Oscar Watch – Original Score and Song

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Picture, Original Score – Nominees
Avatar: James Horner
Fantastic Mr. Fox: Alexandre Desplat
The Hurt Locker: Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders
Sherlock Holmes: Hans Zimmer
Up: Michael Giacchino

Why is ‘The Hurt Locker’ nominated for this category? I might need to watch it again because as far as I can recall, I don’t think the movie had any score. Either it’s totally forgettable, because I can’t remember any of it, or it has one made up of ambient music. Ambient music, like the one in ‘No Country for Old Men’, is not as rhythmic, focusing more on sound rather than any melodic form. In short, it probably has some dude pressing one or two piano keys, in a single note or two, fitting it perfectly in the film’s suspenseful and emotionally charged sequences. For instance, in ‘The Hurt Locker’, when they’re diffusing the bombs, they probably had subtle background music that went unnoticed to most people (especially myself), which sounded more or less like this: “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE KA-BOOOOOOM!” Of course, “Ka-Boom” is not part of the score but is just the explosion sound (for further details, refer to my post on Best Sound Mixing). Basically, ambient music is very much like that THX score. It might not be as catchy as Alexandre Desplat’s foot-tapping score in ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’, but the ambient music serves the movie well as it builds up all the necessary tension at the right moment. It perhaps deserves an award in its own right, but not to the detriment of the other nominees, whom I feel have put in more effort creating ‘real’ music. I am not saying that Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders did not put in any effort but just how difficult can it be? And who are Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders again?

THX tries to even the 'score'.

James Horner, Alexandre Desplat, Hans Zimmer and Michael Giachinno. Ah, now these are names that I am more familiar with. Firstly, James Horner for ‘Avatar’. I don’t like the score for ‘Avatar’. It fits the mood nicely I would say, but easily forgettable and unrecognizable. It doesn’t have that epic feel like most epic films should have. Of course there’s the usual chanting and full orchestra at work here but there’s just no oomph to the score. If Leona Lewis’ ‘I See You’ is nominated for Best Original Song, then it shows that the Academy loves the music of ‘Avatar’. However, seeing that it did not garner a nomination for Best Original Song, I can safely assume that the Academy is not impressed with the music of ‘Avatar’ and is only nominating it just because its ‘Avatar’ and there’s nothing else to nominate. Again, this is one category I feel ‘Avatar’ does not deserve.

Then, we have Alexandre Desplat for Fantastic Mr. Fox. Thing is, I was watching this movie with very low volume and with Shaesta and Batriesya (my two darling nieces) screaming into both my ears. Thus, I couldn’t fully appreciate Desplat’s fantastic work here but what I could hear got my foot tapping. This of course happened more than once. The music is unique in its own sense and I can’t really categorize it. I mean, what kind of music do you expect to hear from an animated stop-motion independent film directed by indie-filmaker Wes Anderson? Desplat creates the perfect blend by incorporating folk music into his score and proves his versatility with this film (if you’re to compare his work with last year’s Benjamin Button, you might think that they’re composed by two different guys). What confuses me however is that what constitutes this film’s score? For example, there was a scene with this character called Petey, where he was playing the guitar and mumbling some non-existent words. Was that a song or was that a score? It reminds me of A.R. Rahman’s score for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, where people were confused if some of the songs that have few words in it, constitutes as part of the score or is a song in its own right. Confused? Me too.

Even world-class composers cram for their exams.

Next we have Michael Giachinno for ‘Up’. This is the favorite to win and I couldn’t agree more. The ‘Karl and Ellie’s Married Life’ theme is simply too beautiful for words and still resonates in your ears even until now and is the only theme from last year that is completely recognizable and hum-mable. (my favorite kind of score!). Not to forget, Giachinno is also responsible for another great score last year, courtesy of ‘Star Trek’. Although very much like ‘Up’ (i.e. repetitive), it is another piece of music from last year that really sticks in your head. Giachinno makes really, really powerful music. Sometimes, it might not necessarily be a collection of various themes played throughout the movie, but a single theme played over and over in different tones (happy version, sad version etc). But what he creates is undeniably unique and gives the term greatness a whole new meaning.

Last but not least, Hans Zimmer for ‘Sherlock Holmes’, one of my favorite composers (thanks to his work on the ‘Pirates’ films). After a few minutes of watching this movie, I was already impressed with the music and thankfully, it didn’t stop there. Thing was, I didn’t know it was Zimmer’s work until the end credits. I probably should have guessed it sooner. Anyway, I don’t have much to say here besides that it is Zimmer doing what he does best. Ideal score for a film set during the Victorian age, with amazing violin solos, and other instruments that I am not even sure of. To a certain extent, one could also say that though his signature style remains intact, Zimmer does know how to shift his music to fit the world that the movie is set in. Think about his score in ‘Gladiator’, ‘Pirates’ and ‘The Dark Knight’, and think about his score in this film. Notice how the score in each film resembles the time periods and settings perfectly. However, I have to say that I am a little biased in Zimmer winning this award. You see, I want him to win, firstly because he was completely snubbed for his work on ‘Pirates’ and ‘The Dark Knight’. Secondly, very much like how I stated that Giachinno should win because he was also responsible for last year’s ‘Star Trek’, Zimmer is also responsible for another great score last year. You might be scratching your head thinking which film it is. Well, it’s not from a film but from his first foray into video-game scoring. That’s right folks, Zimmer is the guy who’s responsible for scoring ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’ and for that he’s getting top marks from me.

If Zimmer doesn't come through, there's always an alternative...

Looks like this award belongs to Giachinno but don’t discount Desplat and Zimmer just yet. There’s a small chance that either of them might win instead. If that be the case, I would still be happy but god please, not ‘Avatar’. If ‘The Hurt Locker’ wins, let’s just say I might need to get a new TV after the ceremony.

