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With Oscar nominations just days away, I must admit this is a weird year for me. First, I feel somewhat less engaged than normal. The earlier nominations (they are announced two weeks earlier than they used to be) mean that I’ve seen fewer of the contenders. Perhaps I’m paying a bit less attention. Maybe I haven’t found anything to champion. But this year it’s not for a lack of good movies but because many of the ones I liked are getting plenty of awards chatter.

But surely there will be a few things that would excite me on Thursday morning.

oblivion

1) Let Oblivion get nominated for something. In particular I have M83’s fantastic score in mind. The film’s end credit song, naturally called “Oblivion,” is eligible in the Best Original Song category and would be a good choice in a year of lackluster choices. A nod in the Visual Effects category would be well-deserved too. In other words, I’m hoping for an Original Score nod but would take the others as consolation prizes.

isaac llewyn davis2) I’m worried Inside Llewyn Davis is turning out to be the contender that will be just on the outside. If anything is going to get edged out in some big categories (Picture, Director, Actor, Original Screenplay), this seems to be the one. It’s not a movie I immediately loved, but it’s sticking to my bones and that’s usually a sign of a film that I grow to love. I hope Oscar Isaac sneaks into the Best Actor lineup.

louis dreyfus gandolfini enough said3) Some love for Enough Said would be wonderful. I was the Golden Grouch detractor on Nicole Holofcener’s last film, Please Give, but I was totally on board with this one. James Gandolfini has received due praise (though I can’t help but think his death is playing a role in that) but Julia Louis-Dreyfus is a revelation. It seems extremely doubtful that she’ll claim a nod but she’s at the top of my list so far. A Gandolfini Supporting Actor nomination or one for Holofcener’s Original Screenplay would be excellent.

gatsby lana4) I don’t think it’ll have much trouble getting them, but some craft nominations for The Great Gatsby would be nice to see. Production Design would be at the top of my list. Meanwhile, the film contributes my favorite of the Best Song contenders, Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful,” which has the added benefit of having a killer placement in the film. “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” from – gasp! – Fergie would also be a decent choice.

 

 

broken circle breakdown5) It’s not exactly a fair wish as I haven’t seen the other films on the shortlist, but I’m hoping for a Best Foreign Language nomination for The Broken Circle Breakdown. It doesn’t always work, but the parts that do pack some of the most powerful punches in 2013 cinema.

So that’s my list. In two weeks when I’ve finally caught up with the likes of Fruitvale Station, Wolf of Wall Street, Her, and Nebraska I’ll probably have a lot more to add. I’ll look back at this prior version of myself who contentedly set his hopes low and pity him once I know better. But for now I’m an easy man to please.

Here’s a quick round-up of what we think should win tonight. Follow along to see what Oscar gets right! (Hint: use the “John” column)

Jared John
Picture Argo Django Unchained
Director Spielberg Lee
Actress Lawrence Chastain
Actor Day-Lewis Day-Lewis
Supporting Actress Hathaway Hathaway
Supporting Actor Waltz Hoffman
Original Screenplay Flight Flight
Adapted Screenplay Argo Argo
Animated Feature Wreck-It Ralph Brave
Animated Short Paperman
Cinematography Lincoln Anna Karenina
Costume Mirror Mirror
Film Editing Argo
Makeup and Hairstyling Les Miserables
Production Design Anna Karenina
Score Life of Pi
Song Skyfall Skyfall
Sound Editing Django Unchained
Sound Mixing Les Miserables
Visual Effects Life of Pi

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Original Song

The nominees are:

  • “Before My Time,” Chasing Ice (Scarlett Johansson)
  • “Everybody Needs a Best Friend,” Ted (Norah Jones)
  • “Pi’s Lullaby,” Life of Pi (Bombay Jayashri)
  • “Skyfall,” Skyfall (Adele)
  • “Suddenly,” Les Miserables (Hugh Jackman)

Jared

For all my hate of Les Miserables, there actually is some good (maybe even great) music in there. “Suddenly” is not that. There are a few exciting measures around the “Trusting me the way you do/I’m so afraid of failing you” bit, but the rest feels like a poor man’s imitation of a lesser Muppet song or something. John and I were talking about the problems with Jackman’s speak-singing, and I think some of those are manifested in the song, in that the music isn’t terribly interesting to begin with, and since Jackman isn’t going all out, the song ends up pretty boring.

Maybe it is because I first came across the song on YouTube, but “Before My Time” sounds exactly like it should be played over the end credits. Always gently moving forward, it presumably allows for some mild reflection as it provides the soundtrack for your exit. Somber and inoffensive, I’ll completely forget this song in 15 minutes.

So, my listens of “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” are probably colored by two other things I’ve been listening to lately. Norah Jones’s “Miriam” (thanks Ian!) is a murder ballad that, frankly, makes me terribly frightened of the chanteuse. But she’s so good on it, I keep wanting to hear a sinister undertone to this song. Which is on me, I know. And then yesterday I listened to Emmy Rossum’s new album of standards. Anyway, where I’m at is that “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” is a perfectly fine throwback to the olden days, and one of the reasons I’m cautiously optimistic about Seth MacFarlane hosting the show. The song is an earnest attempt at a standard, but I’d argue is hampered by its timidness. MacFarlane can be quite clever, but the lyrics lack a hook or spark that I heard in some of the stuff on Rossum’s album. Granted, it is a bit much to ask an Oscar nominee to be a classic, but the point still holds.

