Saturday, February 2, 2013

2012 Oscars: Song and Score

As usual this year has some easy picks, and as usual there are some out-of-left field picks, and as usual many of the more popular songs were left by the wayside.

How all of the original music from Django Unchained got ignore, I'll never know or understand. But at least with Skyfall we get a nominee that was a commercial pop success for the first time in several years.

And sorry, but I was just too lazy to embed or link to any of these songs. Do it yourself, I'm not your mother.

Best Song Nominees
"Before My Time" - Chasing Ice
"Everybody Needs A Best Friend" - Ted
"Pi's Lullaby" - Life of Pi
"Skyfall" - Skyfall
"Suddenly" - Les Miserables

5. "Suddenly"

Aside from the fact that the song wasn't necessary to the film, and aside from the fact that this is clearly just another stage musical that adds an original song likely for the sole purpose of garnering this very Oscar nomination, this song just isn't very good. It wasn't memorable, it wasn't necessary, and it wasn't exactly Hugh Jackman's finest moment in the film. It shouldn't be here.

4. "Everybody Needs A Best Friend"

It's a fun enough song, and Norah Jones is always nice to listen to, but this song doesn't really do anything new or different or unique compared to the songs Randy Newman has already won Oscars for, except perhaps with a more tongue-in-cheek approach to the lyrics.

3. "Before My Time"

This is the one film I wasn't able to see, but for this category that isn't always necessary. Simply put, it's a really lovely song, a sort of lament, that seems to go well thematically with a documentary about glacial melting.

2. "Skyfall"

I know this is probably going to win, and that's okay. It's nice to see a song so closely associated with a film become to popular - that used to be a regular occurrence up until around the beginning of last decade. And look, Adele is great and everyone would love to see her win another award, but let's face it: the song is built on pre-existing musical motifs and occasionally nonsensical lyrics. It's a pleasant thing to listen to, and I like it a lot, but objectively it's not exactly a great song.

1. "Pi's Lullaby"

I never would have thought to nominate this song, and it's probably only here because it got swept in with some greater love for the movie it's from and a desire to show some diversity with an ethnic sound rather than the merits of the song itself. But you know what? It's a really cool song. It's seamless integrated into the film's score at times, and the lyrics are actually really insightful when you think about what the movie is really about:

"are you the peacock or the plumage of the peacock?are you the cuckoo or the cry of the cuckoo?are you the moon or the light of the moon?are you the eyelashes, or the dream?are you the flower or the nectar?are you the fruit or the sweetness?"
It really is a lullaby of sorts, and the questions it asks drive straight to the heart of the movie - what are we dealing with? The truth? Or something that is a shadow of the truth? Reality, or our sensation and perception of reality? 
Should win: "Pi's Lullaby"Will win: "Skyfall"Should have been nominated: "Who Were We" from Holy Motors, "Who Did That to You" from Django Unchained, or almost any other original song from that movie. Also one of the songs from Brave would have been nice to see here. Possibly "Song of the Lonely Mountain" from The Hobbit.
Best Score NomineesAnna Karenina - Dario MarianelliArgo - Alexandre DesplatLife of Pi - Mychael DannaLincoln - John WilliamsSkyfall - Thomas Newman
5. Anna Karenina
Dario Marinelli tries to recreate the magic of his Atonement score with a few more intergrated sound effects into the music (rubber stamps and actors playing instruments, etc.) but aside from a few cues, the score here never really does anything that interesting. It works for the film, sure, and it has some nice Russian-inspired instrumentation and themes, but it's more serviceable than anything else.
4. Argo
When I saw this nomination, I scratched my head trying to even remember the music from Argo. Then I went and listened to the score and found it fairly interesting, noticed some truly beautiful musical moments, and thought that it was something new and different from Desplat's other work. Unfortunately, it's not that new from music that other composers have already written for other film set in and around the Middle East - most of the time it just seems like cookie-cutter Arabian-sounding thriller fare.
3. Skyfall
Thomas Newman is one of my favorite composers and it's a crime that he's gone 0-10 at the Oscars so far in his career. But while he definitely elevates action film music Skyfall to a new level with his signature sounds - unique chord progressions, that crystal clear oboe - at the end of the day, much of it remains typical and let's not forget that he still obligingly draws heavily on the James Bond theme and sound that already exists in everyone's mind. That's not a criticism, mind you - it should be somewhat typical because we go into a Bond movie expecting some degree of familiarity. But it's hardly the best work of the year.
2. Life of Pi
Beautiful work here, and nearly ceaselessly playing during the film. The music really helps tell the story. It is delicate and fascinating. My main problem is that eventually it all sort of sounds repetitive and similar. It would be a completely deserving winner, don't get me wrong, it just doesn't consistently get to me on a gut level. At time it is transcendant, but falls short too often for me to pick it. 
1. Lincoln
I almost didn't even notice the music when I first saw Lincoln. John Williams shows great restraint, frequently letting the music work underneath the images and dialogue, slowly, subtly, but necessary and present nonetheless, almost never drawing attention to itself. The folksy fiddle tunes are wonderful comic relief and do wonders for the scenes in which they are used, the few "themes" are not over used, nor especially catchy - and that's a good thing. The music stays with you, but it doesn't get stuck in your head. And near the end of "The Peterson House and Finale" - essentially a suite summarizing the whole score - I still get chills when the music swells and reminds me of the triumph the movie celebrates (the passage of the 13th Amendment), as well as the triumph the movie is. Some have complained the score sounds like a little too typically John Williams, not exactly his most innovative stuff.  And sure, it's not as radical as his scores for Prisoner of Azkaban, Memoirs of a Geisha, or Tintin, but classic John Williams is still better than 95% of the scores out there. 
Should win: LincolnWill win: Life of PiShould have been nominated: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Cloud Atlas

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