WHAT makes a film so good? Well there’s the acting, the cinematography, the direction, editing, lighting and many other things. But a key aspect to the very fabric of the film comes through the music. It can make or break a scene, it can change our opinion of our character, it can move the foundations of a story. So, come with us as we celebrate our favourite scores and soundtracks of the last five years.
The Grand Budapest Hotel – 2014
by Tom Jennings
The vast body of films made, past and present, have usually centred on change. Their stories often dictate change for the hero to grow and become the person that we should aspire to be. Wes Anderson’s films have usually had change as the central point of their focus, rather than a stage on the hero’s journey. Whether its change of familial relationships, change in life direction or simply change of location, Anderson’s films talk about change much in the same way a dog talks about barking.
The Grand Budapest Hotel represents a change for the director in his musical style. Previously Anderson employed a selection of 60s/70s songs and topically appropriate songs to accompany his films, to great success. But with Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) and again with Moonrise Kingdom (2012) came a part original score soundtrack with the original music composed by Alexandre Desplat (of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Parts 1 &2 fame) who managed to mix his music well with the topical or 60s/70s music the Anderson still employed. Now with The Grand Budapest Hotel Desplat was given the reigns and composed the majority of the soundtrack with only a few not being original. This change in music styles shows the change in Anderson’s style, a more mature, but no less whimsical, film that has garnered him much regard from critics and fans alike. Desplat’s soundtrack, itself, winning the Academy Award for Best Original Soundtrack.
The reason for this wide acclaim, at least with the soundtrack, is that Anderson must have realised that a 60s/70s soundtrack would not have gelled well with a film set in pre-WW2 Central Europe. So, rather than gather a load of pre-WW2 Central European songs, he had Desplat compose the original soundtrack to have Central European themes. With its balalaikas, alphorns, organs choirs and cimbaloms the whole soundtrack feels as if it could have been recorded simply by climbing into the higher reaches of the Eastern alps and walking from town to town. The gorgeousness of this soundtrack is that it evokes the surroundings of the film without even needing to be played alongside the images of the film. Whilst writing this review I have been listening to the soundtrack over and over again and can still clearly picture the beautiful and terrible locations that this soundtrack accompanies.
The simplistic beauty of this soundtrack, though, is in its usage of variations. Being an old trick in any accompanying soundtrack, these variations allow the composer to have “themes” for certain characters or moods, but played in different ways so that they do not become boring to the listener. Any composer worth their salt will use variations but Desplat uses them so well in The Grand Budapest Hotel that every single scene glides along perfectly with the soundtrack and feels enhanced as a result of it. Using the differing Central European styles to convey the character’s emotions and feelings without once betraying that overall feeling is exactly how Desplat composes the music for this film.
TRON: Legacy – 2010
by Laura Say
I’m not a film buff by any extent of the imagination, which often leads to an odd reaction when I list my favourite films. For me, a film is so much more than bad/good acting or pretty cinematography – as a musician myself (and full-on music geek) – it’s all about how it sounds, what the music is like!
When the film first came out, I was excited in general, but extremely sceptical of the choice of Daft Punk. At this point, the only song I’d heard of theirs was ‘Technologic’… not exactly what you expect from a film, right?
You don’t get very far in the film though without realising how prejudiced you are though! Rising from silence comes ‘The Grid’, with a sinister bass line that will go on to feature throughout the film. Slowly building tension, adding strings, other bits of the 85-piece orchestra and finally the synthesiser, it sets the whole tone.
So much of the soundtrack, however, sits back from the action, supporting it and simply (and simply is the perfect word here, considering how sleek it is) providing a further depth to the story and really highlighting the emotion (the strings, brass and frankly gorgeous chords in ‘Finale’ actually make me cry). This does mean it’s harder to identify most of the songs when they’re played on their own, but it also means the seamlessness nature of score as a whole is just… wonderful!
The soundtrack reaches its digital climax in the middle of the film with ‘End of Line’, ‘Dezzered’ and ‘Fall’ – three high-energy songs much more reminiscent of Daft Punk’s regular work and something I wouldn’t be surprised to hear in a nightclub! ‘Dezzered’, especially, really does “Change the scheme! Alter the mood! Electrify the boys and girls!” (to paraphrase Michael Sheen’s character of Castor). Although personally, I don’t like these tracks as much as the relaxed ones elsewhere, I certainly wouldn’t be rushing to turn them off.
Balancing symphony and electronic isn’t an easy task, but on this soundtrack, the technologic dreamscape is something that you can very easily get carried away on. For two robots, it’s a surprisingly… human score.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – 2010
by Andrew Noel
With a movie revolving around the adventures of a Canadian hipster and his troubled, painful love life, it’s no surprise that the soundtrack and score to Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is one of the best of the last five and a half years. Curated by the likes Beck and Nigel Godrich, it drips with Indie goodness, sitting comfortably between modern day Alt-Rock and Classic tracks from the likes of The Rolling Stones and T. Rex.
