Happy New Year! (It had better be)
Normally at this time of year I'd be listing my Oscar predictions for 2020, but due to the pandemic, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has moved the 2021 Oscars to April 25, and extended the eligibility period of film releases through February 28. They currently plan to announce the shortlists on February 9 and the nominations on March 15. I plan to post a predictions column sometime between those two dates, though I still expect I will have seen few if any of the major contenders by then, so mentally I'll be putting an asterisk next to this year's list. A friend was asking my predictions for the score shortlist*, and at this point I have no idea what's even eligible. Is Soderbergh's Let Them All Talk (score by Thomas Newman) considered a 2020 feature? I've heard that Steve McQueen's critically acclaimed Small Axe movies are not being submitted for Oscar consideration.
MY TEN FAVORITE SOUNDTRACK RELEASES OF 2020
THE DON IS DEAD (Intrada)
ENDLESS NIGHT (Quartet)
THE QUINN MARTIN COLLECTION, VOL. 3: THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO (La-La Land)
THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION (Quartet)
THE SWARM (La-La Land)
TAKE HER, SHE'S MINE (Intrada)
VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (La-La Land)
WAR OF THE WORLDS (Intrada)
IN THEATERS TODAY
Films currently screening in cities where are theaters are still open include The Croods: A New Age, Fatale, Monster Hunter, News of the World, Pinocchio, Promising Young Woman and Wonder Woman 1984.
Film Music 1976-2020 - Brian Eno - Astralwerks
The Orville: Season Two - Andrew Cottee, John Debney, Joel McNeely - La-La Land
Rams - Brian Eno - Universal
Lost Themes III: Alive After Death - John Carpenter - Sacred Bones
Zappa - John Frizzell, songs - Zappa Records
No Time to Die - Hans Zimmer - Decca
Civilta Del Mediterraneo - Bruno Nicolai - Kronos
Fireball XL5 - Barry Gray - Silva
Gaza Mon Amour - Andre Matthias - Kronos
L'Uomo Europo - Francesco DeMasi - Kronos
The Shepherd - Arthur Valentin Grosz - Kronos
Sostiene Pereira - Ennio Morricone - Caldera
The Twentieth Century - George Antheil, Paul Creston, Gail Kubik, Darius Milhaud, Harold Shapero - Kritzerland
Viking Women and the Sea Serpent - Albert Glasser - Kronos
THIS WEEK IN FILM MUSIC HISTORY
January 1 - David Broekman died (1958)
January 1 - Shane Carruth born (1972)
January 1 - Halli Cauthery born (1976)
January 1 - Adolph Deutsch died (1980)
January 1 - David Buttolph died (1983)
January 1 - Hagood Hardy died (1997)
January 2 - Lalo Schifrin records his score for the Mission: Impossible episode “Takeover” (1970)
January 2 - Christopher Lennertz born (1972)
January 3 - Maurice Jaubert born (1900)
January 3 - George Martin born (1926)
January 3 - Van Dyke Parks born (1941)
January 3 - Recording sessions begin for Bronislau Kaper's score for Ada (1961)
January 3 - Alfred Newman begins recording his score for Nevada Smith (1966)
January 3 - Dominic Frontiere records his score for The Invaders episode “The Leeches” (1967)
January 3 - Patrick Williams records his score for The Streets of San Francisco episode “Act of Duty” (1973)
January 3 - Thomas Bangalter born (1975)
January 3 - Bernhard Kaun died (1980)
January 3 - Recording sessions begin for Hans Zimmer’s replacement score for White Fang (1991)
January 3 - Alan Silvestri begins recording his score for Reindeer Games (2000)
January 4 - Lionel Newman born (1916)
January 4 - Buddy Baker born (1918)
January 4 - Joe Renzetti born (1941)
January 4 - Recording sessions begin for Sol Kaplan’s score for The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)
January 4 - Michael Hoenig born (1952)
January 4 - Franz Waxman begins recording his score to Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)
January 4 - John Green begins recording his score to Raintree County (1957)
January 4 - Laurence Rosenthal begins recording his score for A Raisin in the Sun (1961)
January 4 - Angela Morley records her score for The New Adventures of Wonder Woman episode “Going, Going, Gone” (1979)
January 4 - Pino Calvi died (1989)
January 4 - Jay Chattaway records his score for the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Past Prologue” (1993)
