Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Ten Best Film Scores of 2014

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Putting film music year-end lists together tends to be the fun version of “work.”  Before I actually have to sit down and write the damn piece, making the list just means listening to mass quantities of music.  Sure I jot down the occasional note, but it’s primarily a process of absorbing a year’s worth of film scores while doing other work.  Eventually it can be a bit maddening, but the film music binge does allows me to see certain trends that weren’t always clear throughout the year.  Looking back at the scores that have ultimately stood out to me the most since last January, I’m tempted to dub 2014 The Very Qualified Return of the Film Composer.  That is to say, it’s a year when the people who have put in their time toiling in Hollywood for the past several decades, frequently doing thankless work on generic blockbusters, finally had a chance to do what they do best.

Contrast this with my take on this a year ago, when I’d have told you that the best and most interesting stuff happening in film music was happening outside of Hollywood, at the hands of indie musicians and first-time composers who were managing to work on films that didn’t court excessive studio interference.  That’s probably still the case overall, but for whatever reason, the only people surprising me in 2014 were the people who have been at it for decades.  Indie and alt-rock moonlighters like Johnny Greenwood, Alex Ebert, and Trent Reznor have all written fresh, game-changing film music in the past, but their scores this year – Inherent Vice, A Very Dangerous Year, and Gone Girl, respectively – all felt like watered down versions of music that sounded fresh and exciting only a few years ago.  Meanwhile, veterans like Marco Beltrami and Christopher Young – composers I respect but rarely get excited over – reminded me how brilliant they can be when they’re actually given the space for it.

And though it’s reflected less in my personal list, 2014 was also a year when Hollywood finally started to reconsider its embargo on traditional, intelligently orchestrated film music.  It wasn’t consistent enough to be a trend, but if you look at several of the more successful mega-budgeted films this year – say, Godzilla, Maleficent, or Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – you see a surprising number of films willing to allow composers to write old-fashioned orchestral music that doesn’t sound like it’s been processed through a synthesizer or tailored to imitate a temp track.  Granted, that doesn’t automatically reflect the scores’ qualities, and none of the above examples struck me as particularly memorable pieces of work (Desplat’s Godzilla and Howard’s Maleficent both struck me as moderately entertaining genre scores that wouldn’t have stood out when this sort of music was dime-a-dozen twenty years ago, and I thought Giacchino’s Planet of the Apes was actively damaging to the film).  And the moderate resurgence of orchestral music also doesn’t mean that Hans Zimmer’s studio, Remote Control Productions, has somehow lost its influence over Hollywood – the soulless factory scores in this year’s Captain America and X-Men sequels attest to that.  But the fact that there’s even space for old-fashioned stuff alongside the market-tested schlock in today’s film music climate at least indicates that variety hasn’t been entirely stamped out.  And as the list below demonstrates, there’s still plenty of space outside of Hollywood for both members of the old guard and bright freshman voices to write powerful, exciting new film music.

 

  1. The Monkey King – Christopher Young

For film music fans of a certain age, Christopher Young will always have a free pass for his outlandishly gothic Hellraiser scores in the 1980s.  But while he’s worked diligently in a wide number of genres since, he’s rarely had an opportunity to write anything approaching that level of grandeur until now.  His score for this Chinese epic might be his grandest score to date, and it punches just about every button that people used to want from high-scale fantasy scoring.  This is the definition of a fan favorite – the themes are huge and memorable, the pastoral cues are lyrical without veering into sentimentality, the action cues alternate between riveting dissonance and stirring anthems, and the finale is as glorious and over the top as anyone could dream.  I can’t speak to its qualities as film music per se, as the film is so ridiculous that just about any music attached to it is going to seem ridiculous by association (watching the film is like watching the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers and the Mike Myers Cat in the Hat attempt to remake Lord of the Rings).  But taken on its own terms, Young’s music is grand popcorn entertainment of the best kind.

 

  1. The Grand Budapest Hotel – Alexandre Desplat

There’s little to say here that I didn’t say in my review, but my appreciation for Desplat’s deceptively simple score has grown in the intervening months.  Anderson’s tragicomedy needed an even more nimble tone than usual from the composer, and Desplat never makes a wrong step in his tightrope walk between out-and-out silliness, tongue-and-cheek suspense, and bittersweet longing.  On the one hand, the music serves a very practical purpose of keeping the film moving at a racing pace, and it would be easy to discount the feather-light music as being only superficially effective.  But if you rewatch the film with the foreknowledge of its gut-punch of a conclusion, it becomes clear that even when the music is goofing on cimbalom jam sessions, it’s simultaneously planting the seeds of the film’s deeper tragedy.

