Sunday, 9 March 2014

Encore Awards (2013 in Review): The Sound and the Music

End of year citations continue for me even though I should be spending some amount of time talking about 2014 movies I've seen (About Last Night, RoboCop, Pompeii). Soon, for now. More on the best of 2013.

I am nothing if not thorough. So, no potential category for end-of-year fêting escapes my attention included the sound categories which tend to be the least likely to be ignored in year-end notices.


All is Lost

It’s probably because the sound becomes the entire movie but even the most randomly small moments seem like essential creations from the sound team. Not just the waves crashing when things get serious, but from the opening moments of a shoe hitting the floor or the creak of a board.

Steve Boeddeker
Richard Hymns

The Grandmaster

It gets remembered for how gorgeous it is, but from the opening scene and those pitter patter drops of the rain, the sound design team is doing some fine work. Sometimes the mixing is off so it becomes difficult to discern, but in key scenes like that train show down it’s the howling of the train passing by as significant as the kungfu on display.

Robert McKenzie

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Months later the very specific sound of effect of Smaug disrupting the gold in the cage is still one of my favourite things. There’s so much sound creation happening, though, from the fire breathing, the barrels in the stream, the noises of the spider, but it all come back to that cave, though.

Brent Burge
Chris Ward


To some extent, I might vacillate on Rush because the mix+score+sound effects are working so well in tandem, it’s tough to decide which goes where. Still, the simple effect of the simple effect of the constant wheels on the asphalt is so well edited it manages to legitimately create tension in the oddest of ways. Also, key creation of ambient sounds during the crash scene.

Frank Kruse
Markus Stemler

World War Z

Sure, you might say, big deal? It’s just the sound of zombies. But, the created sounds here as much a character in this tale as the real people. When the terror is at its highest when the zombies scale that wall listen both for the way the limbs they tear make noises as well as the bullets piercing their skin. Created sounds created real and legitimate terrors.

Nigel Stone
Ethan Van der Ryn

FINALISTS: Gravity, is at #6 not for the lack of good soundwork but just a field of six contenders that I really, really liked.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Captain Phillips; Frozen; Man of Steel; The Lone Ranger


Not at all ironic that it’s such a treasured nominee here because it knows what to do with silences. Effectively used so that when the moments of sheer tension comes when the loudness becomes essential the disparity between the two is pronounced, effective and moving. That first major collision depends on the mix.

Skip Lievsay
Niv Adiri
Christopher Benstead
Chris Munro

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Yes, I’m not finished talking about the save or about Smaug but that the film manages to work in that scene and not just work reach its highest point is because the mixers (in tandem with the visual effects team) know just what to do with both Smaug’s voice, mixing his voice with his movements and utilising them together for effect.

Christopher Boyes
Michael Hedges
Michael Semanick
Tony Johnson

The Lone Ranger

They’ve done excellent work with Verbinski on the Pirates of the Caribbean films and amidst the fights, and train destructions and desert excursions they win major points for managing all that and mixing the score in at just the right volume the entire thing sounds not just pristine but fun and exciting. The film not only looks like a joyous, playful epic but sounds like it too.

Christopher Boyes
Paul Massey


It’s not an easy win because it’s a great field, but I’m damned if those especially tense scenes where we have Zimmer’s score blaring, the roar of engines, the announcers pontificating and the continuous hum hum humming of the wheels on the track aren’t some of the best sounding moments in film this side of the decade.

Martin Steyer
Stefan Korte

World War Z

Later sequences like the horrific build-up to a celebration gives way to horror when zombies scale a Jerusalem wall, or the unbelievably taut silences at the WHO facility in Wales really thrill. The mixing becomes indicative of the film’s own ability to know when to go big and when to dial it back, and ultimately it’s the wisdom of knowing not just what to do but how and when that makes it an easy choice here.

Lora Hirschberg 
Anna Behlmer

FINALISTS: All Is Lost; Frozen; Spring Breakers is my #6 because in a film so disinterested in dialogue the coalescing of other sound moments becomes a key factor in setting mood; Inside Llewyn Davis; Upstream Colour

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Captain Phillips; The Great Gatsby; The Wolf of Wall Street

....more favourites below by a Zimmer heavy original score ballot, non-original music and original songs....