I have to admit that the first three or four or times I listened to “Pi’s Lullaby”, it felt inconsequential. But then something finally clicked. Especially once the main theme kicks in around a minute and a half into the song. I think the key is to think “lullaby”. Danna creates a dreamy, almost lush, sound that is light and effervescent, playful and calming.

adele

But obviously it was always going to be “Skyfall”. Obviously it sounds exactly like what you’d expect an Adele Bond theme song to sound like. But that’s OK, because I’d expect an Adele Bond theme to be amazing. You know, I’ve spent the past ten minutes trying to figure out how to reconcile this song with the rest of the Bond movie (which I’d argue save for the opening sequence, the plot point cribbed from The World is Not Enough, and maaybe the last five minutes, isn’t really a Bond film). I think it was too easy for this collaboration to happen, it would have been more difficult to come up with a different plan. And while everything about this is on the nose, again, that doesn’t make it bad.

John

I enjoy the Original Song category, but damned if it isn’t frustrating. Some years there’s a crappy crop of songs and the Academy dutifully nominates a crappy slate. Then other years there are a number of good and compelling songs… and the Academy nominates a bunch of crappy songs. At least this year they are nominating five unlike last year’s debacle. This was a decent year and if you made a playlist of the eligible tunes you’d be sure to find many you like. So it’s too bad this year’s list of nominated songs is so bland.

There’s a clear winner. Thankfully, it’s also a darn good song used to good effect in its film and not just the best of a weak crop. And that winner is “Skyfall.” Adele was made to sing a Bond song, don’t you think?

“Pi’s Lullaby” is the only other nominee I like and it’s sort of an unmemorable Indian chant tune. “Chasing Ice” and “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” are totally bland. “Suddenly” is not helped by Hugh Jackman’s heavily-emoted singing and it sounds pretty bad out of context. I might say maybe it would be better if it was recorded in studio, but it just isn’t a very good song.

So what should have been here? I don’t know how both of the folksy tunes from Brave, “Learn Me Right” (Mumford and Sons” and “Touch the Sky,” missed here. The latter is even part of a neat early scene in the film. For some hip hop, check out “100 Black Coffins” from Django Unchained. “He’s Everything” (Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah) from gospel choir movie Joyful Noise and “Let It Rain” (Badly Drawn Boy) from Being Flynn are two longshot favorites of mine.

Best Original Score

The nominees are:

  • Dario Marianelli, Anna Karenina
  • Alexandre Desplat, Argo
  • Mychael Danna, Life of Pi
  • John Williams, Lincoln
  • Thomas Newman, Skyfall

John

We have a nice slate of Original Score nominees and there isn’t an obvious winner. I’d say Anna Karenina and Life of Pi are the only two nominees whose scores truly caught my attention during the film. Joe Wright always lines up some interesting music for his films. Marianelli’s previous contribution to a Wright film in Atonement won him a well-deserved Oscar and check out last year’s Hanna for a pulsating score from the Chemical Brothers. The Anna Karenina score doesn’t have quite the gusto of Atonement, but it is a great complement to the film’s inventive scenes. Life of Pi works better in the film than on its own. Without the stunning visual displays it feels a bit incomplete but it is a vital part of the film as a whole.

Every year there always seems to be one understated nominee in this category and Argo fits the bill this year. Good music with interesting Middle Eastern twinges to some of the compositions, but not particularly memorable.

Finally, there are the brash nominees. Williams leaves no doubt that he is scoring a Spielberg film and sometimes Lincoln is suffocated in swells of music that hammer home every emotional beat. But the woodwind motifs make it feel like an instant classic (or is it so derivative of previous Williams compositions that it just feels like a classic?). Finally, Skyfall is in your face, loud, and thrilling. It’s probably the best of the bunch when listening to it on its own.

Mychael Danna

Mychael Danna

So which to choose? Is it better to lean towards the work that I simply like the best or is its use in the film most important? It’s a very close race for me between Life of Pi, Skyfall, and Lincoln. At any given point my mind may change, but for now I lean towards Life of Pi. It doesn’t quite hold up to the other two as standalone compositions, but it’s so successful in the context of the film and essential to the film.

Should have been here: Aside from Les Miserables, the only soundtrack that has received numerous replays from me this year is Brave with its Scottish folk compositions. It can be overbearing, but the music in Cloud Atlas sometimes feels like a separate character while the pulsing music from Beasts of the Southern Wild perfectly punctuate a few great scenes, particularly at the end. And I’m not sure if it was eligible, but Johnny Greenwood gives Paul Thomas Anderson another brilliant, off-kilter composition for The Master.

Best Sound Editing

The nominees are:

  • Arog
  • Django Unchained
  • Life of Pi
  • Skyfall
  • Zero Dark Thirty

Best Sound Mixing

The nominees are:

  • Argo
  • Les Miserables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Skyfall

John

I’m no expert on the subject, but I usually have some sort of opinion on the sound categories. But I look at these nominees and I’ve got nothing. The mixture of Western and blacksploitation styles in Django Unchained gets my vote for Sound Editing. That film wasn’t nominated in Mixing, so I’ll switch allegiance to Les Miserables. I didn’t think the live singing always worked as a stylistic choice, but it did always feel realistic and gave the mixers an extra challenge to properly balance the vocals, backing music, and effects. Plus bonus points for the extra-loud, extra-gross sound of Jalvert’s body slamming into the stones below while committing suicide!

