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. This month sees the battle for the Oscars as the music gets more orchestral and the films get more prestigious – unless you’re Ryan Coogler, in which case you’re probably better than all this anyway. Buckle up, awards-watchers: it’s January…
After Fruitvale Station, Ryan Coogler reuses not only his leading man but his composer, Ludwig Göransson, for Creed. Göransson is an interesting figure, as strangely adjacent to the industry as his director (who, luckily, looks to be breaking through): he’s the composer for Community and New Girl, has produced for artists including Chance the Rapper, HAIM and Childish Gambino, and his other movie credits include such bullshit as 30 Minutes or Less and We’re the Millers. Nevertheless, he’s fantastic and his ‘Creed Suite’ showcases every single one of his talents, mixing swelling inspirational orchestra with electronic hip-hop noises, processed beats and even a blended dialogue sample. Make no mistake: Creed is already one of the year’s biggest talent pools.
Speaking of talent: Alexandre Desplat is current holder of the Best Original Score Oscar. After composing The Grand Budapest Hotel, the composer quickly moved on to Godzilla, Unbroken and The Imitation Game, which got him a second simultaneous nomination. And after winning his first Oscar? Well, who knows; Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales still hasn’t moved on from Cannes and Wim Wenders’ Every Thing Will Be Fine is languishing on VOD – meaning Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl is, for most, the first taste of Desplat in some time. The film itself flits between keeping the music at a subconscious distance and blasting it loudly for that classical emotional wallop – either way, Desplat has created some truly beautiful compositions and something about these and Hooper’s painterly direction make this the King’s Speech and Les Mis director’s closest yet to a recognisable art film. Will Desplat – and glorious pieces like ‘Gerda in the Rain’ – win that second Oscar for helping to elevate this sometimes by-the-numbers prestige pic? Not if Quentin Tarantino has anything to say about it.
The Hateful Eight has been marketed around its wild coups. It’s resurrected Jennifer Jason Leigh; it’s got everyone ballyhooing about 70mm film again; and Tarantino’s not only brought legendary composer Ennio Morricone back into the Hollywood spotlight, but persuaded him to create his first complete Western-genre score in four decades. Funnily enough, it’s amazing: if opening piece ‘L’Ultima Diligenza di Red Rock’ alone doesn’t win the 87-year-old that elusive Oscar many will be astonished. We’ve included the ‘#2’ reprised version for the sake of playlist brevity, but we’d encourage everyone to blast the full 7:31 opening version at full volume, at every chance.
But then, while we’re on the topic of Oscar, there’s Ryuichi Sakamoto‘s work for The Revenant. ‘Main Theme Atmospheric’ in particular is an inspired piece of Western-esque melancholy that sounds, surely, like it should explode at any moment. But there’s no grand sweep or climax here; it remains chilly, distant, tragic. Sakamoto previously won nearly 30 years ago, for The Last Emperor, and is a strong bet to repeat for a soundtrack so artfully tied to its spectacular surrounding film.
Almost entirely out of the running save its deserving leading lady, David O. Russell’s Joy features yet another excellent jukebox of treats. Complain all you want about his unique editing style; Russell sure knows which songs to pick and where to put ’em. For his latest – either a Hollywood-y art film or an artsy Hollywood film, depending on which scene you’re watching – Russell threads everything, with surprising effect, around Jennifer Lawrence; that includes the music. This is a movie driven entirely by the emotions, two hours of pseudo-plot dictated entirely by what its central character is experiencing at any moment. Has Russell gone off the deep end? Some think so. Either way, Joy demands to be seen – and, for full effect, heard: Ella Fitzgerald and her classic ‘I Want To Be Happy’ certainly think so.
Of course, for all Lawrence’s skill in navigating such a tightrope of a role, it’ll probably be Brie Larson’s big year at the Oscars. Stephen Rennicks, Room‘s composer, is basically untested – at least by these high-profile standards – but after working on Lenny Abrahamson’s previous film Frank, Rennicks comes into his own, helping greatly in organically building and directing the film’s emotions. For the Playlist, we’ve included the low-key ‘Gone Day’.
For The Assassin, legendary Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien has made an interesting but great choice by re-appointing his regular collaborator Lim Giong. Interesting why? Because Lim is more noted for his electronic work; quite different, tonally, to the elegiac Tang-era wuxia on display here. Of course, in classic Hou fashion, it’s not quite as simple a dialectic as this: listen again to elegant, modernistic tracks such as ‘Lighting Road’ from Millennium Mambo (which you can do on this very playlist, funnily enough) and let the doubts wash away. These men know what they’re doing.
As composers go, though, The Big Short has possibly the most interesting: the co-producer of Whiplash, Nicholas Britell. That’s right. The producer of Whiplash. Naturally – and in keeping with the tone of this film – there’s much bitter humour in this excellent score. The opener seems incongruously serene, almost angelic – and then you realise it’s titled ‘Boring Old Banking’. This smash-segues into the hysterically smooth, celebratory jazz of ‘Lewis Ranieri’, an ironic ode to the titular banking baddie. We’ve used this as our Playlist pick; Britell and director Adam McKay have pulled out all the stops with a complex, startling, angry, mournful and frequently sarcastic soundtrack – sounds a lot like the film itself…
Youth may not have set the world alight, and its star, Michael Caine, may by now be a total impossibility for an Oscar nom, but Paolo Sorrentino may yet return to the Dolby this year. Why? ‘Simple Song #3’, that’s why. Composer David Lang creates a beautifully intimate piece, wearing the clothes of an opera, that’s among the favourites for Best Original Song this year. It starts off great, gets better, and has a genuine punch of a change halfway through; as Indiewire have explained, the track absolutely makes the film. This one’s a rare treat.
Finally, in honour of the man whose sweeping influence on culture – popular and otherwise – was, and is, so wide that many a film of the past four decades has, consciously or not, borne his swaggering, alienated, multistylistic prints… it is, simply, David Bowie‘s brief, yearning, quasi-boogieing epic ‘Starman’. Full disclosure: it was so difficult picking one single song that was more straightforwardly connected to Bowie’s actual film career that we just wimped out and went for the big signature. But doesn’t it just remain one of the most fabulous things?