January 4 - Basil Poledouris begins recording his score for On Deadly Ground (1994)
January 5 - Leighton Lucas born (1903)
January 5 - Chris Stein born (1950)
January 5 - Jerry Fielding begins recording his score, adapted from Bizet, for The Bad News Bears (1976)
January 5 - Malcolm Seagrave died (2001)
January 5 - Elizabeth Swados died (2016)
January 6 - David Whitaker born (1931)
January 6 - Aaron Zigman born (1963)
January 6 - John Williams records his score for Nightwatch (1966)
January 6 - A.R. Rahman born (1967)
January 6 - Leith Stevens records his score for the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode “Man-Beast” (1968)
January 6 - Jerry Fielding begins recording his score for The Wild Bunch (1969)
January 6 - Jay Chattaway records his score for the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Blood Fever” (1997)
January 6 - Georgy Sviridov died (1998)
January 6 - Mario Nascimbene died (2002)
January 7 - Jose Maria Vitier born (1954)
January 7 - Leigh Harline begins recording his score for The True Story of Jesse James (1957)
January 7 - Jeff Richmond born (1961)
January 7 - Alfred Newman begins recording his score for The Pleasure of His Company (1961)
January 7 - Clint Mansell born (1963)
January 7 - Jerry Goldsmith records the pilot score to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1964)
January 7 - Paul Sawtell records his score for the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episode “Eleven Days to Zero” (1964)
January 7 - Joseph Mullendore records his score for the Land of the Giants episode “Panic” (1970)
January 7 - Jeff Toyne born (1975)
January 7 - James Horner begins recording his score for Rascals and Robbers: The Secret Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (1982)
January 7 - David Lindup died (1992)
DID THEY MENTION THE MUSIC?
CHICUAROTES - Jacobo Lieberman, Leonardo Heilblum
"As the story freewheels zanily through botched robberies, kidnappings and escape plots under a pleasant score from Jacobo Lieberman and Leonardo Heilblum, there are enough touching moments to hint at the simpler and more emotive film that exists somewhere within 'Chicuarotes.' But Cagalera is an unreliable anchor to cling to through wave after wave of family melodrama, chase movie, romance, buddy comedy and rite-of-passage tragedy. And when it finally comes to resolve on a semi-redemptive note -- he may have lost a lot but he has, finally, gained some wisdom -- it’s unfortunate that we’ve long ago stopped caring about such an unappealing character’s redemption. As a film, 'Chicuarotes' is intermittently impressive and as a director, García Bernal clearly has real heart -- it’s just that here, he puts it in the wrong place."
Jessica Kiang, Variety
CUTIES - Niko Noki
"Under Doucouré's direction, the film walks a fine line between its controversial imagery and taking a step back to reveal the emotional impulses that drive Amy and her friends to seek attention and affirmation. There are echos of films like 'Eve’s Bayou,' 'Girlhood' and 'The Fits,' but given Amy’s age and the directness with which 'Cuties' addresses the issue of sexualizing young girls, the film feels uniquely its own. With the help of cinematographer Yann Maritaud, Doucouré adds little surrealistic elements and uses color to make her images pop off the screen. For instance, there’s a recurring motif of Amy transfixed by the dress she’s supposed to wear for her father’s wedding, and different things happen to it that correspond to what she’s going through. It’s likely not a mistake that the turquoise color of the dress echoes some of the colors around the apartment, tying together the threads of culture and home into one. For every dance scene that may make you want to avert your eyes, there are other uncomplicated moments of childhood playtime like Amy and Angelica talking with their mouths full of gummy bears or four of the girls running with shopping bags throwing confetti, like they’re leading a parade for themselves. As if following the beat of Niko Noki’s music for the film, 'Cuties' moves at a quick, riveting pace. The two parts of Amy’s world are seamlessly connected together by editors Stéphane Mazalaigue and Mathilde Van de Moortel."
