Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Encore Awards: Aural Categories (The Sound of and Music)

And my recap of the official “Oscar” categories begins. I really can’t overstress the dissonance I feel about the crop of films we’ve been offered up this year. I don’t know if I’m getting too jaded for my own good, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to surrender to the worlds of film generally and though this year’s supply is not terrible it’s a situation of too many “goods” and too few greats.
But, I’ll save all that rambling for later categories.
I was musing on a format, and instead of sticking with the more aesthetically pleasing (and altogether easier to digest) table format I’m sticking with general paragraphs, because even if I’m not in love with many films this year I find that I’ve managed to get even more voluble Be warned, excess verbosity ahead. (Click on the photos for reviews, where available.)

In short, this recognises the artificial creation of sounds that are inserted into the film.

127 Hours (Hugh Adams, Ben Barker, Nicholas Becker, Glenn Freemantle)
If I was petty (no, your comments aren’t necessary for that particular anecdote) I’d ignore it here because the film is making leaps and bounds just to ensure that the sound design is as obvious as ever. But that would be silly, a) because it’s dumb to ignore good work even if it’s in an obvious manner and b) I don’t think the sound team would especially snubbed by an exclusion from me. So, I won’t cut off my hand to spite my arm – and snub it here. (That was a bit distasteful no?)

Inception (Paul Berolzheimer, Richard King, Michael Mitchell)

It’s a bit like 127 Hours in the sense that it’s difficult to ignore, but there that obviousness of the sound design is an absolute necessity which they use for their benefit. Any dream world depends on the smallest of things and the sounds become amplified to the point that they’re just as important as the things we see.

Robin Hood (Wylie Stateman, Mark P. Stoekinger)

The sound-work in Robin Hood, in its way, is a sort of representation of the good and bad in the film. Like Scott’s entire vision of subverting the usual swashbuckling Robin of Loxley, the sound is defined by the simplest of things. Yes, there are the obvious horse hoofs and whatnots, but even the silence is a sound effect in itself – as faulty as the film is at times, it’s one of the most unfortunate snubs in the technical department.

Scott Pilgrim vs the World  (Gerard Loret, Julian Slater)

It works as well as it should in the more obvious video-esque scenes because that is – on the surface – the film’s key aspect, but smaller things like the reverberating sounds in Scott’s alter universe or that first party make good use of sound. You’d expect them to be a whole lot less subtle with it, but it’s all quite smoothly handled.

Shutter Island  (Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton)

From the heavy breathing, to the raging storm it all contributes to the very unsettling tone pervading the island the film. Visually we get the sense that something’s off, the effect of the sound, though, make it positively distressing.

FINALISTS: Agora doesn’t thrive as much on its sound editing as its mixing because unlike most sword and sandal epics it’s not that external – but it’s still a worthy contender; Green Zone, too, doesn’t use as many effects as you’d expect, but this is one of those entries that you’ve have expected to translate to Oscar love; and kudos to How to Train Your Dragon for neither exploiting the animation and giving us a talking dragon, and for realising that are interesting effects much more striking than dialogue.

SEMI-FINALISTS: Black Swan; Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows

The coalescing of all the sounds - music, dialogue, effects.

Agora (Jorge Adrados, Andrew Caller, Peter Glossop)

Because that centrepiece of the library being destroyed functions as a climax for the entire film I can’t help but zero in on that specifically – but with all those wild mob scenes (enhanced in the second half) the sound mixing becomes a key aspect in showing just how much Alexandria has changed.

Black Swan (Ken Ishii)

Even if the screenplay is lacking on occasion Aronofsky is well aware of what to do to amplify the terror that’s necessary not through words, or dialogues (or even those usual thriller-film tricks). When the visuals become saturated, the sound emerges as even more pivotal in representing Nina’s delirium.