THE NOMINEES(Holy crap, that’s a whole lot of Zimmer.)

12 Years a Slave

It’s somewhat sparse of his three this year that I liked probably the weakest, but that main theme is especially beautiful to listen to and beautiful not in a traditional way of being conventional but jarring and painful while still intriguing just as the film demands it to be.

HIGHLIGHT: Its use in the opening is perhaps my favourite isolated use of it. Is it weird I like it more for how little it is used?

Hans Zimmer

The Lone Ranger

The madcapped, unbridled zaniness of that finale number clocking in at almost ten minutes is easily my favourite musical moment (without lyrics) this year. I’m not even necessarily always intrigued by Zimmer but he’s done good work this year but here more than anywhere else he gets just what Verbinski is going for with the tone and matches in effective ways throughout.

HIGHLIGHT: The aforementioned finale, of course, but the music during the walk through Reds brothel is always a beauty.

Hans Zimmer

It suffers, mildly, from a tendency to play the same note over and over. But, then, what a note. Like some fine scores it works better in the film than when isolated, but it’s such an effective addition to the film as chilling, pulsating, and moody as necessary so that even when the images are relaxed, the sound never is.

HIGHLIGHT: Hard to choose, I'm partial to the chase of the wrong suspect Loki does at the vigil, but from that opening scene with Deakins' specific photography it's doing fine things.

Jóhann Jóhannsson

It takes on tones of the cars on the tracks and like the very worst of Zimmer’s score there becomes a time when the music becomes very clearly to be variations on a single theme but where else than in the cyclical world of race after race after race does a pulsating sore bleeding into each other make sense as a score for a film?

HIGHLIGHT: Reaches heights of nailbiting tension in that very important climatic race when the rains become the impetus for that fateful crash.

Hans Zimmer

Short Term 12

Like 12 Years a Slave it’s sparse. And I’ll admit, the strings really do have that prototypical “this is what an indie movie sounds like” feel to it but it’s so warm and relaxing while not being negligible or slight that I find myself humming it at random moments.

HIGHLIGHT: The final scene is unable to close with a joyous story when life of the home interrupts and the way his calm music offsets it is a splendid moment to close on.

Joel P West

FINALISTS: The Grandmaster; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug; Mother of George; Upstream Colour

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Great Expectations; Gravity; Her; Saving Mr Banks; World War Z



American Hustle
I debated on its use here because it reaches some beautiful highs, but there are also those moments when it seems too much. But just around that time when Irving goes out with Carmine to dinner with their wives, I realised even if the script was occasionally leading me astray the music department was working hard to ensure the opposite.

HIGHLIGHT: Of course, that disco dance break justifies its appearance here, too. Has there ever been any movie not improved by a single appearance of a Donna Summer track on its soundtrack?

Inside Llewyn Davis

As a musical it’s sort of an obvious choice here, but Llewyn and Llewyn depends on music to such a significant degree that not making note of how much precise effect and thrills are derived both from song choices, but song placement, renders its triumph as my favourite in this category a not incidental something. Also, key points to that scene where Llewyn plays for his father.

HIGHLIGHT: Two versions of "Fare Thee Well" and so many excellent things to observe about the different scenes their used in, but not just that - how the same song becomes different in tone and form when it moves from a duo to a solo.

The Kings of Summer

The way the soundtrack mixes hiphop, pop music, and folk music while following these boys on their eclectic, indulgent, fantastical journey is something beautiful. It’s part of the way these tales of near-fantasy work – when words don’t work, use music. I’ve no idea if that refrain the boys drum out is n original track or not, but it’s placement is a gem.

HIGHLIGHT: The soft beats of that reggae track during the obligatory boys being boys montage is a surprising choice, but then manages to fit into the fabric of the film in a great way.

FINALISTS: Spring Breakers, which is as important for “Everytime” as for other scenes of specific music cues; The Great Gatsby, only a mere finalist here because its original songs are more significant to the film than its use of the occasional non-original track.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Bling Ring; The Wolf of Wall Street


Who doesn’t love a good music number from a movie? Evidence shows a lot of people, actually. Nonetheless, even though the top 5 makes this look as if only a few films triumphed in the area I’m generally much appreciative of the entire field of nominees and runners-up.