 

  1. La Rançon la Glorie – Michel Legrand

No living composer is a bigger legend than Michel Legrand, who was both a defining voice of the French New Wave and an instrumental figure in popularizing jazz in Hollywood in the 1960s.  He’s understandably been less prolific in film throughout the past couple of decades, which makes La Rançon de la Glorie such , seemingly out-of-nowhere surprise.  This is the first thing I’ve heard from him in a very long time that sounds just as energetic and creative as his innovative jazz scores in his 1960s heyday; the composer has written an endlessly charming combination of old Hollywood nostalgia and dizzying New Wave jazz.  Particularly stunning is the standalone piece, “Un Moment de grace,” where the composer turns his main theme into a cathedral mass, then gradually juxtaposes the reverb-heavy church organ and choir against his insane jazz experiments.  Clearly age has done nothing to soften one of film music history’s most brazenly innovative voices.

 

  1. Interstellar – Hans Zimmer

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this one, but it’s hard for me to deny that Interstellar is overall one of the most impressive and satisfying Hans Zimmer scores to date.  To be sure, it is by no means a perfect score, and Zimmer’s habit of treating every moment like a cathartic climax nearly severely hinders the film’s opening scenes.  Yet as the action moves out into the cosmos and the film lurches clumsily between jaw-dropping visuals and ham-fisted expository dialogue, Zimmer’s emphatic music gradually turns into an asset, finding emotionally charged profundity in scenes that would otherwise drag on endlessly.  The score isn’t anywhere near as groundbreaking as Zimmer indicates in his interviews (there are times that when seems to think he’s pushed the boundaries of sound itself), but even if you can clearly hear the influence of Philip Glass, Vangelis, and Richard Strauss, the result is nevertheless a remarkably fresh and visceral career highlight for the composer.

 

  1. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya – Joe Hisaishi

Hisaishi has been associated with Studio Ghibli since its earliest days, and his sensitive, playful, and lyrical music has been a crucial component of the animation studio’s aesthetic signature.  If The Tale of the Princess Kaguya turns out to be Ghibli’s swan song, Hisaishi has certainly given the studio a worthy musical coda.  Delicate and exquisitely orchestrated, the score is in many ways Hisaishi’s Ghibli music distilled into its most intimate essence.  You can hear the influence of both traditional Japanese music and Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending,” but more than anything else, the score comes across as the bittersweet cumulation of all of the spare and beautiful animation music that Hisaishi has been writing for decades.

 

  1. Under the Skin – Mica Levi

Taken as pure music, Mica Levi’s score is an endurance test, a near constant screech of white noise that only occasionally lurches into anything even resembling melody.  Yet while I take no pleasure from listening to the soundtrack album, the shrill score is brilliant and essential in the film itself.  The film follows Scarlett Johansson as an alien predator who scours the Scottish countryside for unsuspecting male victims.  Much of what separates the film from your average B-level sci-fi horror flick, however, is the way the film makes human life seem as unnerving and otherworldly to the audience as it does to the protagonist.  This essentially happens through the music, which grinds on so abrasively over ordinary footage of human interactions that it makes human bodies seem like insects.  It’s easily the most groundbreaking, provocative film score on this list, and it signals Mica Levi as a force to be reckoned with if she decides to do more work in film.

 

  1. Visitors – Philip Glass

I’ve been sitting on this one since September of 2013, and before I realized the film itself wasn’t going to be released until January of 2014, this was going to be my choice for 2013’s best score.  Philip Glass’s work with Godfrey Reggio has resulted in some of the most important audio-visual experimentation of the past three decades, with Koyaanisqatsi in 1983 being a particularly huge landmark both in non-narrative film and in minimalist concert music.  While Visitors is not the barn-burner that started the collaboration, it’s a perfect iteration of Glass’s late-period meditative style.  The polar opposite of the frantic time-lapse cinematography in Koyaanisqatsi, Regio’s latest film moves at a glacier’s pace, consisting largely of slow-motion footage of human faces.  Glass responds in kind, with a ponderous score that takes its time building momentum, laying out its ideas brick by brick in mammoth, 15-minute cues.  Yet Glass knows what he’s doing, and if listeners willing to put in the time will gradually hear the music ascend to some of the most powerful, openly moving music Glass has yet written for the cinema.

