On to the musical categories of the 2011 Oscars. 2010 turned out to be a great year for music in film. The Best Score categories has names both familiar and new and even new/familiar in the fact that Trent Reznor represents the growing trend to bring in musicians known best outside of the film community to score films.
Music is vital to the mood of a film and good music captures that mood with the intention of amplifying those subsequent emotions to the audience. When a film makes us feel tense, the music aims to make it ten times more intense. Each of these scores and songs truly express their films and only one song comes from a film that wasn’t critically praised. I’ve linked to tracks on YouTube for you to draw your own conclusions.
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
- Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross – “The Social Network”
- Alexandre Desplat – “The King’s Speech”
- Hans Zimmer – “Inception”
- A.R. Rahman – “127 Hours”
- John Powell – “How to Train Your Dragon”
It never hurts to re-state the importance of a score. Try watching a film with dead silence in the background (nothing but dialogue and natural sounds) the entire time. You’d constantly be thinking what the hell is wrong with this movie? And these names are some of the best. Hans Zimmer is one of the most established film composers and even his protege John Powell made the list.
Then there’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. While some of these other soundtracks do experiment with electronic, none are as abstract as this one. The duo’s soundtrack for “The Social Network” has claimed most of the awards including the Golden Globe and must be considered a frontrunner. I recommend checking out tracks “Hand Covers Bruise” and “A Familiar Taste” for the best sampling of that sound. “Bruise” is one of those really simple tracks that you forget while watching the film, but upon hearing it again you remember it completely. That’s the sign of good work.
There was some controversy over Alexandre Desplat’s nomination because of some reported use of classical music themes, which is the reason Clint Mansell is not nominated for “Black Swan,” a score that otherwise would’ve likely won the Oscar. Regardless, Desplat does some of the finest orchestral scoring out there which explains how prolific he’s become. He’s best known for piano and string composition and the title track “The King’s Speech” best exemplifies it. With the number of awesome and/or avant garde soundtracks being nominated this year, however, Desplat will likely take a backseat.
A.R. Rahman burst onto the scene at the 2009 Academy Awards sweeping both musical categories for “Slumdog Millionaire.” He does some great work in “127 Hours” but doesn’t quite have the buzz on his side this time. Still, “A Touch of Sun” has some great acoustic guitar work and “Liberation” is a rhythmic and exciting track.
If classic soaring film scores are your thing, John Powell’s “How to Train Your Dragon” is a thing of awesome beauty. The English composer finally gets an Oscar nod after terrific work on the “Shrek” and all three “Bourne” soundtracks. You can hear his Hans Zimmer influences (loud, low brass pulses), but it’s the variety of sounds and use of Celtic instruments that make this score fly high. Check out “Test Drive” and the mallet-driven “Forbidden Friendship.”
Then there’s Hans Zimmer, the all-time great and eight-time Oscar nominee (with one win for “The Lion King” of all films). His “Inception” score might be one of his best — and is certainly his most-mocked on the Internet. It no doubt strengthens Nolan’s already great film and would warrant a statuette. The most popular tracks are theme track “Dream is Collapsing” and the soaring end track “Time,” but give “Mombasa” a listen too — one of the best on the OST.
In the end, however, I think the Academy is going to jump at the chance to award something more abstract to someone who is a known commodity in the music world. Even if Zimmer’s at the top of his game, hard to imagine “The Social Network” losing the hype. However, I do like John Powell for an upset if I were more of a risk-taker.
Prediction: “The Social Network”
Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song
- “We Belong Together” by Randy Newman from “Toy Story 3″
- “I See the Light” by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater from “Tangled”
- “If I Rise” by Dido, Rollo Armstrong and A.R. Rahman from “127 Hours”
- “Coming Home” by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey from “Country Strong”
Other than “Coming Home,” the other three songs and composers have a history at the Academy Awards.
Randy Newman received his 20th, that’s right, 20th Oscar nomination with “We Belong Together,” which ran during the credits of “Toy Story 3.” It’s hard not to love the song with all the nostalgia attached to it and the fact that it capped off an amazing film trilogy. It’s also much catchier and more likable than some of his other Pixar/Disney efforts. Newman’s one win for a generically friendship-themed song in a Disney movie came in 2002 for “Monster’s Inc.” with the song “If I Didn’t Have You,” compensation for losing twice before when “When She Loved Me” lost to Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be In My Heart” and when “You Got A Friend In Me” got snuffed by “Colors of the Wind” back in the day. Considering the other more interesting options, I don’t see a reason to go to Randy again here.
Disney could trump Disney again this year, or specifically Menken could do what he did to Newman back in 1996. Alan Menken’s “I See the Light” from “Tangled” is a gorgeous song with classic Menken Disney attributes that makes you yearn for the ’90s hand-drawn classics, specifically “A Whole New World.” Making it different, however, is a much folkier acoustic sound, which the Academy has honored quite a lot the last few years with last year’s “The Weary Kind” and “Falling Slowly” coming to mind. ” It’s much more subdued and one of Menken’s best, certainly of late. Speaking of, “Falling Slowly” beat out three of Menken’s nominated songs for “Enchanted” in 2008.
Menken has a whopping eight Oscars, four Original Score and four Original Song, both paired together for films “Pocahontas,” “Aladdin,” “Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” He has not won in 15 years and that’s got to be appealing to voters. It would also be of big help to Disney. I imagine many ’90s Disney fans dismissed “Tangled” as too modern and many might visit it knowing it has a song this terrific.
“If I Rise” from Dido and A.R. Rahman is the most non-traditional, to say the least. A song like this hasn’t won the Oscar since Annie Lennox and Howard Shore’s “Into the West” from “The Lord of the Rings.” It’s got some lovely orchestration, but it’s not in the vein of most typical winners.
That brings us to “Coming Home.” I think I heard somewhere that Chris Martin had some involvement in the production of this music although he didn’t write it. The beginning feels very Coldplay. Well anyway, the music is very power ballad-like yet simply sung with a Country twang and lyrics that depict a Country version of home, if that makes sense.
It’s also important to note that the Academy is also interested in the role a song plays in the film. This hurts a film in which it simply plays in the credits, yet if that song embodies the spirit of the film, that’s what matters most.