“Do You Want to Build a Snow Man” from Frozen

It was battling with my #6 for a place here; ultimately I was won over by the way its use in the film as Anna grows makes it haunting, title recitative both beautiful on a literal but a sad indicator of how easily familial estrangement becomes something difficult to repair. That it’s the first true musical number only makes the film’s focus on sibling love so much more powerful.

♪ People are asking where you've been / They say, "have courage" and I'm trying to I'm right out here for you / Just let me in / We only have each other / It's just you and me / What are we gonna do? ♪

Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez

“Let It Go” from Frozen
Sure, the more I watch this – which is a lot by now – the way the film doesn’t really make good on Elsa truly living up to the sentiments of the song irks, but it's beautiful nonetheless. I could get curmudgeonly and admit I prefer the lyrics more than the music but when we reach a lyric as delightful as “frozen fractals all around” how can I manage to resist this gem? And it's a nice touch how as the song develops the chorus becomes not a recitative but changes with each verse.

♪ My soul is spiralling in frozen fractals all around / And one thought crystalises like an icy blast. / I'm never going back / The past is in the past.

Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez

“Over the Love” from The Great Gatsby
Those lyrics, the piano, the howling winds in the background and Florence’s mournful wailing, all together make magic. On its own, without context to the film's story, “Over the Love” would still be a beautiful song. But the way its wailing tones not just lyrically but musically enhances the film, and is in turn enhanced by knowledge of the film is what makes priceless. It’s impactful in a way songs written for films don’t always manage to be.

‘Cause you’re a hard soul to save, / With an ocean in the way, /
But I’ll get around it, / I’ll get around it.

Florence Welch, SBTRKT, Stuart Hammond, Kid Harpoon

“Young and Beautiful” from The Great Gatsby
There’s something about the way Lana del Rey sings lyrics with an air of decided disinterest that makes her such a perfect fit for a song from Daisy’s point-of-view. Do we believe the searing desperation of the lyrics? Or do we stand baffled by the delivery of them with that wave of apathy. The fusion, then, makes for something hypnotic, but unnerving romantic ballad that seems simultaneously full of love and yet…empty.

I've seen the world, lit it up / As my stage now / Channeling angels in the new age now / Hot summer days, rock 'n' roll / The way you play for me at your show

Lana Del Rey, Rick Nowels

“I See Fire” from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
On one hand, musically this sound is incredibly sparse which makes for an especially chilling feel and then makes me wonder if it’s doing enough to justify a placement here. But I’m a sucker for songs from movies based on books which make such specific use of the text, and that bridge into the final chorus is sincerely excellent synthesis of music and lyrics and even as it remains without a full orchestra, the sparseness informs the same temperament in the dwarves.

♪ And if the night is burning / I will cover my eyes / For if the dark returns / Then my brothers will die

Ed Sheeran

FINALISTS: “Last Mile Home” from August Osage County makes me wonder if the characters would ever really listen to a song like this but it’s grungy, low-key tone fits the mood of acrid disrepair threatening this household; “In the Middle of the Night from Lee Daniels’ The Butler is just the sort of rousing ballad the film needs and its placement makes for a beautiful scene; “For the First time in Forever” from Frozen is fine on its own, but it’s the reprise of this song that really justify its mention here which manages to be both interesting lyrically and musically and who doesn’t love a good counterpoint number?; “Bang Bang” from The Great Gatsby is often a bit silly, but is consistently fun and exciting despite the callowness which makes it a perfect fit for the party scenes; “We Remain” from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is, indeed, a standard ballad but it still wins major points for delivering its theme with such passion; “So You Think You Know” from Short Term 12 barely misses the top 5. It may be short but its effect and import is tremendous.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: “Amen” from All Is Lost; “Happy” from Despicable Me 2; “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody” from The Great Gatsby; “The Moon Song” from Her (which is a lovely song, mostly, but doesn’t make my top 5 for various reasons including that, for the life of me, I don’t see it working in the context of the film or its characters); “Atlas” from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire; “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

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