 

  1. How to Train Your Dragon 2 – John Powell

I already raved about this one in my review, so I’ll keep it short: this is John Powell’s best work to date, taking everything that was exciting and moving about his original 2010 score and pushing it forward with new musical and dramatic maturity.  This is probably the score I spent the most time listening to in 2014, and as emotionally direct, heart-on-the-sleeves film music goes, this was easily the year’s best.

 

  1. The Unknown Known – Danny Elfman

This is Danny Elfman’s second collaboration with Errol Morris after Standard Operating Procedure in 2007, and in many ways it’s a continuation that score’s restlessly inventive minimalism, a provocative side of Elfman that we rarely hear outside of the concert hall.  Elfman’s music in The Unknown Known plays a uniquely crucial role, as the composer is essentially responsible for creating a critical counterpoint to its subject’s obfuscating verbal gymnastics.  The film consists primarily of interviews between Morris and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the later of whom spends most of the film denying any accountability for mistakes made during the Bush administration or the Iraq War.  Morris himself puts pressure on Rumsfeld, but the primary source of critique comes from Elfman, who puts pressure on Rumsfeld’s words without explicitly mocking them.  Sometimes he does this through somber, repetitive piano music that creates a sense of nervous agitation, suggesting a central instability in Rumsfeld’s defense.  In its most powerful moments, however, Elfman uses the music to underline the human tragedies that Rumsfeld would rather downplay.  While Rumsfeld plays rhetorical chess with Morris, Elfman responds with a choir of ghostly children’s voices, a haunted reflection of war’s devastation.  The score becomes a refusal to reduce the thousands of lives that were lost to a verbal tete a tete, and it turns The Unknown Known into a rare film that uses music to interrogate, rather than passively support its subject.

  1. The Homesman – Marco Beltrami

This was a very tough call – really any of the top five scores on this list could have ended up in the number one position had I woken up on a different side of the bed.  But The Homesman ultimately wins out because, more than anything else I’ve spent time with this year, it’s a score that balances rigorous intellectual experimentation and viscerally wrenching drama.  In Tommy Lee Jones’ harrowing Western, a pious women and a shiftless drifter attempt to transport three mentally ill women across the mid-19th century frontier.  Beltrami, who previously did excellent work on Jones’s Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, may have composed his masterpiece this time around, with score that is cerebral and compassionate in equal measure.  The score pulls from a wide range of seemingly disparate threads, mixing warm Americana, frontier hymnals, echoing children’s voices, and bracing music concrete experiments (the latter of which often come on new instruments the composer has invented specifically for the film).  In the midst of this alternately melodic and nerve-wracking collage, Beltrami’s music provides insight into internal lives of the silent women whose minds have been broken by the frontier.  The mentally ill characters have little-to-no dialogue, and it would be easy to see them as marginal to the central relationship between Jones and Swank’s characters.  Beltrami’s music, however, gives the mentally debilitated characters a constant presence in the film, even when the camera isn’t focused on them.  By layering jarring cacophony over sentimental nostalgia, the composer compels us to both imagine the trauma the characters are currently facing and mourn everything they’ve lost in the process.  In giving a voice to characters who have no other means of expressing themselves, the score does the most important thing a film score can ultimately do in my book: it turns film music into an act of empathy.

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Inherent Vice – Film and Score Review

Inherent Vice: Film and Score Review

Man, was I looking forward to Inherent Vice.  Like many people of my generation who got into film in the late 1990s, P.T. Anderson is a giant; he’s our exhibit A whenever we need to argue that we have auteurs who can step with the best of the ‘70s film brats.  For that matter, Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice is on my personal shortlist of favorite books (I’m a bad Pynchon fan who prefers the later, shaggier books to the canonized masterpieces like The Crying of Lot 49; it’s sort of like being Rolling Stones fan who could take or leave Exile on Main Street but is really, really into A Bigger Bang).  So when Paul Thomas Anderson announced plans to film Inherent Vice, seemingly months after its publication, I was needless to say excited.  One of my favorite living authors adapted by one of my favorite living film directors – how often do those worlds converge?

