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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.

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Like you could live on nomination day without my thoughts on this year’s crop of Original Songs!

Rather than writing a small blurb on each of eligible songs this year (there are only so many adjectives for “bland”) I thought I’d pretend to be a part of the Music branch and nominate as if I had a ballot.

63 songs qualified this year. Voters screen three minute clips of each eligible song as it appears in the movie. I understand the idea since you’d ideally like to consider the song as a piece of a film. But clips have the effect of taking the song out of context – undermining their effect – and undervaluing final credits songs. A good final credits song can be perfect for a film as you sit and contemplate what you’ve just seen; think last year’s title track from The Wrestler. That’s lost in a clip screening like this.

Voters give each song a score between 6 and 10 with half votes allowed. A song must average an 8.25 score to qualify for nomination; there is no further guidance for what each score should mean. I take it to mean I should score 8.5 or above any song I think is worth of nomination.

The Best

“The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart: 10. Sort of the point of the entire film.

“Smoke Without Fire” from An Education: 10. I love Duffy’s smoky voice. Could be hurt by its placement on the end credits even though it’s perfect there.

Depression Era” from That Evening Sun: 10. Nice, stripped down, folksy tune from Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers fame.

Down in New Orleans” from The Princess and the Frog: 9.5. Terrifically catchy bluesy song from Dr. John. Best of the film.

Only You” from The Young Victoria: 9.5. I have a terrific soft spot for Sinead O’Connor.

Hideaway” and “All Is Love” from Where the Wild Things Are: 9 and 9. I love me some Karen O and I love me some non-professional choir singers.

The Good

Somebody Else” from Crazy Heart: 8. Jeff Bridges pulls out his twangy country singing voice.

When You Find Me” from Adam: 8.5. There’s literally nothing interesting about Joshua Radin but the duet here makes it work.

“Fly Farm Blues” from It Might Get Loud: 9. I love Jack White and I love the idea that a song he was challenged to create in ten minutes for a documentary could get nominated. Polish up the vocals and this is awesome.

The Other Contenders

You Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger” from An Education: 7. Lounge-y. Not for me.

Cinema Italiano” from Nine: 8. Kind of not good but also kind of appealing, at least when it gets fast. A lot of film lingo in the lyrics, which is funny.

Take it All” from Nine: 7.5. Marion Cotillard can sing.

(I Want to) Come Home” from Everybody’s Fine: 7. Bland Paul McCartney.

The other songs from The Princess and the Frog aren’t as good as “Down in New Orleans.” “Almost There” (7) is a likely nominee but too simplistic after a nice intro. “Ma Belle Evangeline” (7.5) is admittedly the best love song I’ve ever heard a Cajun firefly sing. “Never Knew I Needed” (6.5) is the Ne-Yo song I never knew I needed.

The Funny

Dove of Peace” from Bruno: 7. Fake celebrity benefit song gets an extra .5 since it’d be funny performed on the Oscar telecast

Stu’s Song” from The Hangover: 8.5. Amusing!

Other Father Song” from Coraline: 8. Crazy short! Yes that’s the whole thing. The problem with short catchy songs is they get stuck in your head.

Petey’s Song” from Fantastic Mr Fox: 7. Even Jarvis Cocker is sub-par in this movie. Wouldn’t mind seeing a nice banjo tune on the telecast though

The Schmaltzy

I See You” from Avatar: 6. No. Even worse than “My Heart Will Go On.”

Invictus 9,000 Days” and “Colorblind” from Invictus: 6.5 and 6. No and no. “Colorblind” may be the worst of the bunch. And god, so literal! Perfect for a Clint Eastwood film.

Winter” from Brothers: 6. U2 makes schmaltzy crap? Who knew! And again so literal!

God Bless Us Everyone” from Disney’s A Christmas Carol: 8.5. Maybe it’s just Andrea Bocelli’s voice but I think this could make a nice standard Christmas carol.

The Different

I Bring What I Love” from Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love: 6. Youssou Ndour wrote a song for a documentary about himself?

Innocent Child” and “Let Freedom Reign” from Skin: 6.5 and 7. A little bit better African music

Loin de Paname” from Paris 36: 6.5. The winner of a “make a song that sounds French” contest. Yes there are accordians.

Un Boquete de Violettes” from New York, I Love You: 7.5. Opera. Kinda of bizarre especially after Paris, je t’aime had such a great song.

“We Are the Children of the World” and “We Love Violence” from The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus: 6.5 and 7. I can’t say it better than New York Magazine: “We Are the Children of the World” is a mockery of celebrity charity, sung by urchins at a glittery A-list benefit. “We Love Violence” is a rowdy celebration of police brutality shouted out by vicious police officers, who conclude their ditty with spectacular flatulence.

The Hannah Montana

Hannah Montana The Movie qualified five songs just to torment me. Let’s get this over with

Back to Tennessee“: 6. Nice they let Billy Ray have a song. Awful.

Butterfly Fly Away“: 6. Awful.

Don’t Walk Away“: 6. Awful.

You’ll Always Find Your Way Back Home“: 6. Awful.

“Hoedown Throwdown”: 7. This is a square dance rap. Yes, you read that right. It goes into the “so awful it’s kind of catchy” territory! SO BAD YOU MUST WATCH! BOOM BOOM CLAP!

The Awful

The Word is Love” from Oy Vey! My Son is Gay!: 6. If I didn’t know better I’d say this is a joke video. Also features a horrifying Bruce Vilanch.

New Divide” from Transformers 2: 6. Transformers + Linkin Park = awful.

Possibility” from New Moon: 6. I can’t get over how bad this song is. I don’t know who you are Lykke Li, but you are on notice.

Na Na” from Couples Retreat: 6.5. What AR Rahman does after winning his Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire.