The Ghost Writer (Jean-Marie Blondel, Katia Boutin)

True, I’m sort of in love with Desplat’s score so there’s that possibility of nepotism when I take note of the way that Desplat’s score blends beautifully into things like the rustling of the waves. But, those very blends are pivotal in evoking that ultimate sense of faux-dread mirroring Polanski’s tone that’s never sincerity in trepidation but always spilling over into something jokingly sinister.

Green Zone (Jorge Adrados, John Hayes, Simon Hayes, Markus Moll)

It’s an ideal candidate for its sound work – after all, this is the same admirable sound team of the Bourne Trilogy. The blending of the sounds is excellently done, and it’s a shame that it’s being ignored because everyone forgot that there was another Iraq film coming after The Hurt Locker. Madness.

Shutter Island  (Peter Hliddal)

Like the work in The Ghost Writer the blend between score and effects is excellent – it fits the thriller-ish nature of the film too knowing just when to step back and wait for the right moment to jump the audience

FINALISTS: Sometimes in 127 Hours you get the feeling that the mixing’s just a little disingenuous and what should be smooth flowing ends up as a little jarring – just for the hell of it, it’s still outstanding work but still...; I’m a bit sorry that I couldn’t get a spot for How to Train Your Dragon if only because those last fifteen are kind of awesome; and then there’s Let Me In which has a climatic that depends more on the sound than the visual (oddly) and to brilliant results

SEMI-FINALISTS: Inception; The King’s Speech; Robin Hood; Salt

Dario Marienelli Agora 

It’s not as in keeping with its period as much as his work in Pride & Prejudice, but it’s another aspect of the film making this old story futuristic. And it’s never too much – he knows the wisdom in less being more.

Alexandre Desplat for The Ghost Writer

More than any other technical aspect Desplat realises just what Polanski is going for and his score becomes a key to understanding what we’re supposed to take away from the film (case in point: the beach scene).

Alexandre Desplat for The King’s Speech 

I’m actually surprised that despite its effusiveness Desplat manages to never turn this into something overbearing. You wouldn’t think that Bertie’s story demands music but Desplat’s work is flawless.

Anton Sanko for Rabbit Hole 

It seems as if the score is almost the part of Becca that she’s unable to convey to us with words. That entire scene where she washes Danny’s clothes is buttressed by the music which is ostensibly soothing but still very much on edge.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for The Social Network 

Over appreciation for The Social Network aside resulting in this getting recognition, in the grander scheme of things I don’t mind because the score IS that worthy of appreciation. Sure, the opening scene is Sorkin’s dialogue but the film truly begins as Mark travels back to his dorm room and from then – to the end – the music just merges beautifully with the narrative. Always striking, and yet always subtle.

FINALIST: Michael Giacchino for Let Me In

SEMI-FINALISTS: Rachel Portman for Never Let Me Go; Kjartan Sveinsson Ondine; Carter Burwell for True Grit; Murray Gold for Veronika Decides to Die

“Bound to You” from Burlesque (Christina Aguilera, Samuel Dixon, Kate Sia)

It’s easy to ignore it as a run-of-the-mill love song, but the union of music and lyrics is beautiful and though it loses points for being wasted because Ankin seems unsure of the precise moment to get romantic – it’s still the most laudable effort of the show.

“Welcome to Burlesque” from Burlesque (Matthew Gerard, Steve Lindsey, Charlie Midnight, John Shanley)

I’m surprised that this one in particular never took off – it sort of the essence of what they’re demanding in the song category. Okay, so maybe Burlesque isn’t as mysterious as Cher tells us but it functions excellently as the first real number of the film.

“Me & Tennessee” from Country Strong (Chris Martin) 

Leave it to Chris Martin to create a country song that evokes the nostalgia necessary for country music and yet is nowhere near as standard as you’d expect. The music invites you in and then the lyrics send you on another spin. It’s all very sedate, but that makes it all the more moving.

“Mother Knows Best” from Tangled (Alan Irwin, Alan Menken, Glenn Evan Slater)

More than any song from the film (heck, any song this year) Menken shows here why the music is just as important as the lyrics. He matches the very ambiguous lyrics with an even more discordant melody that has you tapping your feet AND feeling unsettled.