Yet all throughout the hype, I had a hard time biting back a few reservations.  Anderson had yet to make bad film, and his then most recent two – There Will Be Blood and The Master – are both frontrunners for the best films of the 21st century.  Yet throughout the past decade, Anderson has also become an increasingly formal and deliberate director.  While his films all have bracing moments of dark humor, none of them could be construed as light, fun, or whimsical (Punch-Drunk Love might comes the closest, but it takes a long, rage-fueled road to get to its happy ending).  Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, on the other hand, for all of its darker satire and bittersweetness, is a breezy, daffy Krazy Kat comic strip in novel form.  It doesn’t leave behind the grim paranoia or cynicism of the author’s earlier masterpieces, but its overall tone is one of warm, sentimental fondness for a lost anarchic sensibility.  These aren’t qualities I associate with Anderson, and after watching his adaptation of the novel, it’s clear that I never will.  The film of the Inherent Vice was clearly made by extraordinarily talented people, and it’s at the very least a fascinating experiment.  But – at least on first viewing – my overall sense is that it’s an experiment that doesn’t work.  Anderson and his collaborators have certainly poured as much of Pynchon’s prose as was possible onto the screen, but in attempting such a fastidious and literal adaptation, the filmmakers both suffocate the delicate tone of the book and lose any opportunity to make a film that works in its own right.

I’ll grant that on one hand it’s hard for me look at the film entirely objectively.  There’s clearly a disconnect between what made the book special for me and what made the book special for Anderson.  As a story, Inherent Vice places its finger on the transition between the freedom of the ‘60s and the paranoid cynicism of the ‘70s, and I suppose that how you interpret the book is going to depend on which side of that divide comes across more vividly for you.  For me, the novel’s exuberant tone makes the whole enterprise feel much more like a warm embrace of the gleeful anarchy of a distant time than an anxious warning of the turbulent time to follow.  Anderson, however, seems to have taken that vague sense of paranoia as his way into the story.  While the director has kept some of the book’s humor in the form of outright slapstick, the film by and large takes a much more tense, heavy-handed tone than anything I remember from the novel.  In the book, the convoluted conspiracy plot rarely feels like more than a loose framework to zip the reader through a series of crazed vignettes.  Anderson ditches most of those vignettes, and instead pushes us through the conspiracy narrative step by step, as though he were making an actual thriller.  Which by itself is fine – if the director is more interested thumbing through every layer of the Golden Fang conspiracy than he is in pondering why Donald Duck grows 5 O’Clock shadow when he’s lost at sea, well, it’s Anderson’s adaptation.  But even allowing for this difference in interpretation, the slavishly literal-minded approach Anderson takes to this adaptation severely hinders his ability to make a film that works on its own terms.

Much of the problem comes from the near-reverential way the film handles Pynchon’s prose.  Huge chunks of the novel are lifted verbatim for the film, delivered both by Joanna Newsom as the film’s narrator/chorus and by characters delivering long-winding expository monologues.  While it’s easy to admire the director’s attempt at honoring the novel, the issue is that little of this prose was ever meant to be spoken.  Pynchon is one of the best living prose stylists, but the quality of his writing largely comes across in the way his words, with their bizarre character names and comic-strip inspired mispellings, look on the page.  But words that the eye leaps and stumbles over with giddy abandon when they appear on the page stall and putter when actors painstakingly deliver them, one by one, as though reciting from Shakespeare.  In the film, huge chunks of exposition come out of the mouths of characters who rarely look 100% sure that they understand their own dialogue, and it kills the momentum that this material needs to work.

Furthermore, because Anderson largely relies on these nonsensical expository monologues to advance the narrative, the conspiracy plot becomes even more incomprehensible than it was in the book.  This is especially an issue for Joaquin Phoenix who plays Doc Sportello, the film’s stoner P.I. hero.  Phoenix is a talented actor with great comic timing, and his way with a double-take gives the film some of its biggest laughs.  But his method actorly habit of mumbling incoherently, inspired though it was in The Master, is fatal when he’s mumbling crucial plot points here.  And while it’s easy to sympathize with his constant look of panicked confusion, his erratic mugging also prevents him from becoming the laid-back grounded center that the story needs to anchor the surrounding chaos.

Granted, one could argue that the novel was just as guilty of mooring the audience in incomprehensible chaos, but momentum makes a big difference.  In Pynchon’s novel, you don’t always know what’s going on, but you can still feel the tension mounting page by page, and when a character has to say something important, the novel makes sure you hear it with painful clarity.  There isn’t any sense in the film, however, that any of these baffling plot pieces are heading anywhere.  In one of the best scenes in the novel, Doc makes a near-impossible escape from and declares his allegiance to the Bugs Bunnies and Popeyes of the world.  Though one may need to read the novel several times over to figure exactly why Doc was in captivity and who he was escaping from, Pynchon still makes that moment feel like a defining triumph that everything has been building to.  Anderson treats it like just another scene, and one gets the impression that if you reshuffled the scenes and moved the escape to the beginning of the film, few would notice any difference in narrative momentum.