Monica Castilo, RogerEbert.com
DREAMLAND - Patrick Higgins
"If the landscape evokes the mythicism of Terrence Malick, the rest of the aesthetic often channels the criminal buzz of Fritz Lang: High-angle shots add a divine sense of danger, while noirish lighting and expressive cuts endow the movie with an energy all its own, even as Allison and Eugene careen into every cliché they find along the side of the road. It’s one thing to have a good eye, but Joris-Peyrafitte has real vision. You can see it in the visual integrity of the film’s occasional effects, and you can hear it in the tornado-like strings of Patrick Higgins’ reactive score, a riveting body of music that recalls the work of 'Woman in the Dunes' composer Toru Takemitsu in how it creates dense cavities of feeling beneath the film’s characters."
David Ehrlich, IndieWire
FREAKY - Bear McCreary
"Editor Ben Baudhuin (2019’s 'Black Christmas') keeps a sure hand on the pacing, with some genuinely surprising jolts, enhanced by Bear McCreary’s score, and while 'Freaky' follows the Blumhouse formula of unfolding in as few locations as possible, the production design team and location scouts have assembled an ideal slasher milieu, from the leafy town square to a high school that has nooks and crannies and dangerous wood-shop equipment around every corner."
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
"Landon leans heavily on Bear McCreary’s high-suspense score, calling even more attention to the music via ironic soundtrack cues -- as when a 'Que Sera Sera' cover dissolves into $UicideBoy$ and Travis Barker’s punk anthem 'Don’t Trust Anyone!' for the thoroughly modern Millie’s grand re-entrance -- but it’s DP Laurie Rose who gives the movie its signature feel. As a meta entry in that most disposable of genres, the teen slasher movie, 'Freaky' manages to feel original, which is saying something, since it’s basically warping conventions we’ve all seen a million times before."
Peter Debruge, Variety
HILLBILLY ELEGY - Hans Zimmer, David Fleming
"The awards thirst is palpable from the swelling string score to the closing based-on-a-true-story photo montage -- not to mention the casting that didn’t even seem to refer to the script. Glenn Close’s Mamaw is supposed to be just 13 years older than Amy Adams’ Bev? Really? Both tragically bewigged performers go big in roles almost parodically perfect for the perennial Oscar hopefuls, always reminding us that yes, it really is them in those Walmart T-shirts. Adams is unhinged in a sad way, while Close stretches actorly affectations as thin as the wisdom she’s asked to dispense. Her aphorisms and exclamations are just the absurd starting point for a character with more constipated grimaces than personality. At least Gabriel Basso’s cardboard J.D. looks a lot like Owen Asztalos, who plays his younger self with a tiny bit more life."
Jacob Oller, Paste Magazine
I AM GRETA - Jon Ekstrand, Rebekka Karijord
"There are many kinds of documentaries one might want to see from 'I Am Greta,' a Hulu portrait about famous teenage Climate Change activist and eco-warrior Greta Thunberg. One might hope for something akin to 'The Inconvenient Truth,' with tons of sobering statistics and easy-to-understand graphs and charts led by the passionate teenager (you won’t find that here). One might wish for a doc that explains who Thunberg is, what makes her tick, and what set her off on this journey of activism (that’s here, but in more of an oblique way). And one might just want something rousing and inspirational that hopefully urges other people to dream big and perhaps motivate a similar commitment (lots of that, a terrifically moving score by Jon Ekstrand and Rebekka Karijord, helps). What this documentary does make clear is that, much like the hostile world we live in, where personal motivations are seemingly always questioned, and our demand for 'the truth' is ruthless and yet often thwarted, everyone wants a piece of Greta Thunberg. More to the point, 'I Am Greta,' perhaps doesn’t claim to be the definitive portrait of Greta Thunberg, but instead, a dutiful chronicle of a most extraordinary year."
