Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Toronto Film Festival Lineup: What Did They Get? Toronto Film Festival Lineup: What Did They Get? Richard Linklater's Untitled New Film Pushed to 2016, Might Direct Jennifer Lawrence Movie Richard Linklater's Untitled New Film Pushed to 2016, Might Direct Jennifer Lawrence Movie Jill Soloway Says "There Is an All Out-Attack" on Female Filmmakers Jill Soloway Says "There Is an All Out-Attack" on Female Filmmakers 'Steve Jobs' Joins Fall Festival Contenders as NYFF Centerpiece Gala: What's Coming Up and What's Not (UPDATED) 'Steve Jobs' Joins Fall Festival Contenders as NYFF Centerpiece Gala: What's Coming Up and What's Not (UPDATED) Arthouse Audit: Is 'Phoenix' This Year's 'Ida'? 'Mr. Holmes' Stays Strong Arthouse Audit: Is 'Phoenix' This Year's 'Ida'? 'Mr. Holmes' Stays Strong Friday Box Office: Sandler's 'Pixels' Gets Mixed Response, 'Paper Towns,' 'Southpaw' Not Far Behind Friday Box Office: Sandler's 'Pixels' Gets Mixed Response, 'Paper Towns,' 'Southpaw' Not Far Behind Scott Foundas Explains Why He's Leaving Film Criticism--Again--for Amazon Studios Scott Foundas Explains Why He's Leaving Film Criticism--Again--for Amazon Studios Congrats to Monica Bellucci: She's Making History Congrats to Monica Bellucci: She's Making History Broad Green Dates 'Knight of Cups' and Two More Releases Broad Green Dates 'Knight of Cups' and Two More Releases Watch: The Secret Ingredient to David Lynch's Disorienting Cinema Watch: The Secret Ingredient to David Lynch's Disorienting Cinema First Look: 'No' Director Pablo Larraín Channels 'Neruda' with Gael García Bernal First Look: 'No' Director Pablo Larraín Channels 'Neruda' with Gael García Bernal Is 'The Revenant' the Most Hellish Shoot of All Time? Is 'The Revenant' the Most Hellish Shoot of All Time? Broad Green Enters Long-Term Home Video Deal with Universal for Burgeoning Slate Broad Green Enters Long-Term Home Video Deal with Universal for Burgeoning Slate Gabriel García Márquez Documentary Coming Soon (Trailer) Gabriel García Márquez Documentary Coming Soon (Trailer) Watch 'SPECTRE' Trailer: James Bond Meets the Author of His Pain Watch 'SPECTRE' Trailer: James Bond Meets the Author of His Pain 'BoJack Horseman,' 'Rick and Morty,' and Our Love/Hate Relationship with TV 'BoJack Horseman,' 'Rick and Morty,' and Our Love/Hate Relationship with TV Why I Can't Wait to See 'Crimson Peak,' Guillermo del Toro's Sumptuous Period Thriller (VIDEO) Why I Can't Wait to See 'Crimson Peak,' Guillermo del Toro's Sumptuous Period Thriller (VIDEO) First Look at Julianne Moore and Ellen Page as a Gay Couple in 'Freeheld' First Look at Julianne Moore and Ellen Page as a Gay Couple in 'Freeheld' Why Kevin Costner Paid for 'Black or White' (New Trailer, Sneak Preview Q & A) Why Kevin Costner Paid for 'Black or White' (New Trailer, Sneak Preview Q & A) Gabriel García Márquez and Akira Kurosawa Talk Film, Writing and 'Rhapsody in August' in 1991 Gabriel García Márquez and Akira Kurosawa Talk Film, Writing and 'Rhapsody in August' in 1991

Crafts Roundup: Best Original Score Contenders Talk Creating Music for Survival, Reinvention and Spiritual Uplift

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood December 19, 2013 at 2:30PM

The Oscar-contending music scores are particularly strong this year, given the propelling theme of survival and reinvention. Among the standouts are "Gravity," "All Is Lost," "The Book Thief," "Philomena," "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," and "Prisoners." Even original songs have spiritual uplift, including "Let It Go" ("Frozen"), Cold Play's "Atlas" ("The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"), U2's "Ordinary Love" ("Mandela"), and Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire" ("The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug").
1
'Gravity'
'Gravity'

The Oscar-contending music scores are particularly strong this year, given the propelling theme of survival and reinvention. Among the standouts are "Gravity," "All Is Lost," "The Book Thief," "Philomena," "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," and "Prisoners." Even original songs have spiritual uplift, including "Let It Go" ("Frozen"), Cold Play's "Atlas" ("The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"), U2's "Ordinary Love" ("Mandela"), and Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire" ("The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug").

With "Gravity," Steven Price's unusual, subsonic score (sans percussion and conventional orchestration) was part of the immersive sound design that emphasized contact through vibrations and putting us right there in space with Sandra Bullock.

"The music needed to have an expanded role," Price says. "You feel what the characters hear through their suits and sounds coming through vibrations, which meant traditional sound design didn't exist. Alfonso [Cuaron] wanted to express sounds through tonal things and through music so the sound became part of the composing process in that respect. The score had to carry the emotional journey but also tonally express what you might expect to be sound in any other sort of environment."

No more boats.
No more boats.

For "All Is Lost," the experience was high output but gentle reduction for Alexander Ebert. The first piece he wrote at the piano was "Excelsior," which eventually became the main theme featuring alto flute. For the water motif, he used acoustic guitar, and the strong influence of Ennio Morricone also found its way into the score.

"That one night was the beginning of a six-month journey," Ebert explains, "but what was interesting was that first intuition really ended up being the through line. It was written as a relatively fast-paced waltz, but as soon as I saw the picture, the whole thing become slow and subtle." 

"The Book Thief" comes out of nowhere as one of John Williams' most quietly powerful scores in years. For instance, the main title, "One Small Fact," contains a joyful use of piano that carries it along. The dean of film composers says he uses the lyricism to override the pervasive darkness of this Holocaust story narrated by Death yet told from a child's perspective. Better to create a world filled with reading and writing than bombs falling on small towns, according to Williams.

With "Philomena," Alexandre Desplat delivers a restrained and elegant score, inspired by Judi Dench's performance, comprised primarily of a carnival waltz that reflects Philomena's generous spirit and undying faith as she searches for the son that was forcibly taken away from her.

"The movie starts with this scene in the fairground and we hear in the background an organ playing a tune and that's mine," Desplat explains. "When this melody comes back, I'm not sure anyone has noticed that it was in the fairground. Never mind -- it's there, subliminally played. And that's how I've tailored the score with this theme recurring here and there, orchestrated in a way that reminds us of the fairground sound with little recorders and strings." 

This article is related to: Crafts Round-up, Thompson on Hollywood, Awards Season Roundup, Features


E-Mail Updates








Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.