Every four weeks, ORWAV explores the movie month ahead through the medium of song! Upcoming releases, notable births and anniversaries and a general celebration of the films, directors, technicians and performers that we love so much. And here we are folks: Awards Season. The films get glossier (if not necessarily better), the stars prepare their red-carpet-walking shoes and practise their signatures, and the producers sharpen their knives and prepare to hit the jugular. This month alone sees the first big wave of official releases from May’s Cannes festival, alongside huge premieres across the globe. Summer’s dead, baby: it’s September.
This month sees the return of several interesting auteurs peddling their latest wares: Jonathan Demme makes a return to musical filmmaking with Ricki and the Flash; Woody Allen and Nanni Moretti, the Cannes sheen worn off, bring us Irrational Man and the acclaimed Mia Madre; and independent mavericks Abel Ferrara, Ramin Bahrani and Atom Egoyan (Pasolini, 99 Homes and Captive) rub shoulders with the patchy M. Night Shyamalan and Ridley Scott (The Visit and The Martian). These are but the first toes in the water for what is sure to be an interesting few months, although only one or two of these films will set the world alight.
This month’s playlist kicks off in flashy style, with Ricki and the Flash‘s ‘Cold One’. Forget Meryl’s awards bid; this song was written by Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice (aka Jenny and Johnny) – one an indie legend, the other her occasional partner – and the question now is whether they could take this all the way. It is, after all, a perfectly fine song, and before Lewis started writing incredible albums she was a child actress – the Oscars comeback trail ought to begin now.
Already enough acclaimed for his music-making is Harry Gregson-Williams, who’s scored The Martian. Though Ridley Scott hasn’t released a particularly good film since around 2007 – with American Gangster – Gregson-Williams (The Rock, Shrek, The Town, etc.) is a solid bet for great music, as a 20-year veteran still looking for that big breakout. Just ask Len Wiseman, who got a fantastic score out of HGW (as he shall now be known) for the Total Recall remake. We already included Jerry Goldsmith’s ‘The Dream’ from the Verhoeven original on an earlier playlist; HGW’s update, whacked in here, may even be an improvement. If he can bring those chops to The Martian we may be onto something big. Watch this space, and get used to using the initials HGW on an annoyingly regular basis.
Third on the playlist is Tom Petty‘s ‘American Girl’, covered by Meryl & co. in Ricki. Just because, really. Probably more interest-piquing is António Pinto‘s ‘The Real McFarlands’, from the upcoming Disney flick McFarland, USA. Most film fans are awaiting this with bated breath to see whether star Kevin Costner can continue his winning-ish comeback-ish streak of late (The Company Men, Man of Steel, Jack Ryan), but Pinto’s score is already proving the film’s secret weapon. What a beautiful soundtrack! Some existing songs in there, all weaving around a series of original pieces combining sharpness and softness, Spanish guitars and the odd Thomas Newman-inspired piece of calm character-work. Also included, later in the playlist: ‘McFarland Theme’. Both tracks are very much worth a listen.
Meanwhile, Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg fail to set the world alight in American Ultra – not that they don’t try, in a film with little to say but, strangely, a hundred ways to say it. Sometimes dynamic, always interestingly-made, and with a smashing soundtrack far superior to the film itself – we’re namechecking The Chemical Brothers‘ lovely ‘Snow’ and Wang Chung‘s ‘Dance Hall Days’ for the playlist.
Silliness reigns in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which is trying to ride audience goodwill to things like a Best Screenplay or even Best Picture nomination come next year. Acclaim has dropped off since Sundance, however, and whichever way you slice it Whiplash or Boyhood this ain’t. Luckily, it has a good soundtrack in common with those films so, to honour it, here’s Cat Stevens‘ ‘Trouble’.
But most of Earl‘s appeal lies in its references and parodies, and we have a solid month for nostalgic releases this September: first, there’s Bob Rafelson’s classic Jack Nicholson-starrer Five Easy Pieces, 45 this month – which we’re marking with Tammy Wynette‘s ‘Stand By Your Man’, from one of many memorable sequences; then there’s the 15th anniversary of Cameron Crowe’s Oscar-winner Almost Famous, the most famous scene of which features Elton John‘s ‘Tiny Dancer’; and, of course, it’s 20 years since the release of Fincher’s Se7en, giving us one of the great title sequences as soundtracked wonderfully by Nine Inch Nails‘ ‘Closer (Precursor Remix)’. Each film in turn has had a great influence on subsequent filmmakers and styles, and all are greatly worth celebrating as the minor masterpieces they are. If you do nothing else this month, watch these three films – either for the first or twentieth time – and just marvel at how fantastic they are.
In the middle of all this we have Dario Marianelli‘s ‘Elegy For Dunkirk’, from the Atonement soundtrack. This won Marianelli an Oscar, and he – like so many others in this playlist – will be looking for another nod, in the wake of his Everest score. The film has been received middlingly but, as previous races have proven, a film’s overall reception need not destroy the regard for a good score. Fingers crossed, Dario.
Finally, three very different films are playing us out: Sundance stinker The D Train, intriguing art film Pasolini and the highly buzzed-about Kray twins biopic Legend. The former, a Jack Black-starring dramedy about a high school reunion, may have basically sunk without a trace but it’s still worth catching on its imminent UK release for its star and its star only. Has Jack Black ever been bad? Much like our playlist pick, Chromeo, he merely ebbs and flows depending on the material he has at any one time; though The D Train is no Bernie, expect to be entertained by Black’s tirelessly enjoyable schtick.
We get a little operatic to mark Pasolini, Abel Ferrara’s rather good new film, with Maria Callas‘ rendition of Rossini’s ‘Una voce poco fa’. Much like the film, this is technically masterful but may prove one for the fans; nevertheless, readers with any interest in the possibilities of sheer filmic form (not to mention Willem Dafoe, who stars) are urged to go track down the release. Certain scenes require more than a passing knowledge of Pasolini’s artistic ethos, but as a whole the film beguiles.
Even better, despite some iffy reviews, is Brian Helgeland’s frankly all-over-the-place Legend, with a tremendous dual role from Tom Hardy. What more needs be said? A swinging ’60s period piece, our playlist pick – Booker T‘s ‘Green Onions’ – is pretty much all you need to know for this sprawling, highly entertaining chunk of flawed popular art. And away we go into autumn.