 

The Impossible: Not nominated but memorable

The Impossible: Not nominated but memorable

Last year I made a comment that action movies do not have realistic sounds and compared the digital clangs in Transformers to the terrifying noises produced by tsunami footage found online and in last year’s Documentary Short nominee The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom. I said an action movie should try some more realistic sounds and one actually did this year, with a tsunami to boot! The Impossible‘s tsunami scenes expertly use sound to terrify the audience. The relentless pounding of the current displays the awesome power of the sea. The groans, cracks, and crunches of debris feel deadly and not just digital creations. Then the film does all the above while underwater to bring home the utter chaos of it all. This is immersive, thrilling, and terrifying work.

Nominations are less than a day away! Time to put our forecasting mettle to the test and see if we can’t pick the nominees. Jared and I did all non-short categories and Brian joined us for the big six. I’ve highlighted in yellow where we differ.

Check back tomorrow to see how we did!

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Over the past two weeks we’ve been revealing our choices for most of the Oscar categories. Here is a handy recap of those picks! Refer to this page often during tonight’s telecast to see if you should be agreeing with the winners! (Hint: use the “John” column)

Adam Brian Jared John
Picture Hugo The Artist Midnight in Paris
Director Allen Scorsese Havanavicius Malick
Actress Mara Mara Williams Streep
Actor Dujardin Dujardin Dujardin Oldman
Supporting Actress Bejo Bejo Spencer Chastain
Supporting Actor Hill Nolte Branagh Plummer
Original Screenplay Midnight in Paris Margin Call The Artist Midnight in Paris
Adapted Screenplay Hugo The Descendants Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Art Direction Midnight in Paris Hugo Hugo Hugo
Cinematography The Tree of Life Hugo The Tree of Life The Tree of Life
Costume Anonymous Jane Eyre
Film Editing Hugo Moneyball The Descendants
Makeup Harry Potter The Iron Lady Harry Potter The Iron Lady
Score The Artist The Adventures of Tintin
Song The Muppets The Muppets The Muppets
Sound Editing Transformers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Transformers Drive
Sound Mixing Transformers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Transformers Transformers
Visual Effects Transformers Rise of the Planet of the Apes Harry Potter Transformers
Animated Short A Morning Stroll A Morning Stroll A Morning Stroll Wild Life
Live Action Short Time Freak Time Freak
Documentary Short Saving Face The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

This time we are going to talk about Score.

Music (Original Score)

The nominees are:

  • The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams
  • The Artist, Ludovic Bource
  • Hugo, Howard Shore
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias
  • War Horse, John Williams

BRIAN

I enjoyed many of the scores that came out this year and am generally pleased with this crop of nominees. I’d have liked for there to have been room for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ work on The Social Network was stronger, but their collaboration was a good match for Lisbeth Salander’s detached perserverance. Other good scores: X-Men: First Class and Super 8. (I’m a sucker for Michael Giacchino’s work)

On to the nominees (with an interesting note — only the film names are included on the ballot, not the composers):

John Williams for Tin Tin and War Horse: Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Tin Tin, so my knowledge of this score comes solely from YouTube audio streams. I’m guessing if I saw it I’d have stronger feelings, but what I heard didn’t sound very adventurous or exciting. Williams’ composition for War Horse was one of the high points of the much-maligned (unnecessarily, honestly) film. He transposed an Irish jig tune into a moving theme that popped up throughout the movie. It’s not Williams’ fault that the movie itself was overlong and melodramatic, but the score fit the tone well.

Howard Shore for Hugo. I loved this movie for many reasons, and Shore’s score helps it along. But where Williams’ War Horse succeeds by infusing what the audience knows (an Irish motif) with something new, Shore’s Hugo fails by being too close to the cliched Parisian cafe tones. The multiple train station characters were enough of a reminder of what I loved about Amelie — the music made it just too much.

Alberto Iglesias for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: This nominee is probably my least favorite of the bunch, though my criticisms of it are also the same I have of the movie itself: too plodding and sparse, not enough tension. Giving it a 2nd and 3rd listen don’t bring back any visceral memories of watching the film — no specific memories or callbacks. A good score should at least do that.

And my pick for winner, which I think will be the Academy’s as well, is Ludovic Bource’s phenomenal work for The Artist  Just consider how much heavy lifting the score had to do to keep the action moving. There were at least 2 or 3 distinct reoccurring themes that had as much personality as the characters each represented. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to mock Kim Novak for her bizarre tirade against Bource’s sampling of Bernard Hermann’s Vertigo. The absurdity of it makes me think that she may be mentally ill, so I won’t dwell on it or mock Novak for it, but the homage was far from “rape.” I thought it was a great wink-and-nudge for the film buffs in the audience. The Artist gets pretty bleak in parts, and theVertigo score was used well. Now if it had been used in The Hangover Part II, then maybe Novak would have something to stand on.

JOHN

Original Score is an interesting category because who I want to win and who should win are a bit different. The best of the nominees is John Williams for The Adventures of Tintin. It’s the right amount of playfulness for the fun motion-captured/animated adventure flick and it’s consistently complementary without overwhelming the rest of the film. That’s not the case with Williams’s other nomination, for War Horse. That score is more quintessentially Williams and overbearing. That dude knows how to hammer home a swell in the music and it becomes way too much.

But Williams already has five Oscars and this is a fairly insular branch. It’s good for everyone to spread the love around a bit in this category. I would probably vote for Alberto Iglesias’s work in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a string-heavy, understated yet tension-building work. I think The Artist will win and I wonder if that’s partly because there’s just so much music. The score is the dialogue and is therefore very noticeable. But is any of it really memorable? Don’t get me wrong, it complements the film well and has a nice period-appropriate style. I just hope voters have the right motives.