Ultimately, the biggest problems come from trying to make a painstakingly faithful and literal adaptation out of material that only really works when it feels like it’s being made up on the spot.  People have drawn comparisons to Robert Altman’s revisionist Marlow ‘70s classic, The Long Goodbye, but where Altman clearly allowed improvisation to dictate the way he made his ambling gumshoe mystery, every scene in Anderson’s seems fussed over with meticulous deliberation – even when wacky things are happening on-screen.  The film version of Inherent Vice almost seems like it comes from some distant future society that stumbled upon Pynchon’s novel and was under the impression that it was meant to be taken as a sacred hollow text, rather than a shambling shaggy dog paperback.  Which, now that I’ve put it that way, actually makes me like the film a little better.  And I will admit that for all of the harping I just did on the film, I do feel a nagging  urge to watch it again.  Certain filmmakers are powerful enough that even their misfires leave you with the sinking suspicion that you’re the one with the problem, and I may very well take back everything I just wrote months down the line.  But as of now it’s hard not to see this as a noble misfire from a director who is apparently much better at following his own impulses than trying to honor somebody else’s.

Music:

Johnny Greenwood’s music encapsulates where I veer from this film.  Greenwood is a brilliant musician and composer, and his past two scores for Anderson – There Will Be Blood and The Master – have been radically brilliant.  But nobody could accuse Greenwood of having a light touch, and – for me anyway – a lighter touch is what Inherent Vice desperately needed.  Greenwood’s music is far more conventional than anything he’s written for the director previously, but it’s no less heavy-handed.  Granted, his anchoring theme for Doc’s ex-lady, Shasta, is certainly more accessible than anything he wrote for There Will be Blood – in fact, it’s probably the first piece of film music Greenwood’s written that could even reasonably called a “theme.”  And on its own terms, it’s a subtly brilliant composition.  Greenwood is a rare film composer who actually writes interesting orchestrations, and the creative interplay between oboes, woodwinds, and the string ensemble makes even a relatively subdued melody fascinating.  But while beautiful in its own right, the piece also has an oppressively bleak quality that ultimately weighs the film down.  Perhaps its meant to encapsulate the doomed nature of Doc’s pinning over Shasta or the even more doomed nature of Doc’s hippie existence, but these are hardly points that needed to be oversold.  Rather than subtly drawing these themes out as the film progressed, the music sets a dour tone so early on that it nearly smothers any of the film’s attempts at humor right out of the gate.

That said, n individual scenes, the music can still be very effective – Anderson and Greenwood have worked out an enviable music-image relationship, and it’s a marvel to watch and listen as Greenwood’s long-lined cues to spool over from scene to scene while Doc proceeds in his investigations.  At times, Greenwood seems to be channelling Bernard Herrmann’s romantic suspense music from the “following Madeline” scenes in Vertigo, and it’s hard not to admire any composer willing to tip his hat in that direction.  At the same time, Vertigo isn’t exactly a classic stoner comedy, and as cue after cue continues this trend of dour melancholia or anxious suspense, the cumulative impact grows increasingly wearying.  I’d like to admire the counter-intuitive logic in taking a period movie that seems to scream for psychedelic rock and scoring it with Herrmann-esque orchestral music, but the result comes across less as a clever joke and more as tonal indecisiveness.

Conversely, the period song selections are excellent, and the film comes alive considerably every time Anderson takes the jukebox approach to scoring the film.  With a few exception, Anderson avoids obvious late ‘60s staples in favor of eclectic gems like Les Baxter’s exotica lounge number, “Simba,” or Minnie Riperton’s Motown classic, “Les Fleur.”  The tone brights considerably every time one of these songs plays, hinting at the film we might have had if all parties involved had decided to let these bright moments guide the overriding tone.  But – and I rarely find myself saying this – the songs are too few and far between.  This is actually a film where I’d happily take less score if it meant hearing more great songs from the period.

Again, on its own terms, Greenwood’s music is great, and I recommend the album (though Radiohead fans should be warned that if you’re coming for Greenwood’s reworked rendition of “Spooks,” you will only get to hear it under Joanna Newsom’s narration).  Greenwood and Anderson clearly have a great working dynamic, and I hope it continues into the future.  But in this particular instance, I actually wish Anderson had returned to Jon Brion, his prior go-to composer.  As his scores to films like Punch-Drunk Love and I Heart Huckabees demonstrate, Brion excels at music that balances offbeat humor with a melancholy underbite and his knack for balancing tonally tricky films likely would have served Inherent Vice well (it helps that Brion’s music often sounds like it was recorded by some long-forgotten ‘60s pop group).  Greenwood, for all of his many qualities as a composer, feels like the wrong person for this project.  And much as I’d love to be proven wrong, I think that statement ultimately goes for the director as well.