Blanco” from Fast and Furious: 6.5. To be fair reggaeton can only be so good.

One Day” from Post Grad: 6. Jack Savoretti wishes he was Jack Johnson. So that he could be mediocre instead of awful.

AyAyAyAy” from The Maid: 6. I don’t do slow hispanic tunes.

Legendary” from Tyson: 6. Bad Nas song.

“Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea” from Ponyo: 6. Available in Japanese and English (the latter with a little Jonas and a little Cyrus!). Monumentally irritating!

The Boring

Raining Sunshine” from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: 6.5. Is Miranda Cosgrove ever not boring?

Being Bad” from Duplicity: 6.5. Is this a cha-cha?

Forget Me” from I Love You, Beth Cooper: 6.5. Acoustic version is a little better.

“My One and Only” from My One and Only: 6.5. Did you know Kevin and Bacon and Renee Zellweger did a movie together this year? Anyway, lounge-y and bad.

“Brothers in Arms” from Brothers at War: 6. I had been wondering what the guy from Five for Fighting was up to. Or not. Whatever.

Here” from Shrink: 6. I like Jackson Browne but this is a snoozer.

If You’re Wondering” from The Lightkeeper: 6.5. Yet another female crooner.

Through the Trees” from Jennifer’s Body: 6.5. This band, Low Shoulder, has a future entertaining teens and irritating me.

“Trust Me” from The Informant!: 6. More crooning. Still love the movie.’

“You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Old Dogs: 6.5. Bryan Adams needs to go away.

The Ineligible But I Wish They Weren’t!

I Can See in Color” from Precious: 9.5. Mary J Blige brings it!

Help Yourself” from Up in the Air: 9.5. Sad Brad brings it! Whoever he is. Good song but it also works very well in the film.

Final Tally

That’s 58 of the 63 songs reviewed; the others I couldn’t find. Average score: 6.9. Yikes! I rated eleven 8.5 or higher, indicative of being worthy of nomination in my eyes. Now what bland, derivative songs will the Academy choose?

Oscar nominations will be announced on January 22. We’re counting down to the big day by tackling some tough questions and spouting some mad opinions. Today’s topic: We tend to look at what we call the big eight categories in picture, director, acting, and writing. But what about all those other categories, the ones on the second tier on the left sidebar? What are our wishes for nominees in the technical and smaller profile categories?

Jared: Give The Fall Some Visual Love

The Fall may be the most visually stunning film I’ve ever seen.  But don’t take my word for it, here’s someone who actually knows what he’s talking about, and how to express it, Roger Ebert: “Tarsem made one of the most astonishing films I have ever seen. It is all the more special in this age of computer-generated special effects, because we see things that cannot exist, but our eyes do not lie, and they do exist, yes, they really do.”  The only thing more incredible than the visuals in the film may be the fact that none of them were computer-generated.  The style in the lengthy story sequences is nothing short of breathtaking, and the “normal” half of the film shows Tarsem, Ged Clarke, and crew have extraordinary range.  Superlatives cannot do justice to the movie’s visual impact.  Sure, the film went bold where others have done an excellent job with a much more subdued style.  Still, it would be a travesty for The Fall to miss the Oscars.

Adam: “Dracula’s Lament” a Killer Tune

It seems the Academy mainly used a dart board for the selection of contenders for Best Original Song.  The only two in the top 5 contenders rank (in my mind) as songs worth of consideration – “The Wrestler” and “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire.  I would LOVE to see “Dracula’s Lament” (from Forgetting Sarah Marshall) in serious talks of nominees, but I feel as it is not to be.  Who says a rock/comedy musical number can’t be a serious Oscar nominee?  Can anyone honestly say that when the words “And when I see Van Helsing I swear I will SLAY HIM…AHH HA HA” without thinking “OSCAR”?  Jason Segel’s hilarious/moving song about how difficult it is being Dracula is matched only by its accompanying performance in the film.  How can you NOT nominate a song that comes with its own puppets?  How did Enchanted get 3 songs nominated last year and this doesn’t even warrant consideration?  They should nominate it for the sole reason of the awesome performance it would bring to the Oscars.

John: Kung Fu Panda a Rare Non-Pixar Home Run

Well the other two jerks are talking about my two favorite niche categories in Best Song and Best Art Direction. I’ll have a Song post up in a few days to expound on that as much as I want (expect some Jenny Lewis love) but let me turn to Animated Feature. WALL-E will win and one has to think Waltz With Bashir will grab the second slot (and with the buzz for Bashir maybe it could pull an upset?). But what will go into slot number three? Barring a foreign outsider it’ll be Bolt, Horton Hears a Who!, or Kung Fu Panda. I haven’t seen Waltz With Bashir but Kung Fu Panda was actually my favorite animated film of the year, even beating that cute Pixar robot. (See the list of eligible films here.)

Recent Dreamworks animated films have been too full of pop culture references without being clever or funny enough; Shrek the Third was absolutely putrid. But Panda bucks that trend. It’s genuinely funny – very funny – with an interesting story, great characters, and beautiful animation. I had an absolute blast watching it- it’s the epitome of solid entertainment.

Since I’m pulling together this post I give myself authority to make another pick. Slumdog Millionaire also deserves some love in smaller categories, but some seem so likely that it’s not worth going into them really in depth. Cinematography, certainly, for the way Mumbai comes alive in the film. AR Rahman’s score is lovely and delightfully different for an Oscar film. And let’s get at least one of the eligible songs, “Jai Ho” or “O… Saya” (featuring M.I.A.!) nominated for a fun Bollywood performance on stage at the Kodak Theatre. Maybe not as cool as Jason Segel’s puppets, but close.

That’s what we say. So all you lovers costume, sound, editing, and visual effects, what say you?

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