I’ve heard a lot of good music in movies this year, even if they didn’t always qualify as original scores for the Oscars. The Tree of Life uses music marvelously though much of it was not original to the film. Other great uses of music include the electronic scores in Hanna and Attack the Block and the colder but still terrific Contagion and Drive. Music went a long way to establishing the disturbing atmospheres of Shame and The Skin I Live In.

We’re going to go ahead and knock out all the sonic categories today. They happen to be some of the favorite niche categories of several Grouches.

Best Original Song

Your nominees:

  • “Coming Home” from Country Strong
  • “I See the Light” from Tangled
  • “If I Rise” from 127 Hours
  • “We Belong Together” from Toy Story 3

John bemoans the state of the category:

This is such a bland group of nominees. It was a bland slate of eligible titles this year, so much so that I didn’t even bother with my annual look at this category. Usually there are a couple big names eligible in the category and a few songs I really like that come out of nowhere. And then the Academy will nominate a bunch of songs I’m mostly ambivalent about. This year didn’t have many I actively disliked, but also few really stood out. I don’t anticipate any getting listens after this Oscar season.

And yet this set of nominees still puzzles me. Only four songs got the nod, meaning only those four received scores high enough to be deemed worthy of nomination. It’s no big tragedy that any particular song didn’t get in and it wouldn’t bother me if these four had just happened to rise to the top. But it amazes me that the music branch decided it would rather forgo a fifth nominee than nominate one of the other choices. This crop gets nominations but nothing from Burlesque is even good enough to qualify for a nod??

The only one I dislike is “If I Rise,” which is almost not even a song. It’s about as low-key as music can be, with just enough lyrics to constitute a song and not a chant. I concede it works well over end credits and it’s an effective counterbalance to AR Rahman’s pulsating score through much of the film. The Dido parts aren’t bad, particularly in the beginning, but they feel out of place with the bizarre elements of the rest of the song.

The rest are all generic genre tunes to my ear. “Coming Home” is a bland pop country song that’s devoid of good hooks and is too reptitive. The bizarre thing is that there is a good song from Country Strong. It’s even called “Country Strong.” But it’s not original to the movie! Go figure.

“We Belong Together” is a nice enough ditty, but I defy you to tell it apart from any other Randy Newman contribution to a Pixar film. That leaves “I See the Light,” which is my winner by default. Again, fine enough musical number but I can’t say it had much impact. Disney purposefully only submitted this song to increase its chances at a nomination/win. I’d say there are songs that I like better from Tangled, but at least this one is thematically resonant.

Snubs: Of the weak eligible slate, the Burlesque songs really do stand out. I would have nominated them all and given “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” and given it the win, albeit without a ton of enthusiasm. I also have a small soft spot for Avril Lavigne’s “Alice” from Alice in Wonderland. She really shows off her pipes.

Jared sees things similarly

“If I Rise” is the kind of breathy atmospheric song that is instantly forgettable.  Rahman is clearly better served going big and bold.  And I’ve always viewed Dido’s successes as more plaintive numbers.  It is going to be interesting to see Florence – The Machine tackle the song on Oscar night, even if I’m not yet convinced she can salvage it.

“Coming Home” probably isn’t as good as “Country Strong”.  Either way, the titles hint at the largely generic tunes populating this movie.  “Coming Home” is the type of soaring, chorus-less song that does not exist outside of movies.  And I’m not entirely certain why the Academy insists on continuing to recognize its ilk.

Randy Newman can crank out movie songs in his sleep at this point.  I won’t go for the obvious joke there because I don’t think “We Belong Together” is that bad.  Even if the title conjures superior Mariah Carey and Pat Benatar songs.  This one, however, is pretty decent montage-y type of song.  It doesn’t have a strong presence, and tends to fade into the background at bits, but it has some decent parts to remind you it is still there.

But “I See the Light” is the only legitimate song of the bunch.  Now, OK, perhaps I was always going to liked a song sung by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi.  I think Moore is an underrated singer.  I probably listened to “I Could Break Your Heart Every Day of the Week” daily for about a month at one point.  And most of you probably know that I have a weak spot for celebrities who dabble in singing.  So when I heard Chuck was singing on an Oscar-contending song, I mean, I was sold.  The song has its own merits.  I found myself humming the song a few times after listening to it, including a couple of times while writing this post.  I mean, yeah, it feels like a traditional Disney song in a lot of ways.  But groundbreaking songs aren’t really the Academy’s thing.  The song is pleasantly uplifting, and that’s going to be enough to take the category for me.

Best Original Score

The nominees:

  • John Powell, How to Train Your Dragon
  • Hans Zimmer, Inception
  • Alexadre Desplat, The King’s Speech
  • A.R. Rahman, 127 Hours
  • Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network

John takes this one:

Score is one of those categories where I’m never sure what I’m going to like. Some music transports me back to a film I enjoyed. Some work great in the context of the movie. Some are wonderful on their own. I’m not sure any characteristic stands out for me. Atonement had wonderful music that stood on its own; Up was less of a good stand alone listen but terrific as a transport back to the film’s rich emotion. This year it’s a bit of all of the above.

When I think of the 127 Hours music, I think of a throbbing score. But most of the pieces are much more subdued. The slower stuff clearly didn’t make much of an impact, while I’m not sure I ever really got into the more up tempo music. It is a compelling artistic choice for a film about a guy stuck in a canyon.