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist
JUNGLELAND - Lorne Balfe
"That’s a lot of plot to chew on for a 93-minute programmer that races towards California with the sinewy feel of a ‘70s throwback and the run-and-gun posture of 'They Live by Night,' but Winkler’s small body of work already suggests that he’s most comfortable when things are a little off-balance (see 'Flower' for more proof and a killer Zoey Deutch performance). 'Jungleland' would be easy to write off as the flinty and familiar drama that Lorne Balfe’s horn-driven score wants you to believe that it is, but the po-faced sincerity of the music only calls further attention to the ways in which this movie is trying to shed its own skin."
David Ehrlich, IndieWire
"'Jungleland' is periodically drenched in an ennobling score by Lorne Balfe that references Copland, even Wagner, and which duly elevates the onscreen action. Still, we can never quite buy the tragic grandeur Winkler and his co-scenarists aim for. The events here never seem predetermined by cruel fate, but by the conventions of familiar prior fictions. An end-credits Springsteen song (not 'Jungleland,' actually) arrives with the same corny predictability as Lion’s big monologue about his pathetically humble “dream” (owning a dry cleaning business). He has a beloved whippet dog, and there are no prizes for guessing that hound will exit the story in a piteous way."
Dennis Harvey, Variety
THE OWNERS - Paul Frazer, Vincent Welch
"The first half of the film leans heavily on being atmospheric and sinister, with a detour into nerve-wracking during a lengthy standoff in the basement. But the homestretch simply goes full gonzo in a way that is pretty scary but not remotely believable. The music goes all screechy, Mary battles with psychotic captors and idiotic allies, and the whole thing becomes increasingly baroque and twisted and ludicrous."
Steve Pond, The Wrap
PROXIMA - Ryuichi Sakamoto
"Despite enthusiastic initial reviews on the festival circuit -- and a special mention from Toronto’s Platform jury -- 'Proxima' has had a low profile through 2020 so far: A U.S. release through Vertical Entertainment is currently undated, while the French production’s presence at this year’s Cesar awards was limited to a single nomination for Eva Green’s superb lead performance. In the U.K. this week, it’s one of a few films with which distributors are testing the waters as cinemas gradually reopen. A VOD fate would be a particularly undesirable outcome, given the film’s steely visual beauty and densely textured sonic tapestry, led by a marvelous, modernist Ryuichi Sakamoto score. For Winocour, doubling down on 2015’s slinky, neon-flecked suspenser 'Disorder,' it confirms that she has the sensuous imagination and efficiency for any genre project, of any scale, that will have her."
Guy Lodge, Variety
"To capture that reality, Winocour has brought in a formidable technical team of her own, including regular cameraman George Lechaptois ('An Easy Girl'), production designer Florian Sanson ('Holy Motors') and legendary composer Ryuichi Sakamoto ('The Revenant)', whose score lends the drama a constant emotional undercurrent."
Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter
WOLFWALKERS - Bruno Coulais, Kila
"All this is not to suggest that 'Wolfwalkers' is some kind of oblique, arty, pseudo-experimental film meant for grown-ups. It also happens to be quite moving and gripping, filled with joyous bursts of music, even some pop cues, and a climactic chase that is as exciting as it is visually striking. (The film I kept thinking of, believe it or not, was James Cameron’s 'Titanic.') Kids will be enchanted, adults will be enraptured. It’s somehow light as air yet overwhelming, both ineffable and unforgettable."
Bilge Ebiri, New York
"It’s a stunning production all around, from the delightfully lilting score by Bruno Coulais ('Coraline') -- which avoids Irish clichés -- to the dynamic voice work: Kneafsey makes Robyn as relatable and dynamic a heroine as McBurney is a wicked, hissable villain."
Alonso Duralde, The Wrap
"Kids need movies like this that respect their intelligence, center strong female characters and question policies of blind obedience, while making an effort to integrate the rich cultural influences of a past that’s rapidly being bulldozed out of memory. Early on, the movie shows a woodblock posting warning the townsfolk of wolves, and Moore and Stewart ingeniously use this same technique -- the look and feel of early propaganda -- to represent Kilkenny, a city that looks as if it were carved and printed using the same technique. Robyn, Bill and most of the humans are drawn with sharp lines, though the colors bleed from these borders, as if crudely stamped on a primitive press. By contrast, Mebh and Moll are rendered in round strokes, loosely sketched as if by pencil, the colors bright and splotchy, like watercolor. High in the mountains, near the wolves’ den, megalithic carvings glow gold as composer Bruno Coulais’ Celtic score breathes life into the rich environments. (The film was digitally rendered using a program called Toon Boom, but the underlying look is distinctly hand-tooled.)"