To me though, one of the outstanding features in Scott Pilgrim soundtrack are the original compositions. Beck gives us some classic tracks from Scott’s band, Sex Bob-Omb , a band that perfectly combines video game and music culture into some raucous Garage Rock. Tracks like ‘Threshold’ and ‘We Are Sex Bob-Omb’ are both catchy, yet also flesh out the trio throughout the film; they’re don’t have the cleanest sound but my God they give it their all. On the other end of the scale, we have The Clash at Demonhead, fronted by Scott’s Ex, Envy. Their song, ‘Black Sheep’, is written by Canadian band Metric, and is perhaps one of the best tracks Emily Haines and co. have ever written. And then there’s Crash and the Boys, their delightfully short songs add to the already comedic value of the film, while still maintaining a certain appeal.
Looking past these compositions as well, the soundtrack does a great job of capturing Bryan Lee O’Malley Indie outlook, as well as using well known Canadian bands such as Metric, Broken Social Scene and Plumtree, whose song ‘Scott Pilgrim’ is cheekily snuck into the soundtrack. Otherwise, songs like ‘Under My Thumb’ and ‘I Heard Ramona Sing’ by the Stones and Frank Black respectively illustrate parts of the film accordingly.
Alongside this excellent soundtrack, we have Nigel Godrich’s wonderful score. Godrich’s trademark style of layering sounds (as shown with his work with Radiohead) works exceedingly well through this film. His score mixes in Video Game-like elements, reinforcing the surrealism and fantastic nature of the film. The glitchy beats soundtrack everything from Vegan telekinectic battles to yetis fighting dragons and everything inbetween. Then Godrich comes out with these standout tracks like ‘Bass Battle’, where the quirkiness is turned up to 11; incredibly vibrant, ballistic songs that draw from the source material to give the film a life of its own.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World is one fantastic film, thanks in part to its diverse, creative, score that gives the already colourful world a soundtrack worthy of its cause. Fantastic work by both Beck and Nigel Godrich produce some wonderful songs that turn an already great film into a cult masterpiece.
Drive – 2011
by Truan Evan
Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive is a truly gripping noir-action film of the early 2010’s (2011) harkening back to the amphetamine-fuelled glitz of the 1980’s. Appropriately, everything about the film evokes a slick, well-oiled machine from the beginning car chase sequence- which benefits from being more build-up and suspense than crash-and-burn, to the final cathartic drive off into the sunset. It is, in a very real sense that the likes of Sin City could never hope to encapsulate, a modern day noir fairy-tale.
The two elements that really carry this minimal plot, minimal dialogue action-drama, are the excellent, flowing cinematography (Newton Thomas Sigel), and its score by Cliff Martinez. Whilst the tendency in action movies has long been to make everything bigger, flashier and louder as the pace increases, Refn and Martinez instead maintain a steady, understated pitch throughout, occasionally broken by episodes of startling and genuinely shocking violence.
This is not to say the film lacks intensity, scenes like the elevator… scuffle, let’s just call it, come in hard and fast like a four-by-four into a pain of glass, and really resonate. The film progresses rather leisurely through the first act with the introduction of the driver (Gosnom) to his neighbour Irene (Mulligan)- here the strangely transient nature of the driver’s day to day life is reinforced by the simple repetitive ambient strain of the synth.
This makes the alteration all the more apparent, both in the early scenes with Irene and Benicio (Leos), where the ambient synth becomes softer and more melodic, and in the night-time drive sequences were the synthpop tracks: ‘Nightcall’ (Kavinsky), and ‘A Real Hero’ (College) kick in to set a stylish, developing pace- as an almost exultant calm fall across Gosling’s face its plain that the only time the driver finds peace is behind the wheel.
In what is an almost dialogue-free romance between Gosling’s muted driver and Mulligan’s preoccupied Irene, the score really helps to accentuate an intimacy founded on little other than quiet glances and very occasional physical contact; though the two actors can take credit for carrying the effect off. When Irene’s absentee husband, the seemingly earnest but troubled Standard (Isaac), returns from a spell in prison, an excellently conflicted celebration scene kicks in with Desire’s ‘Under Your Spell’ to emphasise Irene’s cocktail of relief tinged with guilt at Standard’s return.
Viewers hoping for thoroughly developed and expanded characters and relationships in Drive will probably be disappointed, as in a fairy tale, characters are defined very much by their functions and actions with only very fleeting glimpses into their personalities. The score very much reflects this, with all Martinez’s compositions given simple titles to reflect an action or sequence (i.e: ‘They Broke His Pelvis’, etc.) There’s also the notable inclusion one libretto style piece in Riz Ortolani’s ‘Oh My Love’ which marks the dispatch of the thoroughly despicable wannabe Italian mobster with a Semitic chip on his shoulder Rino, in an ironically melodious but rather poignantly sad tone.
Whilst the soundtrack definitely functions best in its capacity as an intrinsic element of the film itself- a fair two-thirds of the tracks are ambient sessions which suffer a bit out of this context- the first half of the score is peppered with peppy- but often, surprisingly dark- 80’s synth tracks which really get under your skin, and as a whole it’s still well worth a listen.