Film Grade: * * * / * * * * *

Score Grade: * * * /* * * * *

2014 International Film Music Critics Association Award Nominees

I realize things have been quiet at Movie Music Musings of late – this will change soon, with some end-of-year features and other reviews on the upcoming slate.  Until then, however, I’d like to share with you the International Film Music Critics Association’s annual nominations for excellence in film music.  Every year, film music critics around the world (including myself) discuss, argue, and finally vote on the year’s best music composed for film, television, and video games.  Many great scores made the cut this year, some of which you’ll see in my own Best-of feature coming in a few weeks (no fair giving them away now).  Until then, here’s the press release with the IFMCA’s 2014 nominations:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

INTERNATIONAL FILM MUSIC CRITICS ASSOCIATION AWARD NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED; COMPOSERS JAMES NEWTON HOWARD AND ALEXANDRE DESPLAT DOMINATE

FEBRUARY 5, 2015 — The International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA) announces its list of nominees for excellence in musical scoring in 2014, for the 11th annual IFMCA Awards. The most nominated composers are American James Newton Howard and Frenchman Alexandre Desplat.

Howard received seven nominations, including nods for Score of the Year, Composer of the Year, Best Action/Adventure/Thriller score, and Best Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror score, all of which were split between his two main works of 2014: the action adventure sequel “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I,” and Disney’s reimagining of the Sleeping Beauty story, “Maleficent”. Howard also received an unprecedented three nominations in the Film Music Composition of the Year category, including one for the song “The Hanging Tree,” which he co-wrote with Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz of The Lumineers, and Hunger Games book series author Suzanne Collins, and which was performed by the film’s lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence. Howard has previously been nominated for a total of 23 IFMCA Awards, winning six of them, including Score of the Year in 2006 for “Lady in the Water”.

Desplat received six nominations: for Score of the Year, two for Best Drama score, Best Comedy score, Best Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror score, and overall Composer of the Year. Desplat’s work in 2014 comprised several outstanding works, notably the blockbuster monster movie “Godzilla,” director Wes Anderson’s quirky comedy “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” the critically acclaimed biopic of British code breaker Alan Turing “The Imitation Game,” and the George Clooney-directed WWII drama “The Monuments Men”. Desplat has previously been nominated for a total of 35 IFMCA Awards, winning nine of them. He won the Best Score award in 2008 for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” and was named Composer of the Year in 2006, 2007, and 2010.

Other composers with multiple nominations include John Powell, who picked up four nominations, all for his work on the animated sequel “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” and Hans Zimmer, who picked up three nominations, all for his work on the Christopher Nolan-directed epic science fiction odyssey “Interstellar”. The other top award nomination went to composer Christopher Young for his score for the epic Chinese action-adventure film “The Monkey King [Xi You Ji: Da Nao Tian Gong],” based on the ancient classical novel Journey to the West.

In addition to Desplat, Howard, Powell and Zimmer, the other composer vying for the title of Composer of the Year is Marco Beltrami, who wrote a number of outstanding scores in 2014, including the Danish TV mini-series “1864,” the mafia drama “The Drop,” the futuristic adventure “The Giver,” the spy thriller “The November Man,” and the fantasy action film “The Seventh Son”. Beltrami received an individual nomination for Best Drama score for his work on director-star Tommy Lee Jones’s bleak and powerful Western “The Homesman”.

Each year the IFMCA goes out of its way to recognize emerging talent in the film music world, and this year is no exception. The nominees in the Breakthrough Composer of the Year category include German composer Alexander Cimini, for his work on the surrealist post-apocalyptic drama “Red Krokodil”; Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel, the erstwhile conductor-in-residence of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, who made his film music debut in 2014 scoring the epic drama “The Liberator [Liberador]”; experimental British singer/songwriter/composer Mica Levi, who impressed with her debut score for the art-house science fiction drama “Under the Skin”; and American composers Matthew Llewellyn and John Paesano, who both wrote impressive scores for a pair of films: Llewellyn with “Deep in the Darkness” and “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” and Paesano with “The Maze Runner” and “When the Game Stands Tall”.

