California Literary Review

Oscars 2012: Slighted Soundtracks And Fantasy Scores

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January 30th, 2012 at 12:54 pm

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Drive (2011) - Sountrack by Cliff Martinez

Listen closely, and you can hear murmuring in the village. Discontented whispers about the Academy Award nominees. It’s a very hip village, don’t you know.

As in any healthy Oscars race, fans are making much of the various glaring omissions from this year’s nominee list. Nobody wants to give Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling, or Steven Spielberg a trophy, despite the fact that they worked their tails off in just about every film released last year. No gracious nods to Mia Wasikowska, Michael Shannon, or Albert Brooks. The lovable Brooks even re-invented himself as a cold-blooded killer, but as Sir Ben Kingsley (of Sexy Beast) should have warned him, that doesn’t always work.

Acting, directing, and writing awards are the most popular targets for this kind of discussion, but there were more very creative folks left off the roll this year. Consider, for example, the rather drab selection of Best Music nominees. Don’t get me wrong – the original song from The Muppets deserves to win, but what happened to She And Him’s “So Long” from Winnie The Pooh? It’s probably going to win a Grammy, but as we can probably all agree… who the hell cares?

Meanwhile, two aggressively original outsiders are out in the rain, peeping in at the Best Original Score category without so much as an acknowledgment. Cliff Martinez, veteran film composer for the likes of Steven Soderbergh, and former Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer, put together a fabulously moody soundtrack for the beautiful nightmare that is Drive. In addition, the Chemical Brothers summoned a tremendous amount of playful, mischievous energy to accompany Joe Wright’s high-speed revenge drama Hanna.

Hanna (2011) - Sountrack by the Chemical Brothers

Not only are these two soundtracks excellently matched to the pace and tone of their respective films, they both are completely out of left field. They embody the term “original soundtrack” far more accurately than at least half of the successful nominees.

We all love John Williams, and we always will. But does he need to be nominated twice in the same year? Howard Shore is filling the traditional spot reserved for himself, Hans Zimmer, or James Horner. In a just world, the contest would be strictly between The Artist and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but neither has anything like a lock on the prize. The safe money will be bet on Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, but this year’s entry has not broken much ground since their superior work in The Social Network.

NOTE: I do not deny a small personal bias – I would give Trent Reznor an award for the sound he makes brushing his teeth. But until I get the Brushies telecast up and running, let’s return briefly to the point.

Twin Peaks (1990-1991) - Sountrack by Angelo Badalamenti

Rather than pitting one or two eccentric visionaries like Reznor/Ross against the sweeping orchestral masters like Williams, Shore, Horner, Zimmer and so on every year, why can’t we have more bizarre composer supergroups? To challenge these fearsome incumbents, Cliff Martinez should band together with Angelo Badalamenti, who produced original music for Twin Peaks, and almost all of David Lynch’s other projects to date. For good measure, they could give Barry Adamson a call. Adamson, formerly of Magazine and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, has built a fascinating solo career on film soundtracks and concept albums posing as film soundtracks.
Moss Side Story (1989) - Album by Barry Adamson

To be fair, Barry Adamson and Angelo Badalamenti should be winning Oscars without anyone’s help by now — for proof, check their respective entries on the Lost Highway soundtrack, along with Reznor’s — but a three-composer team would look mighty intimidating on the ballot.

  • http://mattsmithonfilm.blogspot.com Matthew Smith

    I don’t understand why Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ work has never won. Or been nominated. If I’m forgetting an instance in which they were actually recognized by the Academy, forgive me, but I don’t think I am.

  • http://www.fieldspointpictures.com Dan Fields

    I forgive you, and you’re not. Cave and Ellis are another perfect example! Well observed.

  • Brett Harrison Davinger

    Good article. I complained about worthy, un-nominated songs in our Oscar Article but great scores are also regularly ignored. Cave and Ellis’ for Assassination of Jesse James especially comes to mind, as does Carter Burwell’s for Where the Wild Things Are. Burwell as never been nominated for an Oscar either.

  • David

    No Alexandre Desplat? He’s the most hard-working composer in Hollywood, and he was snubbed.

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