I don’t have anything to say about How to Train Your Dragon except that if I heard it without context, I would suspect its a film score. The potential of a sweep for The King’s Speech has fans particularly annoyed in this category, but Desplat delivers a score I quite enjoy. It works very well in the film and it’s good even on its own. The repeated piano motif is nice.

I love the score from The Social Network and it complements the film beautifully. The electronic music and repeated six distinct notes reinforce the film’s themes. But it’s less fun listening to it on its own so I’m going for the bombast and BRAAAAAAAAAH! Inception‘s score just heightens its already considerable bad assery. It’s big and dramatic, fun and brash.

That said, two of my favorite scores were ineligible this year due to their reliance on preexisting work: Clint Mansell for Black Swan and Carter Burwell for True Grit, which probably would have received my vote if it were nominated.

Snubs: I really enjoyed director Sylvain Chomet’s score to The Illusionist and Rachel Portman’s orchestral accompaniment to Never Let Me Go.

Sound

There are two sound categories. Sound Editing is sound effects. Sound Mixing is the mix of all sonic elements: dialogue, music, ADR, and effects.

The nominees for Sound Editing are Inception, Toy Story 3, Tron: Legacy, True Grit, and Unstoppable.

For Sound Mixing: Inception, The King’s Speech, Salt, The Social Network, and True Grit.

Jared talks Editing:

I’m nowhere near observant or knowledgeable enough about sound editing and mixing, so I’ll abstain, even though I’ve seen eight of the ten nominees (and Salt is waiting for me at home).  But I wanted to take a minute to highlight the most unlikely Oscar nominee, Unstoppable.  I saw the film on the plane to Vegas on this trip out, so it is fresh in my mind.  I’ll save my thoughts on the film for elsewhere.  But it was generally exciting.  And considering the dialogue and characters were uniformly useless and the visuals fairly rote, I’m going to go ahead and say that by process of elimination, the sound must have played a key role in my appreciation of the film.

John talks Mixing:

I just happen to have seen all the nominees here. I can’t say I can really judge a mix that well, but I’ll point out that The King’s Speech seems like an odd choice for a sound category. What kind of audio landscape is this? Most of the scenes have two characters talking in a room with whimsical music playing in the background.

The Social Network probably has the most noticeably-mixed scene of the year with its nightclub scene. Cranking up the techno music to nearly drown out the conversation is an interesting choice. And maybe I’m falling into the more = better trap, but I’ll choose Inception for the same reason I’ll choose it in a lot of categories: there’s so much going on that the technicians who make it coherent deserve some recognition.

Oscar nominations arrive Tuesday, January 25. To prepare, we’re giving you our sharpest insight and predictions. Our last topic: what are you most hoping will happen tomorrow? If you’re reading this Tuesday, give your favorite Grouch a high five or a supportive pat on the back, depending on what happens.

Brian: Reznor needs to score

Only in the fantastical world of the Oscars would it be possible for a nominee to be just on the edge of being recognized yet should it get nominated, be a favorite for win. That’s the general consensus around Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for The Social Network. Having already won the Golden Globe for Best Score, you’d think this is a shoo-in. But you’d be wrong. It’s rather astonishing and remarkable that such a simple series of 6 notes could be so evocative. Listening to it while writing this post, I could visualize so much of the film in my head. Like Sorkin and Fincher’s portrayal of Zuckerberg, the score is isolating and contemplative, not to mention brilliant.

Honorable mention: Please Give for Best Original Screenplay. My hobby horse for the year — great storytelling with subtle character development. More to come from me on this one.

John: A Duvall-less Oscars would make me Low

I didn’t have a pet cause this season until right at the last minute. That cause is Get Low, a delightful and touching drama with a nice comedic streak. Robert Duvall gives a wonderful, subtle performance. He’s on the bubble for a Best Actor nomination and I’m rooting hard for him. (I also hold out very small hope for Bill Murray.)

On some smaller notes, I’m rooting for Eddie Vedder to finally land a Best Song nod, this time for “Better Days” from Eat, Pray, Love. It’s actually not a very good song, but… Eddie Vedder! Cmon!

Finally, I just want an out of left field surprise (provided it doesn’t push out a favorite of mine) and/or some better-than-expected love for some smaller films like Another Year.

Jared: Snub Hawkes and I’ll have a Bone to pick with the Academy

I think the other Grouches will agree that this year it is difficult to find too much to root for, nomination-wise.  Films and performances I loved are either safely in the club or so far off the radar that there’s really no chance at all to pick up a nomination.

Still, what fun is this if you can’t root for something?  When I first heard a few months ago someone suggesting that John Hawkes could nab an Oscar nomination, I laughed it off, thinking the person was probably just a huge Winter’s Bone fan forgetting the crush of performances that would enter the fray come Oscar season.  And Hawkes almost didn’t factor into awards season.  Except for getting a SAG nomination.  Which has to establish him as a viable contender, given the frequent overlap between the SAGs and the Oscars.  Hawkes’s role may not be as showy as Bale’s, on the nose as Renner’s, or have the screen time of Rush’s, but his performance is incredibly memorable nonetheless.  Yeah, it would be nice to give someone his first nomination and share some indie love.  But more than that, it’d be nice to recognize a performance that I believe really is one of the best of the year, name recognition be damned.

(As a side note, I’m not hoping for Hawkes as the expense of Ruffalo.  And the thing that would conceivably make me the happiest is a screenplay nom for How to Train Your Dragon, but that seems a little more remote.)

We’re finishing off our look at the smaller categories today with a look at the ones that we care to talk about.