As it has in previous years, the IFMCA takes pride in honoring composers from across the film music world; this year’s international nominees include Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson for his score for the critically acclaimed Stephen Hawking biopic ‘The Theory of Everything,” Spanish composer Roque Baños for his work on the biopic of Mexican comedian and actor “Cantinflas,” Portuguese composer Nuno Malo for his superb music accompanying the 1920s thriller “No God No Master,” Spanish composer Zacarías M. de la Riva for his astonishing contribution to the sci-fi thriller “Autómata,” Frenchman Philippe Rombi for his first ever animation score “Asterix: The Land of the Gods [Astérix: Le Domaine des Dieux],” Norwegian composer Henrik Skram for the feature documentary “Ballet Boys,” and two composers whose superb work on international television series really captured the attention of the voting membership: Japanese composer Yūgo Kanno for the 53rd NHK Taiga drama “Gunshi Kanbei,” and Argentinean composer Federico Jusid for “Isabel”.
Several other composers are receiving their first ever IFMCA Award nominations this year, including Ben Foster (“Hidden Kingdoms,” Documentary), David Newman (“Tarzan,” Animation), Jeff Russo (“Fargo,” Television), and Sarah Schachner (“Assassin’s Creed: Unity,” Video Game).

The International Film Music Critics Association will announce the winners of the 11th IFMCA Awards on February 19, 2015.

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COMPLETE LIST OF NOMINEES

 

FILM SCORE OF THE YEAR

 

  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, music by Alexandre Desplat
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2, music by John Powell
  • Interstellar, music by Hans Zimmer
  • Maleficent, music by James Newton Howard
  • The Monkey King [Xi You Ji: Da Nao Tian Gong], music by Christopher Young

COMPOSER OF THE YEAR

 

  • Marco Beltrami
  • Alexandre Desplat
  • James Newton Howard
  • John Powell
  • Hans Zimmer

BREAKTHROUGH COMPOSER OF THE YEAR

 

  • Alexander Cimini
  • Gustavo Dudamel
  • Mica Levi
  • Matthew Llewellyn
  • John Paesano

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A DRAMA FILM

 

  • The Homesman, music by Marco Beltrami
  • The Imitation Game, music by Alexandre Desplat
  • The Liberator [Libertador], music by Gustavo Dudamel
  • The Monuments Men, music by Alexandre Desplat
  • The Theory of Everything, music by Jóhann Jóhannsson

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A COMEDY FILM

 

  • Cantinflas, music by Roque Baños
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel, music by Alexandre Desplat
  • A Million Ways to Die in the West, music by Joel McNeely
  • Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, music by Alan Silvestri
  • Wishin’ and Hopin’, music by Matthew Llewellyn

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR AN ACTION/ADVENTURE/THRILLER FILM

 

  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I, music by James Newton Howard
  • Inherent Vice, music by Jonny Greenwood
  • The Maze Runner, music by John Paesano
  • The Monkey King [Xi You Ji: Da Nao Tian Gong], music by Christopher Young
  • No God No Master, music by Nuno Malo

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A FANTASY/SCIENCE FICTION/HORROR FILM

 

  • Autómata, music by Zacarías M. de la Riva
  • Godzilla, music by Alexandre Desplat
  • The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, music by Howard Shore
  • Interstellar, music by Hans Zimmer
  • Maleficent, music by James Newton Howard

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR AN ANIMATED FEATURE

 

  • Asterix: The Land of the Gods [Astérix: Le Domaine des Dieux], music by Philippe Rombi
  • The Boxtrolls, music by Dario Marianelli
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2, music by John Powell
  • Son of Batman, music by Frederik Wiedmann
  • Tarzan, music by David Newman

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A DOCUMENTARY

 

  • Ballet Boys, music by Henrik Skram
  • Bears, music by George Fenton
  • Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, music by Alan Silvestri
  • Hidden Kingdoms, music by Ben Foster
  • The Unknown Known, music by Danny Elfman

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A TELEVISION SERIES

 

  • Fargo, music by Jeff Russo
  • Gunshi Kanbei, music by Yūgo Kanno
  • Isabel, music by Federico Jusid
  • The Leftovers, music by Max Richter
  • Penny Dreadful, music by Abel Korzeniowski

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A VIDEO GAME OR INTERACTIVE MEDIA

 

  • Assassin’s Creed: Unity, music by Chris Tilton and Sarah Schachner
  • The Banner Saga, music by Austin Wintory
  • Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2, music by Óscar Araujo
  • Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth, music by Geoff Knorr, Griffin Cohen, Michael Curran and Grant Kirkhope
  • World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor, music by Russell Brower, Neal Acree, Clint Bajakian, Sam Cardon, Craig Stuart Garfinkle, Edo Guidotti and Eímear Noone

