Silence and Soundtracks

Oscar Nominations for Best Original Score: <BR>Who Are These People?

This year’s Oscar nominations for “Best Original Score” have been announced. All very talented people here:

“How to Train Your Dragon” (Paramount), John Powell
“Inception” (Warner Bros.), Hans Zimmer
“The King’s Speech” (The Weinstein Company), Alexandre Desplat
“127 Hours” (Fox Searchlight), A.R. Rahman
“The Social Network” (Sony Pictures Releasing), Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

Some of you might be wondering — who the heck are these people?

Here’s a quick look at the contenders:

John Powell entered Hollywood with the score for “Face/Off” back in 1997. Since then, he has worked prolifically on animated films for DreamWorks and 20th Century Fox. Stuff like “Happy Feet,” “Kung Fu Panda” and “Bolt.” He’s also become something of a “go-to guy” for director Paul Greengrass (see the amazing scores for the Bourne trilogy). Out of all the films I wish I had seen last year, “How to Train Your Dragon” is near the top. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the film itself, so I’m really curious about the music.

Hans Zimmer is probably the most well-known composer in the group. His work stretches back twenty years ago, all the way to “Rain Main.” He’s worked on over a hundred films, so I was very surprised to learn that he actually hasn’t won an Oscar since “The Lion King” in 1994! Another interesting thing about Zimmer is that he’s also very collaborative. He shared nominations with Lisa Gerrard for “Gladiator,” John Powell for (hey look, it’s animated) “The Road to El Dorado,” and James Newton Howard for “The Dark Knight.” Even the score to “Inception” is a bit of collaboration with guitarist-songwriter Johnny Marr (of the Smiths, Modest Mouse, and The Cribs), though he did not write any original material for it. “Inception” shows a continuing partnership with director Christopher Nolan, probably through the end of the new Batman trilogy, but perhaps even further. Having seen it multiple times, I don’t think the film would exist without Zimmer’s score. Not because the rest of the film is flawed per se, but more because the music does so much to define it. When you hear the soundtrack by itself, there’s no question which movie it’s from. I can’t say that about any of the other nominees.

Alexandre Desplat is a name I’ve been seeing more and more recently — he has been on the rise in Hollywood ever since 2004′s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” earning nominations every year for either the Chicago Film Critics Association Award, the Golden Globes, or the Academy Awards. But he has yet to take home any of these. When his work for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 1″ caught my attention, I rejoiced because I hadn’t noticed or cared for any of the Harry Potter scores since “Prisoner of Azkaban” — but to be perfectly honest, I haven’t been able to find anything particularly distinctive about Desplat’s style. I’ve seen “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” but I couldn’t tell you what the music was like. Maybe I should see them again. With that, I should also check out Desplat’s work for “The Queen” and “Lust, Caution.” Anyway, he’s got a lot of solid work under his belt this year, and I think “The King’s Speech” is probably his best chance at finally winning an Oscar.

A. R. Rahman is a huge success in his native country of India. After composing jingles for several years, he landed an opportunity composing the score for a film called “Roja.” It launched him into the limelight and ended up changing the face of Indian film music. Many praise Rahman for his ability to blend classical music with other traditions from around the world, including Carnatic, rock and jazz music. Most people here in the States know him for his work on “Slumdog Millionaire,” which was so popular, it made it on the Europe and US Billboards and won him two Academy Awards. With “127 Hours,” he brings a similar style of music to the screen, and it’s well-made, but it doesn’t have nearly as much appeal. The film was a critical success, but it didn’t reach a lot of audiences, so I don’t expect this one to win.

Rounding off the list are Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who collaborated on the score for “The Social Network.” Trent Reznor is famous for his work as the founding member of Nine Inch Nails, a hugely popular industrial (sort of) rock band, but he’s never really done composing before this. Apparently, Mark Romanek tapped him to do the score for “One Hour Photo,” but it didn’t work out. Atticus Ross became a producer/programmer for Nine Inch Nails around five years ago. He composed the score for the TV series “Touching Evil” in 2004 and “The Book of Eli” in 2010. If “The Social Network” wasn’t also nominated for Best Actor, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture, I would be very surprised to see this score on the list. It’s dark, edgy, electronic, and sounds nothing like a traditional film score. But it also happens to work very well.

From what I’ve seen and heard so far, I’m hoping the Oscar goes to “Inception” or “The Social Network.” But I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed in this list. Daft Punk’s score to “Tron: Legacy” is quite good, even though the movie isn’t. The way they combine electronica with film music is flawless. Clint Mansell’s score for “Black Swan” is also creative and ambitious – and disqualified – because it uses many cues from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” That’s really what makes it cool, though. Mansell takes all these really familiar classical cues and twists them, plays them backwards, to create a really different experience.

On the other hand, I’m really glad Danny Elfman isn’t on this list for “Alice in Wonderland” – I am sick to death of his stuff – and while I really enjoyed “Toy Story 3,” I wasn’t blown away by Randy Newman. Usually I’d be plugging James Newton Howard right about now, because I’m a big fan, but this year he scored “The Last Airbender” and the music did nothing to assuage the deep wounds being inflicted upon me. Maybe “Green Lantern” will be better. *crosses fingers*

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