Original Song

The nominees, with videos so that you may listen:

  • “Almost There” Princess and the Frog, Music and lyric by Randy Newman
  • “Down in New Orleans” Princess and the Frog, Music and lyric by Randy Newman
  • “Loin de Paname” Paris 36, Music by Reinhardt Wagner and lyric by Frank Thomas
  • “Take it All” Nine, Music and lyric by Maury Yeston
  • “The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” Crazy Heart, Music and lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

Jared starts us off:

Randy Newman has written many smart, catchy songs for film and for his albums.  “Down in New Orleans” is an example of some of the dreck he’s also come up with.  Reminds me of that bit from Family Guy about Randy Newman singing what he sees (couldn’t find video, but here’s the audio).

“Loin de Paname” was a surprise nominee, but having heard the song, it totally makes sense.  Because it is basically “La Vie en Rose”.  Except they say “Paris” a lot.  New rule of thumb for picking Oscar song nominees: If it sounds like it could play over a Sabrina-like character finding herself in Paris montage, it is probably going to get a nomination.

“Almost There” sounds almost exactly like I’d expect a song from a Disney animated to sound.  Fits right in with the throwback feel the studio was going for with the movie.  Anika Noni Rose does a lovely job with the song, but to me, the tune is lacking soul.  It is a fine song, but doesn’t have that extra oomph to really make it memorable.

Since Oscar voters get to see the context in which the songs appear in their respective films, it is no wonder that “Take It All” received a nomination.  Heck, I’d probably consider some Nickelback if it got Marion Cotillard to strip.  But really, it is an average burlesque number, and Cotillard isn’t nearly bold enough a singer to cover for the song’s lack of originality.

So yeah, no surprise that “The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” is the class of the bunch.  Haunting and at time soul-wrenching, it is a pretty little number that perhaps raised my expectations for the film a little too high.  There was absolutely space to use the song in a much more striking fashion, like in many other areas, the film fell short.  Still, a great song used to good effect in the film.  A worthy nominee and hopefully more.

But John sets him straight

I like this slate of original songs. Of course if I had made the nominees they would be substantially different, but it’s a good mix of seriously good songs, contenders, and a completely from left field entry. The song category is good for these outlier nominees and it keeps it interesting even if I don’t always agree.

That outlier is “Loin de Paname.” To me it’s a nondescript French tune, as if someone set out to write a song that was stereotypically French complete with accordion.

“Almost There” is too simplistic for my tastes. Too much of the lyrics simply repeat the title. I think the music is fine.

“This Is It” didn’t strike me as particularly noteworthy when first listening to the eligible songs. It starts alluring and ends dramatic, so I could sort of see the appeal. But I totally understand after watching Nine where this number is easily the best scene in the film. It works in a way that the rest of the movie does not so the song’s inclusion here makes a lot more sense. On its own I think it’s still only okay, but at least now I can picture the film while it’s playing.

The final two songs are terrific. Jared’s dismissal of “Down in New Orleans” is disappointing. I really dig this jazzy tune. It has some catchy lyrics and a more complex structure than “Almost There.” Part of the key is listening to the version sung by Dr. John that comes early in the film rather than the Anika Noni Rose version, which is split between a prologue and epilogue. I’m always tickled by the way Dr. John croons “They got music,  it’s always playin’/ start in the day time, go allllllll through the night.”

The winner of course is “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart. It’s heartfelt and beautiful and fits the tone of the film perfectly. I also appreciate the song’s role in the film itself. If anything it’s problem is that it’s so much better than everything else in the film! With this song playing over the trailer I expected some great music going into the film, just to be disappointed when every other Bad Blake song is bland mainstream country.

Snubs: I’ve had two songs stuck in my head the most this season along with “The Weary Kind.” One is “Help Yourself” from Up in the Air which was deemed ineligible. But I hear this song and I am transported right back to the film’s powerful atmosphere.

And the other – would it be weird to say? – was the Sinead O’Connor end credits track to The Young Victoria, Only You.” The combination of her breathy voice and a catchy hook and chorus combo completely draw me in.

And of course I was hoping for a Karen O entry from Where the Wild Things Are because she’s so great.

Original Score

The nominees:

  • James Horner, Avatar
  • Alexandre Desplat, Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, The Hurt Locker
  • Hans Zimmer, Sherlock Holmes
  • Michael Giacchino, Up

Brian lets us in on his musical brilliance:

So I write this as a guy who would consider buying satellite radio for the sole purposes of listening to Cinemagic — the movie score channel — all the time. Movie scores are grossly underappreciated, I think, and are the equivalent of the concertos and symphonies written by the musical masters of the 19th century. So I go into this category with pretty high expectations and a healthy dose of snobbery. A couple of caveats and qualifiers: I haven’t seen two of these films in theaters, so I’m judging based on what I can listen to online and my favorite composers (James Newton Howard, Michael Newman, and Philip Glass) aren’t up for awards this year — which is a good thing because I’m going through this with an open mind. Lastly, had Marvin Hamlisch been nominated for The Informant, he would have won my vote.

In order of least favorite to favorite, with only really one disappointing score among them:

James Horner — Avatar

In my Lock That Shouldnt Be post, i wrote about how I really wished that Horner would get ignored, but that was not meant to be. I’m generally disinclined to like any score that uses choirs as heavily as Horner does in Avatar. If I wanted to hear falsettos chanting unintelligbly, I’d go to the opera or buy a CD of Gregorian chants. Using the Carmina Burana has become so cliched that composers like Horner just try and mimic it with middling success. A moaning chorus is a hallmark of bad action movies. A great score sets the tone of what is happening on the screen and when standing on its own, should be evocative of the same emotions as the movie — but Horner bolds, underlines, italicizes his notes too much. I have the same problems with the score that I had with the movie — bombastic, bludgeoning and too in love with itself to uncover the subtle emotions within.

