Tuesday, January 10, 2017

OVP: Original Score (2007)

OVP: Best Original Score (2007)

The Nominees Were...

Dario Marianelli, Atonement
Alberto Iglesias, The Kite Runner
James Newton Howard, Michael Clayton
Michael Giacchino, Ratatouille
Marco Beltrami, 3:10 to Yuma

My Thoughts: Hmm...it's always weird in a modern Academy Awards to look at a list of scores and not see John Williams name.  I mean, isn't that kind of what you're looking for in almost every lineup-it's like using Susan Lucci as an entry point into a Daytime Emmys acting year.  Since he's not here, though, I think it's worth noting that a few of these scores, are well, not that memorable at the outset.  However, scores occasionally work extremely well even if they don't have the instantly iconic stature of Jaws and Star Wars, and quite frankly, it's a strong reminder of what their actual purpose is-not necessarily to be excellent standalone music (though they should do that as well), but to serve as a guide and moving tribute to the film that they are accompanying.

This is surely the case with a film like Michael Clayton, which feels, just looking at it up-top, like a default nominee.  After all, James Newton Howard always makes the cut (though sadly he's never actually won an Oscar, one of those default nominees that I suspect the Academy doesn't realize they've never properly honored).  The score has the slow, deliberate feel of the movie-frequently it falls into a percussive crescendo, picking up with the action, but doesn't do so in the traditional way you'd expect from a thriller, relying on new sounds and being atypical enough that it keeps you on your toes over whether or not the film will head into the direction you expect.  Unlike a lot of big-name composers, here Howard doesn't become a character in the film, but just keeps the movie humming along with an occasional piano interlude-it's surprisingly effective, and default or not, this was a savvy choice by the Academy.

Marco Beltrami with 3:10 to Yuma doesn't hit the same level of effectiveness with his score to the western remake.  While I do admire some of the attempts to modernize the western canon (the heightened strings work, in particular, is lovely), we're all just in Ennio Morricone's shadow at this point, aren't we?  And unlike the acting, Beltrami doesn't really add anything here.  At it's best, he's paying homage to composers before him, and at his worst, it's kind of forgettable.  That doesn't mean it's not good music (it is), but it's largely western work that we've heard before-the strumming of a guitar to invite doom-it's cliched in a western that largely finds ways to escape its own cliches otherwise.

I have long been a fan of the inventive work of Michael Giacchino, and this might be his finest cinematic score to date (Lost remains his magnum opus, in my opinion, in terms of overall music).  While Up has one central brilliant composition that is next to a number of other relatively good pieces, Ratatouille feels like a full concert of wonderful music, excellently situated next to the action of the movie (I don't like when scores outdo their sources).  The score manages to combine a typical Parisian styling to almost every scene, which is tough when you have to score mice on the run, but Giacchino finds the personality of the film and never over or under does the work behind the screen.  It's fabulous stuff in an underrated Pixar entry.

Dario Marianelli wins the prize this year for the most inventive tie-in with a movie.  The opening sounds of "Briony," which accompanies a crucial early scene in the film, are on a typewriter, which would end up being the undoing of our two main protagonists in Atonement.  The sense of urgency that pours from this is not only wonderfully against the type of what we're expecting from this movie (it looks, at first, to simply be a costume drama between two beautiful Brits) but is also instantly recognizable and memorable, a rare feat for a movie.  The film continues to play at this theme throughout, but also finds ways to incorporate low strings to maximum effect.  I don't know if I should shame the Academy for not nominating Benjamin Wallfisch or just deduct from Marianelli's chances with the famed Beach at Dunkirk scene featuring music not composed by Marianelli (a rarity for the Oscars that they would let such a thing take place), but that debit aside, this is pretty picture perfect.

The final score is for The Kite Runner, which as a stand-alone piece actually works fine.  The film incorporates elements of Afghan music into the score alongside more traditional movements you'd expect from a film of this nature (fast moving in the action sequences, low strings when it's sad, etc)-you get a quick idea as to why the Academy nominated it.  But the film itself has such turbulence in the way it treats its characters that the score doesn't remotely jive with the movie I was watching.  I felt like when the main character should feel shame, we were getting songs of hope, and the score occasionally became too much of a character itself, trying to fill in the gaps of the script.  This is a personal pet peeve of mine; a score should add to the plot or perhaps provide bridges when needed, but it should never be a substitute for it, something that continually happens in The Kite Runner.  As a result, I was pretty down on this as a nominee-lovely music is one thing, but it needs to fit the movie and aid the movie, which this never seems to do.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Grammys eligibility window for the best film score nomination occasionally leaves different nominees from opposing years, so we have two different years representing nominees from 2007: Ratotuille won at the 50th Grammy Awards against a slate of entirely 2006 entries in terms of Oscar, while only There Will Be Blood (ruled ineligible by the Oscars) would compete the following year, this time against entirely nominees from 2008-the Grammys clearly didn't care for the films of 2007 all that much, as I don't recall a moment like this happening before where only two films from a calendar year got nominated.  The Globes have to stick to the same calendar year as Oscar, however, so there we saw both Atonement (which won) and The Kite Runner succeed in getting cited alongside Grace is Gone (a Clint Eastwood score for a movie that he didn't direct or star in, a first for him), Into the Wild, and Eastern Promises.  BAFTA also went with The Kite Runner and Atonement, but picked There Will Be Blood, American Gangster, and the victorious La Vie en Rose as their nominees.  Honestly, in terms of sixth place, I have no idea-part of me wonders if it was a name that wasn't in Oscar's hat with There Will Be Blood ineligible (like Alexandre Desplat's The Golden Compass or Alan Menken's Enchanted) as none of these also-rans from other precursors really feel like they're in Oscar's wheelhouse.
Films I Would Have Nominated: I don't really care what made Jonny Greenwood's haunting, vibrant score to There Will Be Blood ineligible-excusing it from this race, particularly a race where Oscar had some room to grow, is unforgivable.  It's still shockingly modern, and Greenwood has done some marvelous things in Paul Thomas Anderson movies since.  Alexandre Desplat's marvelous creation in Lust, Caution is a thing of dangerous beauty, and better than most of the scores the Academy has nominated him for in the years since (I love him too, but I feel like Oscar gets it wrong with him more than right in terms of when they have a choice for that year between the 10,000 scores he seems to produce).  I also love what Nick Cave and Warren Ellis did with the western trope in The Assassination of Jesse James, a worthier selection than 3:10 to Yuma.
Oscar’s Choice: I honestly doubt anyone even came close to besting Marianelli-he feels like the only "winner" of this bunch.  Maybe Giacchino in second?
My Choice: My vote is also for Marianelli-Oscar and pretty much everyone involved got that one right from the start-a wonderfully iconic bit of music.  Follow that with Michael Clayton, Ratatouille, 3:10 to Yuma, and The Kite Runner way in the back.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Are you with the consensus of Atonement or would you have preferred say, the cooking rats of Paris or the Australian cowboy?  Anyone else still mad Jonny Greenwood missed here?  And what was your overall favorite score of 2007?  Share your thoughts below!

Past Best Score Contests: 20082009, 2010201120122013, 2014

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