by John Ostrander
So, the nominations for this year’s Academy Awards have been announced and there were a few surprises. A super-hero film, Black Panther, became the first of its kind to be nominated and Netflix landed its first nomination for Best Picture as well and Meryl Streep got nominated as Best Actress. No, wait – Streep wasn’t nominated. That was the surprise. I thought there was some sort of rule she had to be nominated.
I have different levels of interest in the Academy Awards depending on the category but a particular favorite of mine is soundtrack, a.k.a. Original Score. And the nominees this year are:
Black Panther — Ludwig Goransson
BlacKkKlansman — Terence Blanchard
If Beale Street Could Talk — Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs — Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppins Returns — Marc Shaiman
I haven’t seen as many movies this past year as I usually do and only saw one film that was nominated for best score (Black Panther, natch) but I was very impressed at the time with the music. I don’t know Goransson’s work very well, aside from Creed (which was also first rate) but his score for Black Panther both stood out and, at the same time, fully supported the film.
The other composers I don’t know as well aside from Alexandre Desplat who did both parts of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Argo, and the King’s Speech and also Marc Shaiman who wrote, among other things, Hairspray.
I rely on music a great deal when I’m writing; it gives me emotion, character insight, even story. For the most part, it can’t be music with lyrics because the lyrics can interfere with how I use my words. I like soundtrack music especially because it’s always part of telling a story; if I find the right piece of movie music, it will become part of my story and I’ve been known to play it over and over again until I drive others mad. (This, of course, is why they created headphones.) I can even find story ideas in the music. Something rises emotionally within me and I “see” things, first like shadows or ghostly images that, as I replay the music, comes into focus.
I have my favorites, of course. Jerry Goldsmith was one of the greats, not only in quantity but quality and variety of style. Patton, City Hall, The Ghost and the Darkness, Capricorn One, and – of course – Chinatown among so many others. The latter is one to which I return again and again especially when working on moody, noir-ish things. Beautiful and sad. Exquisite.
Another selection on my best list sections is the soundtrack to WAKING NED DEVINE composed by Shaun Davey. The film in itself is also one of my faves and the music fits and compliments and amplifies it so well. It’s a wonderful black comedy that can literally make me laugh out loud. Correction: one moment puddles me in hysterics. The music is a joy and when I’m looking for a lighter scene, it’s my go-to soundtrack.
Perhaps my favorite soundtrack corresponds, of course, with one of my favorite movies – Field of Dreams. Composer James Horner died much too young but not before creating an incredible body of work that included the music to Apollo 13, The Rocketeer, The Mask of Zorro, Deep Impact, and – of course – Titanic. He was accused of sometimes “borrowing” from other composers; I know he sometimes “borrowed” from himself.
For me, Field of Dreams is his masterpiece. It is lyrical, transcendent, mystical and it’s waltz rhythms perfectly evoke a sense of memory. Yes, I am one of those men who eyes tear up at the end; I freely admit it and the music contributes greatly to that. I heard the score before I ever saw the movie; it drew me to seeing the film.
It’s not only soundtracks that can and do influence my work; classical works can, of course, also do that. APPALACHIAN SPRING by Aaron Copland, especially in the suite, moves me as no other piece of music. The work was originally for a ballet (and there is a longer ballet version of it available) and, as such, it has its own story to tell so, in that way, it’s not unlike a movie score. Copland did compose soundtrack music as well such as Our Town and The Red Pony but it is really Appalachian Spring that resonates most with me. You can hear its influence on so many other pieces of music, including Field of Dreams. It echoes through the years.
So there you have it – my own list of nominees. And the winner is – well, how about that? It’s a tie – all of ‘em.
No, wait. The winner is me.
Excuse me. I need to put on some music.
John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. It’s been awhile since he’s been here, but now John’s back with a new column at a new blog, PopCultureSquad, where this piece first appeared (before Christmas even, but we’ve been on a break so you get to relive the holiday now). You can learn more about John and his many masterworks HERE