Marco Beltralmi – Hurt Locker

Here’s the first of four scores that I would definitely want to hear on Cinemagic. Taking a cue from Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores, the score underscores Jeremy Renner’s “go it alone” manner. The bomb detonation squad is almost like the classic Eastwood cowboy — they’re the ones who have to face danger head on in the hot desert while the rest of the town (army) waits until the coast is clear. Heck, there’s even a shootout in The Hurt Locker. Beltraimi infuses the heavy metal music preferred by Renner’s SGT James into the score in a much more effective use of that music than what was done in, say, The Messenger — where it was merely a cliched example of how Ben Foster’s character is coping with the war. It’s really great score and I think a textbook example of how a score can improve a movie.

Hans Zimmer — Sherlock Holmes and Alexandre Desplat — Fantastic Mr. Fox

Here are the two films I didn’t see — so I feel somewhat unqualified to give them a full appraisal, but I really love what I’ve heard so far. Zimmer is one of the most prolific composers out there — so he’s done his share of forgettable and memorable scores in the past. While this isn’t as good as his work for The Dark Knight, which may be one of my favorite scores of the past 10 years, it ranks up there with the Pirates of the Caribbean in terms of catchiness and ability to stand on its own as a musical composition. It’s so good, that it even makes me want to go see the movie whereas before I’d probably have been happy to let it slide.

As for Desplat’s Mr. Fox — it too is another score that makes me want to see the film from another veteran on a hot streak. His score for The Queen was a significant contributor to how much I liked that movie, and I can hear shades of it in the Mr. Fox themes. It’s light, playful — the staccato strings liven up a breezy mood — one that I hope is dominant in the film itself.

Michael Giacchino — Up

This may be my second favorite Pixar score — falling behind The Incredibles which, surprise surprise, was also composed by Giacchino. The versatile 8-note motif comes up over and over again, but in totally different styles and in different situations. You hear it during the heart-warming prologue, the momentous occasion when the house lifts into the air, during the climactic chase scene with the dogs. And its been stuck in my head for days at a time, and I couldn’t be happier for it. It’s such a joyful theme that is a great start to making my best scores list of the 2010s. It’s my pick for this year in what amounts to a very talented group. Do doo do dooo….do doo do dooo….

And John makes his points, albeit less artfully:

There are some neat pieces in The Hurt Locker score if you listen to them on their own. They are interesting and very good. The rest of the tracks are sort of generic tension-building soundtrack music. But I just watched the film again and I still barely noticed the music – and I was listening for it!

The music for Fantastic Mr. Fox is playful and not a bad listen. But it also doesn’t grab me and the most successful music in the film are the pop songs, not the score. I haven’t seen Sherlock Holmes but I dig the the score. I don’t know how you compose the score for Sherlock Holmes and say, “You know what this needs? Fiddles and banjos!” And it works.

There are two clear front runners for me. One I got a bit more pleasure out of while watching the film, the other I think is better on its own. It’s a tough choice between the two and maybe I’ll change my mind a few times before the show tonight.

The Avatar score made a huge impact on me during the film. Brian dislikes the choral use but I eat that stuff up. Two scenes that stand out to me as especially enhanced by music are Jake’s first flight on an ikran and when the Na’vi try to save Grace at Hometree. That music struck me as very powerful. And the bombastic score during the climax and as it fades to credits? Wonderful.

Was I humming the tune as I left the theater? No. But the music was absolutely part of my thoughts on my walk home, and I can’t say I’ve ever really learned a film’s music enough after one viewing to be able to hum it. So I listened to the soundtrack several times in subsequent days. It’s a good listen, but outside the context of the movie it’s not quite as noteworthy.

I’m giving the edge to Up because I think it holds up a bit better on its own and because, when I listen to it, I’m transported back to the film and how it made me feel. All of it is just so integral part of that wonderful film as it weaves its motifs into different scenes and tones. But while same themes appear again and again, they’re used differently enough to not feel repetitive. And, of course, the music is very lovely.

Animated Feature

The nominees:

  • Coraline
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • The Princess and the Frog
  • The Secret of Kells
  • Up

John chimes in on this one:

I’m really thrilled this category got expanded to five films this year. It was a good year for animation. Furthermore, I’m quite happy that middling efforts from big studios like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Monsters vs Aliens were left off in favor of some more interesting films. There is a clear winner here, but any Academy member that took the time to watch these films surely had a great time.

Except when they watched Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is too self-consciously quirky for its own good. Wes Anderson is too beholden to his style at this point that he fails to tell a coherent story that we care about. I did not find Anderson’s ruminations on modern ennui to work in a film about foxes. Even the stop-motion animation wore out its welcome by the end.

The Secret of Kells looks fantastic with the most distinct visual style of the nominees. It’s a hand-drawn film, full of bright colors and a playful use of perspective. The music is also wonderful. I found the story to be a chore to get through, however.

The Princess and the Frog is a nice return to form for Disney hand-drawn animation. It’s funny, sweet, musically catchy, and beautifully drawn. I think it tried to do too much with its story and themes; the thing has about a half dozen lessons. A really nice film.

Coraline is seriously creepy. It even creeped me out a bit and I’m twice as old as the target audience. I love the way it looks, particularly its use of contrast between darkness and bright colors. Again there are some story elements that left me a little cold.