Primary Prediction: Michael Giachinno for ‘Up’
Secondary Prediction: Alexandre Desplat for ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’
Personal Favorite: Hans Zimmer for ‘Sherlock Holmes’

Note: I am going to take a little break for a little while because firstly, my portfolio is down by a few million. Secondly, it’ll take a little while more before I could complete watching all the nominated films in a particular category.

Oscar Watch – Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Picture, Original Song – Nominees
Crazy Heart: T-Bone Burnett, Ryan Bingham(‘The Weary Kind’)
Faubourg 36: Reinhardt Wagner, Frank Thomas(‘Loin de Paname’)
Nine: Maury Yeston(‘Take It All’)
The Princess and the Frog: Randy Newman(‘Almost There’)
The Princess and the Frog: Randy Newman(‘Down in New Orleans’)

OK OK. I know that I said I shall take a short break but I just can’t help it because I simply need to get the lame awards out of the way before going for the more exciting ones. Now, this prediction that I am making for Original Song is a little premature. I have not yet seen any of the nominated films in this category, nor do I intend to watch ‘Faubourg 36’ (never even heard of it man). I just thought ‘hey, they’re just freaking songs. I can just download each of them on Youtube and just listen’. So that was exactly what I did last night. However, I do know that this is not the best way to judge these songs. If a song appears as part of the end credits, then one may download and listen but if the song is part of the film itself, the best way to enjoy and feel the song is by watching the movie itself. As far as these nominees are concerned, I can tell that the songs from ‘The Princess and the Frog’ and ‘Nine’ are part of the movie but I am not too sure for the other two songs. Anyway, let’s just have a look at these songs (without taking the lyrics into account).

Bangkok Jazz doesn't just play jazz music, apparently.

‘The Weary Kind’ will pick up the Oscar in this category. Not because it’s my favorite of the bunch (I hate country music), but it won the Golden Globes the other day and seems like one of those songs that will win such awards. It has a nice guitar tune to it. I actually thought it was rather catchy and don’t mind listening to the instrumental. I don’t like the singing because again, I hate country music and their silly accents. It sounds as if this song was played in the movie when one of the characters (I am assuming Jeff Bridges) is going through some difficult times. Therefore, I can totally understand that when you watch the film, the song fits the mood completely. Judging by the title and rhythm, I can also say that this one of those sad songs that actually has a deep meaning to it and we know the Academy loves that kind of stuff (why else would they give the award to Eminem a couple of years back then?)

Then we have ‘Loin de Paname’, which means ‘Far from Paris’. I like this song. It has a nice classic French tune to. It reminded me a lot of Edith Piaf’s ‘La Vie En Rose’, complete with the accordion and all. Very French-y. But I can’t tell much of this song though because I don’t understand French and I don’t know what she’s singing about except that perhaps she is far away from home (just a guess). The fact that nobody has ever heard of this film seals the fact that it will not win the Oscar. Sadly.

"I'm going to take it all, darling." "Whatever."

Next is my favorite, ‘Take it All’ from ‘Nine’, as performed by the wonderful and beautiful Oscar winner Marion Cotillard in the movie. I have not seen the movie but I have seen the song clip and that made me want to watch the film immediately. Yes, she looks amazingly hot in this song but we’re not to judge the chances of it winning Original Song based on that. The song seems to be about a wife (Cotillard) getting all angst up against her director husband (Daniel Day Lewis) and she lets it all out in a cabaret-like performance. This song scores a lot of points from me because not only was the song good, but the way it was performed in the movie since it comprises singing, dancing and acting. I will have to say that this will be my personal favorite to win.

Now there are two nominations for ‘The Princess and the Frog’ and it will probably suffer from the double nomination curse. What it means is that people who love the film will be split in their decision to vote in this category. For example, say 40% of the voters love ‘Crazy Heart’ and wants to vote for that. 10% loves ‘Nine’ and will vote for that. The remaining 50% (i.e. the biggest number) prefers ‘The Princess and the Frog’ and would like to vote for that. When it comes to voting, half of the people who love ‘The Princess and the Frog’ would probably vote for ‘Almost There’ and another half would vote for ‘Down in New Orleans’. At the end of the day, each of the two songs will have 25% votes each, which will make ‘Crazy Heart’ the ultimate winner, although more people actually voted for ‘The Princess and the Frog’. Of course in 2008, one song was too good and was able to break that curse but sadly none of these nominees this year are up to that song’s level. The song was ‘Jai Ho’ (nope, not the Pussycat Dolls version). Now coming back to the two nominees, I equally like both for two different reasons. ‘Almost There’ feels more like a Disney song. After all, this is what the movie is about; Disney returning to hand-drawn animation with musical numbers. As for ‘Down in New Orleans’, it doesn’t feel like Disney at all but the musical arrangement is perfect for the movie’s setting, i.e. jazz. I absolutely love the music for ‘Down in New Orleans’, although the singing is not really much to my liking. I would give the Oscar to this song for it’s beautiful composition, which greatly took into account the Louisiana/bayou influence of the movie. Many said that they would have preferred someone like Harry Connick Jr to compose the film. But I think Randy Newman did just fine.

Unfortunately, ‘The Weary Kind’ looks like a sure-win for this category, so I shall stick with that for my primary prediction.

Primary Prediction: ‘The Weary Kind’ from ‘Crazy Heart’Secondary Prediction: ‘Down in New Orleans’ from ‘The Princess and the Frog’
Personal Favorite: ‘Take it All’ from ‘Nine’

Don’t worry about Fazil’s portfolio. He won’t be fired…yet.

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