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Oscar Nominees 2014

February 22, 2015

The 87th Academy Awards ceremont, better knows as the ‘Oscars’, is just hours away. Here at Synchrotones we’ll have a brief glance at the five scores, and their composers, nominated for Best Original Score.

Cover_GrandBudapestHotelThe Grand Budapest Hotel” (Alexandre Desplat, 32 tracks, 60:06, Abkco 2014)
WINNER Oscar for “Best Original Score”, 87th Academy Awards

Winner of a BAFTA award, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is one of the year’s most celebrated scores, yet I have never got round to review it properly. It’s not I haven’t heard it – it’s simply because I didn’t like it. Like the film itself, it is a very colourful score. And it’s very quirky, in a similar to Desplat’s “The Fantastic Mr Fox”, which I also didn’t care for. Of course, the score is very well written and contains several lovely melodies. The orchestrations are in keeping with the film’s Eastern European setting – and this is why the score doesn’t appeal to me. It’s got a ‘folk’ sound to it that has never appealed to me. The score revolves largely around plucked instruments, ranging from harpsichord and cimbalom to various guitars, and mallets. Winds and brass make sporadic appearances, but it’s not an orchestral score. It’s hard not to appreciate the technicalities of this score, and some of the themes and rhythms are quite humorous;  but the overall style and sound may not be for everyone. Of all of Desplat’s score this year, this is my least favorite, but it (and its film) have proven quite popular with the wider public. If Desplat manages to escape the curse of the ‘double Oscar nomination’ it is likely to be with this score.

Cover_ImitationGameThe Imitation Game” (Alexandre Desplat, 21 tracks, 50:53, Sony Music 2014)

The brand Alexandre Desplat stands for quality. It stands for music that is cleverly written, doesn’t bow to the lowest common denominator, and is exquisitely orchestrated. “The Imitation” does not disappoint. It is as beautiful as it is exciting. It does adopt a style that itself sounds familiar; as it does at times sound a bit like Horner or Elfman (in “Black Beauty” or “Corpse Bride” mode), but they are superficial, stylistic resemblances – never anything more than that. A handful of cues make for a subdued listening experience, but they are short and do help balance the album. So, why am I’m stopping short of giving this score the full five stars? As much as I love the piano arpeggios, the string ostinatos, the staccato flutes, the timpani and sticks and everything that drives this score forwards… I need to be in a special kind of mood to enjoy this perpetual ticking, clicking and twinkling; otherwise it can get on my nerves a little. Let there be no doubt though: it’s a magnificent album, from a melodic, rhythmic, compositional and orchestrations point of view. Very easily one of the year’s very best.

cover_InterstellarInterstellar(Hans Zimmer,16 tracks, 71:39 (Standard Version), 24 tracks, 96:37 (Deluxe Version), WaterTower Music 2014)
WINNER “Best Sci-fi Score”, 2014 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards.
WINNER “Composer of the Year”, 2014 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards.

There are things I don’t agree with. Yet for all my frustrations… the music is absolutely fascinating. It’s mesmerising, captivating, inspiring; all of those adjectives! The quiet moments are very beautiful, whilst the grand moments are sure to rattle your teeth. It’s easy to argue that the themes are not particularly intellectually challenging, yet they’ve been going round and round in my head for the past two weeks or so. It’s a score I initially snobbishly wanted to dismiss as simplistic noise, yet I just can’t get enough of it! The sheer raw power of it is nothing short of addictive.

It took me a little while to realise it, I have to admit, but Zimmer’s score is full of interesting little details. In a way, this score isn’t really about the themes, though it is a very melodic (practically leitmotivic) work. It is much more about the sound and the atmosphere. I had to get my head around this, before I could fully enjoy the score. Perhaps the melodies are simple, because they represent simple family values. And perhaps the sound design is full of complexities to represent the scientific aspects of the story. The more I listen to it, the more it gets in my head and under my skin. This score is a true journey…

Cover_TheoryofEverythingThe Theory of Everything” (Johan Johannsson, 27 tracks, 48:59, Backlot Music 2014)
WINNER “Best Romantic/Dramatic Score”, 2014 Synchrotones’ Soundtrack Awards.

At the time of this writing [December 14th 2014], the score has just received a Golden Globe nomination. I have no doubt that an Academy Awards nomination will follow – and that he will win at least one of these. Johan Johannsson’s “The Theory of Everything” is an exquisite little work. It is beautiful, full of pathos and melancholy. It’s modern, but still feels classical. Fans of the romantic works of James Horner, Dario Marianelli, Jan AP Kaczmarek or Abel Korzeniowski should find plenty to enjoy here. The classical-tinted piano melodies and fragile string chords frequently remind of these composers’ works. Part of me wishes the cues were a little longer, giving the music more time to develop. Some cues, short as they are, are clearly made up from multiple pieces. On the other hand… each cue (or: most of them) are perfectly rounded little pieces.

As a reviewer it is difficult to abstain from the same old clichés, or phrases that don’t seem to make a lot of sense. Yet, I want to describe this score as honest and vulnerable. The composition is, for the most part, fairly simple. Everything hangs on the actual performance of the music. Every note is heard, and every note is felt.

Cover_MrTurnerMr Turner” (Gary Yershon, 29 tracks, 56:07, Varese Sarabande 2014).

This film by Mike Leigh focuses on the life of painter J. Turner. Perhaps that explains Yershon’s classical approach to the score? There’s a strong presence for solo clarinet, which produces quite a high-pitched piercing sound that not everyone might appreciate (I don’t). Harp and a small string ensemble also feature. You could say it was written for small chamber orchestra and it sounds and feels like that. Very classical, very arty – but the sound of that clarinet is too much for me. The album also contains seven tracks for Leigh’s 2012 short film “Running Jump”. These cues are written for piano, bongos and trumpet. Again a small ensemble, with a slight Latin feel to it. Again it feels very artistic, though it also features long stretches of solo bongo play. For me… not a very engaging album.


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