And naturally my winner is Up. It just has the whole package from great writing to beautiful animation. It’s not just a great animated film but a great film.

Snubs: I was hoping that if Cloudy wasn’t going to make it in that Mary and Max or 9 would instead.

The Rest

None of us wrote about the sound categories because we are neither knowledgeable nor interested enough to do so. We also didn’t see enough films to comment on Art Direction, even though that’s one of my favorite technical categories. One quick observation on it though: Nine had to be nominated for its use of its stage set for its musical numbers, right? None of the real world sets are particularly interesting. But neither is the stage set- it’s just simple and used in mildly imaginative ways. A nomination for building scaffolding. Wonderful.

And Visual Effects is a cakewalk for Avatar, but I recently saw District 9 again and was reminded how terrific the special effects are in that film. The aliens, the weapons, and the main character’s metamorphosis from human to alien are all stunning.

Well this morning the Official Mistress of the Golden Grouches (c), Anne Hathaway, announced the nominations — and there were few surprises among the acting nods, a couple shockers in the Best Picture, but overall things went according to plan. Nonetheless, we still pulled together our thoughts for a short post.

Brian: My biggest disappointment is that with Penelope Cruz’ nomination, I now have to see Nine, something that I had been avoiding doing. No real desire to see it at all, but it can’t be nearly as bad as Lovely Bones, which fortunately, did indeed garner Stanley Tucci a nomination. It would have been tragic had we had to sit through that dreck for no reason whatsoever.

With the best pictures, I was quite happy to see District 9 get the nod there and in screenplay — I held out hope for director until getting slapped in the face by Lee Daniels name being read. As Jared says below, Blind Side is the only real WTF here, and even that it’s rather pointless since it has no shot at winning. This batch of nominations also has me quite excited to see A Serious Man when it comes out on DVD next week.

Other thoughts: disappointed that Damon got nominated for the wrong role and left Molina in the dust. Happy to see Moore get snubbed for A Single Man as her role was more or less the same as Susan Sarandon’s in Lovely Bones and was less funny. I had forgotten all about In the Loop until John started his well-deserved campaign for it, and I’m happy that John got something to gloat about. By far my biggest disappointment though was Marvin Hamlisch getting crapola for The Informant. His score was such an integral character in the great movie that it deserved to win the award, not just the nod.

Looking forward to stewing over these races in the “should win” discussions — especially the screenplays. Lots to ponder. And I think the 10 films for best picture was a wild success — good job…academy?

Adam: Editor’s Note: Adam did not submit anything so I wrote it for him. Inglorious Basterds: Yay. If only It’s Complicated were nominated, then I could make fun of Brian more. I’ll find other ways.

Jared, via iPhone in the DFW airport: Most surprising to me is the relative lack of true surprises. There were some, of course, but I’d guess most Oscar prognosticators did pretty well, especially if they stayed conservative.

People will hate on The Blind Side, and sure, it probably isn’t a top ten film. However, in my opinion it is miles better than Crazy Heart, Invictus, and The Messenger, all of which now appear to have been viable contenders. Like, it just isn’t close at all. So while I would have preferred Star Trek, The Hangover, or In The Loop, I can settle for the middle ground.

I’ve heard people claim this is the wrong year for ten nominees. But you know what? This a very strong lineup, and for me, stacks up against much of this decade’s best picture groups. And really, assuming the expansion got District 9 and Up into the group, I’m fully prepared to call it a success.

I’m a little surprised we didn’t see something crazy in Supporting Actress. Sorta seems like the Academy threw its collective hands in the air and gave up. There was definitely room for another film to have made a play here. No Basterds is a surprise, I guess, but there seemed a very unWeinstein-like unfocused campaign.

Finally, the screenplay categories were a general success. My efforts to not jinx them went mostly rewarded. In the Loop getting a nomination is such a good thing. But, of course, the one nomination I really really wanted to see, (500) Days of Summer, missed. Probably at the hands of The Messenger, which I interpret as a direct, intentional, personal slap in my face.

John: Before going to bed last night I nearly made a quick post amending my earlier “biggest hopes” declarations. But I decided not to and both of those hopes came true!

I had been surprised at the amount of In the Loop predictions prognosticators were making yesterday, which gave me hope for an Adapted Screenplay nomination, whereas before I thought of it as only a longshot. But then it happened! It was my big fist pump moment of the morning. It really has made my day.

My other hope was that Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs would get left off the Animated Feature slate in favor of some of the more interesting films that came out this year. When Coraline was announced first (nominees are announced alphabetically) it was obvious this wish had come true and it was fun to see what would take its spot. The Secret of Kells is an interesting choice, although not the one I would make.

A few other quick thoughts:

  • A boring slate of acting nominees. Very by the numbers. Penelope Cruz was a surprise, but only because her long-presumed nomination seemed derailed by Nine‘s failure.
  • No Avatar in Original Screenplay. Not a problem for most of the Grouches, but interesting that such a juggernaut would miss. 500 Days of Summer also missed and that had seemed like the indie that would break out in a writing category. I suspect not being in the picture for Best Picture hurt it.
  • Hooray for Invictus not making Best Picture even though it appears to be supplanted by the awful The Blind Side.
  • No Makeup nod for District 9 despite the film’s heavy use of prosthetics. Instead the aging makeup for Il Divo and the hairstyles of The Young Victoria get in, along side Star Trek.
  • No Score nod for The Informant! excludes that gem of a film completely.
  • I’m generally happy with the Best Song slate. Thankfully “See You” from Avatar was left off.
May 2017
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