Peter Debruge, Variety
"Underscoring the wondrous mood is another soulful score by French composer Bruno Coulais, who worked on the previous two Moore films, in collaboration with the Irish folk outfit Kila that subtly rises to the dramatic occasion whenever necessary."
Michael Rechtshaffen, The Hollywood Reporter
THINGS I'VE HEARD, READ, SEEN OR WATCHED LATELY
Heard: Orient Express (Morricone), Toy Story 4 (Newman), Jumanji: The Next Level (Jackman), Midnight Cowboy (Barry), Atlantics (Al Qadiri), The Naked and the Dead (Herrmann), The Beach Bum (Debney), Breakfast at Tiffany's (Mancini), The Two Popes (Dessner), The Book of Mormon (Lopez/Parker/Stone), Noel (Menken), mtcd:07 - Music Technology Division Production Projects (various), Runaway Horses (Carlisle), Arthur and the Invisibles (Serra), Frozen II (Anderson-Lopez/Lopez/Beck), Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday (Jarre), Drumline (Powell), Stark System (Morricone), Little Women (Desplat), Travelogue Volume 1 (Giacchino), Joker (Guonadottir), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (Herrmann), Marriage Story (Newman), Orchestral Works Vol. 1 (Bennett), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Williams), Wonderful Town/On the Town (Bernstein), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (DuPrez), Gretel & Hansel (Rob), Sonic the Hedgehog (Holkenborg), OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music (various), Apollo 11 (Morton), Classics Volume 2 (The Carpenters), Fletch Lives (Faltermeyer), Deja vu (Gregson-Williams), Encounter (Kouneva), Au Nom de Tous Les Miens (Jarre), Shaft (Lennertz), The Island (Morricone)
Read: At End of Day, by George V. Higgins
Seen: A year ago around this time I was seeing The Song of Names, Aquarela (my final new films for 2019), Knives Out, The Irishman (each for the second time), and A Night at the Opera and A Night in Casablanca. Starting 2020 with a Marx Brothers double feature would have seemed to be a good omen for the year, but a few days later I saw the endless, relentlessly bleak film of Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird (one character getting eaten alive by rats is about as happy as that film gets; trust me, he had it coming) which may have a proved a more apt prediction.
Watched: Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents ("The Awakening"); Trilogy of Terror; Madhouse ; Action ("Strong Sexual Content"); Animal Crackers ; Star Trek: Discovery ("An Obol for Charon"); Westworld ("The Riddle of the Sphinx"); The Americans ("Comrades"); St. Ives; Alfred Hitchcock Presents ("The Cheney Vase"); The Mask of Fu Manchu
*My extremely premature predictions for the Original Score shortlist:
Ammonite (O'Halloran, Bertelmann)
Call of the Wild (Powell)
Da 5 Bloods (Blanchard)
The Glorias (Goldenthal)
Hillbilly Elegy (Zimmer, Fleming)
The Life Ahead (Yared)
Mank (Reznor, Ross)
The Midnight Sky (Desplat)
News of the World (Howard)
The Personal History of David Copperfield (Willis)
The Secret Garden (Marianelli)
Soul (Reznor, Ross)
The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Pemberton)
Since writing this list, I have learned that Pieces of a Woman, the dead-kid movie which is getting a lot of awards buzz for Vanessa Kirby's lead performance, was scored by Howard Shore, so this is also a very plausible shortlist entry. As is Let Him Go, scored by Michael Giacchino. As I said, these predictions are extremely premature.
Some of the films released in 2020:
Come As You Are
Come to Daddy
I Am Fear
I Am Greta
I Am Woman
I'm Your Woman
The Last Shift
The Last Tree
The Last Vermeer
The Life Ahead
Life in a Year
Lost Girls and Love Hotels
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Sometimes Always Never
We Are Freestyle Love Supreme
We Are Little Zombies