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The 84th Academy Awards: A Look at the Song & Score Nominees

February 26, 2012

By Erin V.

With the 84th Academy Awards being announced tonight, I wanted to give my brief thoughts on the two categories I’m always watching.  Best Original Song and Best Original Score.  Enjoy!  

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The nominees for Best Original Score are:

The Adventures of Tintin – John Williams

The Artist – Ludovic Bource

Hugo – Howard Shore

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Alberto Iglesias

War Horse – John Williams

While everyone I’m sure has their favourites, the above is a solid line-up this year.  I’ll just give you my brief thoughts on each below:

First up, The Adventures of Tintin.  This, to me, is quite possibly my favourite of the year.  I plan on putting up a full review of the soundtrack to coincide with the DVD’s release in a couple of weeks, but I’ll give you my brief thoughts on this score now.  I’ve seen the film twice in theatres, as well as heard the music on my own, and I must say, John William’s score for The Adventures of Tintin is so fresh and fun feeling, with it’s quick notes and bouncy themes that are interwoven throughout.  When you hear the last track on the CD, ‘The Adventure Continues’ – a piece I consider one of the best single tracks of the year – it is the perfect culmination of everything that came before and some of the best recent adventure music.  If I had a ballot, I would be checking this one off without hesitation.  That being said, I would love to see it win tonight – although it seems to be The Artist’s award to lose.

Next is the winner of the Golden Globe – The Artist.  The score for Michel Hazanavicius’ silent film has to carry the movie – and it does.  When you hear the character George Valentin’s (Jean DuJardin) theme, for me it sums up the light and classic feel of parts of the film, while the opening overture shows us the sweeping qualities it also sometimes possess.  Essentially, from it’s lighter to darker tones, relative newcomer Ludovic Bource does a good job with the music he wrote for the film.  He strikes a careful balance of complimenting the action without becoming too cloying or clichéd.  Certainly a silent film needs a score worth listening to, and it is found here.  This is the frontrunner to win tonight.

Then comes Hugo.  A sweeping, magical score with overt french undertones, Howard Shore’s work here fills out the wonderful film about the title boy who lives in a paris train station winding the clocks.  The film celebrates classic cinema, and the whole score is so quiet and fitting, you can’t help loving it along with the film.  Very well written and classic sounding, I would keep an eye on this one as it may be able to pull an upset from The Artist tonight.

Then there’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  Composer Alberto Iglesias provides the cold war thriller with a quiet yet suspenseful underscoring.  There is a lot of strings and piano here – going with an effective simpler feel, rather than being a big orchestra score, this is one that focuses on a few key instruments at a time.  It is deserving of it’s nomination, but I don’t see it winning.

Last, is War Horse, the score that won at the IFMCA.  It also happens to be John Williams other entry into the field (besides Tintin).  This is a very classic John Williams score.  While a very good score, at times even having a slight celtic feel which I like, I found in the film it to not be as strong as some of the other contenders, with the main theme – featured prevalently in the trailers – to appear too overtly noticeable while watching for my tastes.  Still, in such scenes as the one where Joey (the horse) runs through no-man’s-land, the score is effective.  I like it’s themes, although it is often [especially] during the misjudged moments of humour in the film that it loses me.

Who will win: Most likely… The Artist

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The nominees for Best Original Song are:

“Man or Muppet” from The Muppets – music and lyrics by Bret McKenzie

“Real in Rio” from Rio – music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown, lyrics by Siedah Garrett

I must take note of the obvious.  Strangely there are only two nominations in this category this year.  Last year there were four, other years there have been three or five, but never two.  Putting only two songs seems to me like an insult to the other composers of great songs this year (and there were many), as though saying that their work was not even good enough to garner a nomination!  You look at the song body of work this year and there were enough songs there to fill out not only three spots, but easily five and still not recognize everything.  I sincerely hope that this is not the Academy’s way of heading towards abolishing the Best Original Song category, because songs do have as much merit for an award at the Oscars as scores.

First in the category, is one of the many songs from The Muppets that helped to elevate the film and tell the story -  Man or Muppet.  It is not just the song’s progressions that make this a great piece, but also the words which, albeit a little silly, are so well written here.  The song is performed as a perfect duet by Jason Siegal’s character Gary, and his muppet brother Walter.  Overall, The Muppets is a film that utilizes music intrinsically as a storytelling device.  In fact, it is often the songs not score that provide the backdrop/set pieces for major turning points.  It is for this reason that I was surprised that another song from this film didn’t find it’s way into the category.  Pictures in My Head anyone?

Then there’s Rio’s entry into the mix.  Now, there were many great songs from Rio, but is was Real in Rio that made the cut.  The song is sung by the birds in the film, and the track starts off with simple whistling, mixing with a Samba beat, as it builds into a wonderful performance.  The use of beats and whistles throughout the track is nothing short of brilliant.  As it cycles through the styles of the different characters, the track builds and builds.  Like The Muppets, Rio was another film this year that used music (and in particular songs) to tell it’s story.  And this song just sums up the whole film in feel.  It could win – and would deserve to, but Man or Muppet could easily edge it out in this tight race.

Unfortunately, songs don’t seem to be taken as seriously as score, often dismissed as merely an excuse to put a popular artist into a film.  But when done well, whether sung/written by a smaller or more well-known artist, a song can hit just the right emotional moment, either over a pivotal scene, or by summing up the feeling of the entire film over the end credits.  Song and score are similar but different crafts, both with merit, and I hope they are recognized as such.  Best Song does have a place at the Oscars.

Who will win: Right now I’d have to say… Man or Muppet

Hope you enjoyed this article – have fun watching the Oscars tonight!

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