BEST ARCHIVAL RELEASE OF AN EXISTING SCORE – RE-RELEASE OR RE-RECORDING

 

  • The Abyss; music by Alan Silvestri, album produced by Nick Redman and Robert Townson, liner notes by Julie Kirgo, album art direction by Robert Townson and Bill Pitzonka (Varèse Sarabande)
  • Empire of the Sun; music by John Williams, album produced by Mike Matessino, liner notes by Mike Matessino, album art direction by Jim Titus (La-La Land)
  • Lair; music by John Debney, additional music by Kevin Kaska, album produced by Dan Goldwasser and John Debney, liner notes by Jeff Bond, album art direction by Dan Goldwasser (La-La Land)
  • The Lion King; score by Hans Zimmer, songs by Elton John and Tim Rice, album produced by Randy Thornton, liner notes by Hans Zimmer and Don Hahn, album art direction by Lorelay Bové (Disney)
  • On the Waterfront; music by Leonard Bernstein, album produced by Douglass Fake, liner notes by Frank K. DeWald, album art direction by Joe Sikoryak (Intrada)

BEST ARCHIVAL RELEASE OF AN EXISTING SCORE – COMPILATION

 

  • The Ava Collection; music by Elmer Bernstein, album produced by Douglass Fake, liner notes by Douglass Fake, album art direction by Joe Sikoryak (Intrada)
  • Batman: The Animated Series Volume 3; music by Shirley Walker, Carlos Rodriguez, Peter Tomashek, Todd Hayen, Harvey R. Cohen, Michael McCuistion, Lars Clutterham, Stuart Balcomb, Mark Koval, Lolita Ritmanis, Richard Bronskill, Tamara Kline, Carl Johnson, Steve Chesne and James Stemple, album produced by John Takis and Neil S. Bulk, liner notes by John Takis, album art direction by Dan Goldwasser (La-La Land)
  • Elmer Bernstein: The Wild Side; music by Elmer Bernstein, performed by Big Band de Canarias feat. Esther Ovejero, Kike Perdomo and Sara Andon, album produced by Robert Townson and Kike Perdomo, liner notes by Robert Townson, album art direction by Robert Townson and Bill Pitzonka (Varèse Sarabande)
  • Henry Mancini: The Classic Soundtrack Collection; music by Henry Mancini, album produced by Didier C. Deutsch and Mark G. Wilder, liner notes by Didier C. Deutsch, album art direction by Chris Mancini and Edward O’Dowd (Legacy/Sony)
  • The Naked Gun Trilogy; music by Ira Newborn, album produced by Dan Goldwasser and Neil S. Bulk, liner notes by Daniel Schweiger, album art direction by Dan Goldwasser (La-La Land)

FILM MUSIC RECORD LABEL OF THE YEAR

 

  • Intrada Records, Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson
  • La-La Land Records, MV Gerhard and Matt Verboys
  • Moviescore Media, Mikael Carlsson
  • Quartet Records, Jose M. Benitez
  • Varèse Sarabande, Robert Townson

FILM MUSIC COMPOSITION OF THE YEAR

 

  • “Flying With Mother” from How to Train Your Dragon 2, music by John Powell
  • “The Hanging Tree” from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part I, music by Jeremiah Fraites, Wesley Schultz and James Newton Howard, lyrics by Suzanne Collins
  • “Maleficent Flies” from Maleficent, music by James Newton Howard
  • “Maleficent Suite” from Maleficent, music by James Newton Howard
  • “Tsunami” from Exodus: Gods and Kings, music by Harry Gregson-Williams

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The International Film Music Critics Association (IFMCA) is an association of online, print and radio journalists who specialize in writing and broadcasting about original film, television and game music.

Since its inception the IFMCA has grown to comprise over 60 members from countries such as Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.

Previous IFMCA Score of the Year Awards have been awarded to Abel Korzeniowski’s “Romeo & Juliet” in 2013, Mychael Danna’s “Life of Pi” in 2012, John Williams’s “War Horse” in 2011, John Powell’s “How to Train Your Dragon” in 2010, Michael Giacchino’s “Up” in 2009, Alexandre Desplat’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in 2008, Dario Marianelli’s “Atonement” in 2007, James Newton Howard’s “Lady in the Water” in 2006, John Williams’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” in 2005 and Michael Giacchino’s “The Incredibles” in 2004.

For more information about the International Film Music Critics Association go to http://www.filmmusiccritics.org , visit our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter @ifmca, or contact us at press@filmmusiccritics.org.