in the film, but it’s personally not my favourite to listen to on its own. The whole score is very strange and disjointed, although the fact that it evokes the feeling of being trapped in the middle of a hot desert is probably a good thing. What’s odd is, I don’t mean that it feels like that in a bad way – it’s a very interesting score to hear overall, although personally, I don’t think this will garner a win like Rahman’s work for Slumdog Millionaire.
Next is the winner of the Golden Globe – The Social Network. At times it sounds like an old video game track (complete with an electronic version of Edvard Grieg’s ‘In The Hall of the Mountain King’ mixed in – which admittedly works quite well in the film), and at other times like a DJ scratching records. The main theme most people remember is the vibrating electronic sound in the background with the few piano notes playing over – although hearing this for four minutes straight drives me a little mad… It is definitely an interesting score to a very good film, although half the time I don’t know what to make of it and certainly wouldn’t call it the best of last year. It keeps the film moving and works there, but other than that I personally like something with a little bit more to it. With the lineup we have, I would be disappointed if this wins.
Who will win: Leaning towards The King’s Speech, but ultimately I feel this is one too close to call…
The nominees for Best Original Song are:
“Coming Home” from Country Strong – Music & Lyrics by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges & Hillary Lindsey
“I See the Light” from Tangled – Music by Alan Menken; Lyrics by Glenn Slater
“If I Rise” from 127 Hours – Music by A.R. Rahman; Lyrics by Dido & Rollo Armstrong
“We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3 – Music & Lyrics by Randy Newman
The best songs fit the film – sometimes telling part of the story through their words, and at other times evoking more of a feeling of the scene than anything else. Some work best in the context of the film and some have great replay value on their own. Here are my thoughts on the four songs nominated this year…
First, sung by Gwyneth Paltrow in Country Strong, is the song ‘Coming Home.’ This one has a pop-country feel and is actually quite a good song. This was the first time I really paid attention to it, and it is sung well, the tune is lyrical and has strong (yet predictable) key changes throughout. Like the rest in this lineup, this is worthy of its nom, and if the two animation contenders cancel each other out, I wouldn’t necessarily discount this one just yet.
Next: I really liked ‘I See The Light’ in Tangled. It feels very classic, and plays during one of the most beautiful scenes in the film. In a wise choice, Disney opted to just put this song forward, despite other worthy contenders from the film, to prevent more than one nomination canceling each other out. So it has at least a couple of things in its favour. This is a romantic lyrical piece sung by the film’s two leads (Mandy Moore & Zachery Levi), and marks composer Alen Menken’s 19th nomination. Considering its strength context-wise and music-wise, this could be the winner come Sunday.
Then there’s 127 Hours’ entry into the mix. I wasn’t too keen on ‘If I Rise’ hearing it before the film, but when it plays in the theatre it is a powerful underscoring device. Like the rest of the score, it is interesting to hear, but in terms of the other songs competing for this award, this wouldn’t get my mark on the ballot. Put simply, like in the score category, I don’t think this will garner a repeat of the win Rahman received for his excellent 2008 entry ‘Jai Ho.’
Last but not least: Rounding out his work on the trilogy, ‘We Belong Together’ sums up the themes of Toy Story 3 in an instant, and is classic Randy Newman. Very upbeat and fun to listen to, it is one that coupled with the nostalgia factor has a very strong chance. Randy Newman’s 20th nomination here, this one could easily take the Oscar come Sunday, but only time will tell…
Who will win: At this point I’ll wager a guess on ‘We Belong Together’