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Alexandre Desplat (#110 of 13)

Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions Original Score

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Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Original Score
Oscar 2015 Winner Predictions: Original Score

By now, anyone who’s followed the Oscars with enthusiasm levels we’ll say match your best friend who tries to maybe catch four or five of the best picture nominees only after the nominations have been announced is now likely familiar with the sad case of Alexandre Desplat. An overachieving workhorse in the John Williams tradition, Desplat’s work, like Williams’s (or the protagonist of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which earned Desplat a nomination), has gradually with time streamlined many of the glorious, avant-garde wrinkles from his voice to the point that his scores often skirt self parody. But at least in Williams’s case, a lot of his idiosyncratic, exciting early scores were at least nominated; the films almost everyone agrees represented Desplat’s finest work to date (e.g. Birth; The Painted Veil; Lust, Caution; to say nothing of his compositions for French cinema) were all ignored by Oscar.

Review: Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Review: Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Review: Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Matt Zoller Seitz’s The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel is fueled by a sense of escalating invention and exploration. Nothing is taken for granted in this book. You might be glancing through an interview, skimming before taking the cover-to-cover plunge, only to be side-swept by a footnote that’s a self-contained mini-essay pertaining to, say, the brief rise of narration in fiction films in the 1940s, or by a remark about an actor that segues into a brief encapsulation of their notable roles. The book is charged by an obsession that recurs in both Anderson and Seitz’s work: with getting to the bottom of something, thoroughly and resolutely. Any sentiment expressed by either man is liable to be treated as a thread to be pulled so as to initiate a new investigation, which might reveal another sidebar (or illustration, or detailed diagram, or storyboard, or book of sheet music, or painting), which will feature other gems of information and beauty. These gradually accumulate to offer an immersive portrait, not just of The Grand Budapest Hotel, but of life as an ongoing gesture of education as route to refining a sense of empathy.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions Original Score

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Original Score
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Original Score

This year’s crop of Original Score nominees hits all the markers that we’ve come to expect. And though none of the entries are fundamentally undeserving, their collective safeness succinctly outlines the dull uniformity for which the Academy is routinely and rightly criticized. Off the bat, we can rule out perennial nominees John Williams (The Book Thief) and Thomas Newman (Saving Mr. Banks). Each of their scores boasts impressive technical chops and lavish orchestration, but the films themselves are on the far fringe of the awards circuit and lack novelty to stand out. Joining them, though perhaps with slightly better odds, is Alexandre Desplat, whose musical tendencies and Oscar track record of late are beginning to resemble a post-Schindler’s List Williams, which would otherwise be a compliment outside the context of Williams’s two-decade-long victory drought. The simple thematic elegance Desplat brings to Philomena may leave an impression with some voters, but when we consider that the composer has done similar work for recent, higher profiles films like The King’s Speech, and hasn’t won, there’s no reason to expect his winless streak to end this year.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions Original Score

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Original Score
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Original Score

Typically, there’s at least one Oscar-nominated score that stands out as unique, with memorable flourishes that push it ahead as the frontrunner (think Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s tech-heavy Social Network compositions, and Dario Marianelli’s typewriter-clicky work for Atonement—two scores that sent their makers home with naked gold men). This year, though, there’s no real shortlisted soundtrack that lingers firmly in the ear, give or take the occasional segment that bolsters a pivotal scene. Marianelli is back in the ring for his score for Anna Karenina, another Joe Wright confection that employs the composer’s baroque talents. Matching Wright’s stagey conceit with an almost circus-like aural melodrama, Marianelli is responsible for a good chunk of the film’s intoxicating powers. But far more noteworthy are the lush costumes, sets, and lensing—arenas in which this remix of the Tolstoy classic are bound to fare better.

Oscar Prospects: Zero Dark Thirty

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Oscar Prospects: Zero Dark Thirty

Columbia Pictures

Oscar Prospects: Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty was certainly made to seem special, kept under tight lock and key before being slowly, strategically unveiled at year’s end, but few pundits likely predicted the gravity of the film’s Oscar potential, and that Bigelow may well have another winner on her hands. As 2012 winds down, it’s beginning to feel a lot like 2009, when The Hurt Locker stormed ahead as the little contender that could, and sat poised to not just claim the Academy’s top prize, but make Bigelow its first female Best Director. If you want to go by precursor buzz alone, Zero Dark Thirty has now stepped ahead of Lincoln as this year’s Best Picture frontrunner, claiming top kudos from The New York Film Critics Circle, and topping the 10-Best lists of early-out-of-the-gate critics like David Edelstein and Lisa Schwarzbaum (Owen Gleiberman and Richard Corliss, who also revealed their lists, included it among their picks as well). For whatever it’s worth in this early stage, the film also picked up five nods from the International Press Academy, landing Satellite nominations for Picture, Director, Actress (Jessica Chastain), Original Screenplay (Mark Boal), and Editing (Dylan Tichenor). And as of this very writing, the National Board of Review has named Zero Dark Thirty its Best Film of the Year, with Bigelow taking the Director trophy. It’s more than safe to assume that the movie has an ironclad slot in Oscar’s top race, if not a damn good shot at ending up ahead of the pack.

Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Score

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Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Score
Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Score

All this talk about Meryl Streep and very few are editorializing much on when the Academy will give John Williams an award just for being America’s most Kennedy Center Honor-ific film composer. He’s been trophied more often and more recently, but it’s still been a pretty long stretch since 1993. Both Williams and Steven Spielberg have been laying low since the latest Indiana Jones movie blew up in everyone’s face, but they’ve returned in tandem and it’s hard to see how the Academy’s music branch will be able to a) resist, and b) choose one over the other. So expect them to have their cake and eat it too, citing both the traditional Wagnerian triumphalism of War Horse (which, up until the last two weeks, seemed a frontrunner for double-digit nods) and the more varied, synth-assisted, Prokofiev-tinged themes from The Adventures of Tintin.

Oscar Prospects: The Tree of Life

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Oscar Prospects: The Tree of Life

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Oscar Prospects: The Tree of Life

Few would argue against The Tree of Life being one of the very best films of the year, but it remains the biggest wild card of awards season, a massively beloved masterpiece whose impressionistic style and ostensible inaccessibility have presumably prevented it from surging forward as a sure thing. Since claiming the Palme d’Or (which does mean something despite the common lack of Cannes/Oscar overlap), the film has landed on scads of top ten lists and picked up Best Picture wins and nominations from the BFCA, the OFCS, the Chicago Film Critics, the Detroit Film Critics, the Houston Film Critics, the San Diego Film Critics, the San Francisco Film Critics, the Toronto Film Critics, and the Gotham Independents. It has not, however, managed to declare itself an all-but-certain holder of a Best Picture slot a la The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, War Horse, Moneyball, The Help, and Midnight in Paris. Its complete Golden Globes shutout is hardly surprising, ditto its SAG snubs, but yesterday’s diss from the Producer’s Guild was a bit more unexpected, and a lot more crucial in terms of its overall Oscar hopes. Even with all the resounding support, can The Tree of Life stay in the big race?

In the Beginning: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life

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In the Beginning: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life

Fox Searchlight Pictures

In the Beginning: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life

For a filmmaker so consumed with the inexorable progression of time, history, and life, the way in which we’re all complex byproducts of the past and harbingers of the future, it’s fitting that The Tree of Life finds Terrence Malick finally returning to the beginning, travelling back, back, back to the dawn of everything, even as he grapples with his own complicated childhood memories and the bewildering present. Though that eon-spanning journey doesn’t occur from the outset, its relatively early appearance colors the entirety of this bold, mystifying, hypnotic film, laying bare the director’s desire to comingle the ancient, recent, and now for a lushly poetic inquiry—at once more personal and specific than his prior work, and yet also more universal and oblique—into man’s rapport with his environment, his place in the galaxy, his heart’s simultaneous capacity for kindness and cruelty, and his contradictory relationship to God. It’s the last of these that repeatedly takes center stage during the course of Malick’s fifth magnum opus, as a title-card quote from the Book of Job intriguingly open this metaphysical investigation into suffering and forgiveness—a bibilical reference to set the stage for a drama gripped by the question of why a father, and our heavenly Father, might hurt the very ones he claims to love.

Cannes Film Festival 2011 Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life

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Cannes Film Festival 2011: The Tree of Life

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Cannes Film Festival 2011: The Tree of Life

Can any critic fully trust their initial reaction to such a thematically mammoth film like Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life? I’m battling this question myself nearly two hours after the film premiered at Cannes. To do so almost seems like a disservice to the endless possibilities Malick’s film affords the viewer, like competing in a mad rush to a finish line that doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, the long gestating hype surrounding the film and the “Shoot first, ask questions never” dogma of Twitter has already taken their toll. Processing a piece of film art like this takes time, and a lot of it, especially when the core function of The Tree of Life is to linger and crystallize. Since my own relationship with all Malick’s films remains fluid, I’ll try to reveal certain impressions about his latest project at this one moment in time, at this particular crossroads of perception. It’s most definitely a profound and shape-shifting work, a towering examination of the way light and sound both comfort and repel. In turn, my thoughts will most definitely follow suit, morphing over time with repeat viewings.