The combination of Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin, composer and composer/director is a deadly one that should not be slept on. Their passionate, anthemic and melancholy-tinged scores are akin to the symphonic swells, childhood pains and bittersweet aches channeled by Arcade Fire. Romer and Zeitlin's compositions have the same heartrending trajectory of hope, sadness and fervent emotion, so much so that the Obama campaign used one of their songs from the director’s short “Glory At Sea” for one of their key commercials in the last week of their 2008 campaign. And so everything that is wonderful about their work is alive, magnetic and present in the magical and muddy fairytale “Beasts of The Southern Wild.” There’s plenty of score pieces in the film that are wistful, beautiful and filled with longing, but perhaps none is so great as the motif theme, perhaps represented well by “The Confrontation,” that reaches its stunning crescendo in the final moments of the film and the score piece “Once There Was A Hushpuppy.” The film’s precocious lead Hushpuppy’s father has sadly passed on and the young girl gives her little voice-over monologue about perseverance, survival, hope and community. The lugubrious music rises, your emotions tremble and much like the spirit of hopeful New Orleans funerals, this lament bursts into an apex of tremendous joy and celebration. Suffice to say it made many of us literally burst into tears the moment we experienced it.
This little seen indie film features some of the most charmingly quirky original tunes to be found in film in 2012, and they were played live by the actors live on set. Take THAT, “Les Mis”! Yes, they are playing that guitar and those toy keyboards driving in the car, which makes this winning scene even more remarkable. After the depressed Alex decides to go on the road with the unhinged Jim (for lack of anything else to do), these two misanthropes find a real creative connection in pairing Alex’s somber and sensitive lyrics and guitar with Jim’s mastery of a collection of toy instruments, resulting in a unique sound that manages to be not overly twee, but instead one of those chocolate and peanut butter combinations: it just goes right together. The scene in the too small car when they finally play together, just hours before their first gig, is the first of many truly inspired musical moments in the film, and their distinctive sound becomes an integral part of the film’s emotional and stylistic aesthetic. It’s also one of the first times we get to see Alex experience something like happiness, as he sets off on this unknown adventure with a possible lunatic, but a friendly one at that. Lead actors Ryan O’Nan and Michael Weston actually released an album of the self-described “The Shins meet Sesame Street” songs, written mostly by quadruple threat writer/director/star O’Nan, in addition to the film’s soundtrack, and played a few live shows promoting the film. Hopefully we'll see more from them soon.
Rick Alverson’s disturbing and hilarious mediation on the male psyche -- in the form of an aging hipster played by Tim Heidecker -- is an unflinching look at damaged manchilds. And the tasteful collection of mystical soul and bittersweet pop -- described as the "autumn of the American Era” by the filmmaker -- is a strange and wonderful elixir for this provocative picture. There’s two phenomenal sequences. The first is Donnie and Joe Emerson’s amateurishly sweet and soulful “Baby” which plays as the arrested 30-something in the picture are introduced in slow-motion-- drunkenly dancing half naked and wrestling in a tribal-like ritual. With sweaty guts keeling over and beer splashing the walls it’s an amazing/beautiful/ridiculous expression of their hyper and acute juvenalia. The second sequence, is these men, free of the obligations of jobs and responsibility pissing away the day drinking beers and playing wiffle ball in the park. The montage is cut to a forlorn ambient track by William Basinski and its stunning, wonderful genius, conveying both a carefree like wonder and an underbelly of sadness. Rarely is source music used very effectively in movies these days, let alone atypically and Alverson is one to keep an eye on, at the very least for his amazing and unusual command of picking the perfect left-of-center track.
While the music in Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" is the best its been in years, there's not really a "music moment" per se like David Bowie's "Cat People" in "Inglourious Basterds" or "Stuck In The Middle With You" in "Reservoir Dogs," but we'd be remiss if we didn't mention there were a few pretty standouts. Aside from the excellent borrowed title theme (which is not really a moment, just a tremendous song), most of the memorable song moments are contemporary -- a first for Tarantino. He goes super anachronistic with Rick Ross' spaghetti-western flecked hip-hop song "1000 Corpses" and the song is terrific and while the scene is a brief transition moment, it's pretty badass and fitting. Meanwhile, a soulful John Legend ballad is great too, and Tupac rapping over James Brown in the action crescendo is kinda neat as well. And it looks like QT's selections outside his well worn vinyl collection of Ennio Morricone soundtracks has served him well this time out.