“Garbage Truck” from Scott Pilgrim vs the World (Beck Hensen)

All the music here is completely in touch with the quirkiness of the film and this one works better than all, not only because its’ the nicest one to listen to (though, perhaps, that’s debatable) but there’s something hilarious about it and it wins points for fitting the best in the action around it.

FINALISTS: “I See the Light” from Tangled sure does sound pretty for the most part, but it’s exasperating how Menken dilutes his usual cleverness. Sometimes the lyrics are just too tepid and then there’s the whole fact that the entire chorus seems to defy logic; it reminds me a bit of “But I Am A Good Girl” from Burlesque which is as nice to listen to, but loses a whole lot of its oomph when you really think it over. We get it Christina, you’re being coy because you’re not really a good girl.

SEMI-FINALISTS: “Coming Home” from Country Strong is sooooo on the nose, and it’s weird that this is the one that’s remembered being “Me & Tennessee” already does everything’s it’s trying to do – but better. It’s still charming in its way, though and I was hoping for a win for “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” from Burlesque even if it was altogether too precise in its machinations. Cher raises its profundity, but faults and all there’s something appealing about it nonetheless – and come on, who can’t relate?
I’m actually really interested in what you thought of sound this last year in cinema, because most persons rarely cite their favourites even though sound – above all else – could be considered as the single thing that differentiates movies today from those 100 years ago. What achievements in sound do you remember fondly? And what of the music? Even though they exasperate me to no end I’m still hopelessly (hopefully?) in love with the music category at the AMPAS.

What would your choices be?


Robert said...

Great choices! Garbage Truck is an amazing song. I'm doing my score awards later today so...then you'll know how I feel about that. :P

Yojimbo_5 said...

Sound for me came down to Black Swan and Scott Pilgrim for completely different reasons. One is what the world sounds like to Nina, and the other is what the world SHOULD sound like for Scott. Both are artificial, and go beyond "making the visuals" work to "making the story work."

Like you, I fell deeply in love Desplat's The Ghost Writer, as it was Bernard Herrmann in Hitchcock mode, muted with velvet gloves.

Luke said...

Can we all just agree that Alexandre Desplat is phenomenal? The man has virtually no calling card in his writing (which I don't harp on per se, it's just impressive) - every one of his works is so different from the others. The Ghost Writer is an excellent choice for this year's crop of credits, though. Oh, and Donna Murphy is ridiculously fun on that song - stellar choice that.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

robert i've had the hook for "garbage truck" in my head for some time now. "truck-truck-truck-truck"

luke and yojimbo DESPLAT!!!! i don't know how he does it, but he's really phenomenal. even marianelli (who i'm a big fan of) has certain tics, but desplat is just great!

Walter L. Hollmann said...

I wish I could've seen Agora. Alas...

Desplat, of course, is always doing great work, so no argument here (especially since his Ghost Writer score gets the movie best of all). Of these nominees, I would have to say Rabbit Hole deserves the Gold. You put it beautifully; I especially like the energetic hope in the strings when she goes to Sotheby's.

I can rarely tell the difference between Editing and Mixing. What I think I know makes me think Inception's triumphs are more in Mixing than Editing, and vice versa with Black Swan. Yet I know enough to know that your Gold and Silver Medalists were deserving. Well, I don't know that for Agora, which I haven't seen, but Shutter Island has strong sound all around.

And Bound to You is SO. DAMN. GOOD.

Alex in Movieland said...

i love the Song from Tangled :D

i hope it wins the Oscar. pls pls pls

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

walter i can't tell you how shocked i was shutter island wasn't nominated for sound. it's too weird for words. and that rabbit hole score is made if loveliness. and "bound to you" - yes, please.

alex i'd be very annoyed if anything beats "i see the light" because it's easily the best of the odd bunch nominated. and i like alan menken.