Each year at this time I rummage through 12 months of CDs to chronicle the best of the year in “classic film music” — that is, the expanded reissues, the newly recorded scores, and in some special cases the first releases of great old scores that always deserved an album but never got one. There are 20 entries, all listed here, but this year there were so many excellent releases that I added an “honorable mention” section at the bottom with more of my favorites that didn’t quite make the main list. Intrada and La-La Land were this year’s top labels (that is, with the most entries) but there are worthy contributions here from Kritzerland, Quartet, Varese Sarabande, Play-Time, Universal France and Dragon’s Domain. Check them out.
I thought that Johann Johannsson’s music for Arrival was one of this year’s most interesting and creative film scores — yet the use of Max Richter’s 12-year-old classical piece “On the Nature of Daylight” (which bookends the film) was startling in terms of its stylistic differences. So it came as no surprise that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ music-branch executive committee disqualified the entire score from consideration in this year’s Oscar race. Having interviewed both Johannsson and Richter about their music earlier in the awards season, I thought it might be instructive to hear what each had to say about the use of this “temp music” in the final version of Arrival. I also talked, on background, to members of the committee who made this decision.
One of the year’s most interesting musical scores, for the sci-fi film Arrival, was the result of a close collaboration between Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson and Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, whose previous films Prisoners and Sicario were also notable for their music. DGA Quarterly editor Steve Chagollan asked me to get both on the phone (Johannsson in New York, Villeneuve in Budapest where he is shooting Blade Runner 2049) to discuss the details of Arrival and, more generally, their long and artistically fruitful partnership. The story appears in the fall/winter 2016-17 issue.
For one of its awards-related special end-of-year issues, Variety asked me to inquire of this year’s crop of potential score honorees about the challenges they face in a changing environment for composers in film. It was an interesting assignment, and I asked Johann Johannsson (Arrival), James Newton Howard (Fantastic Beasts), John Debney (The Jungle Book), Nicholas Britell (Moonlight), Alan Silvestri (Allied) and John Williams (The BFG) about time to compose, budgets, temp tracks, synth mockups and the controversial new practice of “striping” (recording different sections of the orchestra separately from one another).
One of the most significant developments in the music community this year has been the advancement of women composers active in the visual media. For the lead story in this week’s special Contenders edition of Variety, I interviewed four composers with films opening in the last quarter — Anne Dudley (Elle), Lesley Barber (Manchester by the Sea), Mica Levi (Jackie) and Heather McIntosh (Rainbow Time), at least two of whom may well be up for honors during the coming awards season. I also report the shocking statistics about female composers scoring studio films; and interviewed composer and new Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences governor Laura Karpman and leading music supervisor Tracy McKnight about the strides being made, and what still needs to be accomplished in order to even out the playing field.
What do the composers of some of this year’s most talked-about films — Nocturnal Animals, Moonlight and Lion — have in common? Fresh and innovative approaches, as I discuss in my latest music story for Variety. Interviews with Abel Korzeniowski (Nocturnal Animals), Nicholas Britell (Moonlight) and Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka (Lion) reveal that each found offbeat musical ways into their respective dramas, and each deepened the filmgoing experience. For Korzeniowski, it was flipping musical genres for the two stories in the film; for Britell, using a hip-hop recording technique; and for O’Halloran and Hauschka, collaborating on a film set largely in India without employing Indian music.
The third of my four stories in this week’s special issue of Variety deals with the music for this year’s big war movies, Hacksaw Ridge and Allied. I interviewed Rupert Gregson-Williams about working with Mel Gibson on the music of Hacksaw Ridge, and Alan Silvestri about Allied, his 16th feature film with director Robert Zemeckis. Both were illuminating, as the composers talked about going beyond the old war-movie cliches and finding new ways to illustrate, or deepen, the stories with music.
The top story in this week’s special music edition of Variety deals with music for science-fiction films. Arrival — about learning to communicate with alien visitors — is already much-talked-about, and Johann Johannsson’s fascinating, voice-based score is widely considered a strong candidate for awards. Passengers, which hasn’t yet opened, is sure to be much-discussed, too, and Thomas Newman’s music combines traditional orchestra and contemporary electronics in ways that only Newman can. I talked at length to both composers for this story, one of four I’ve written examining music in 2016 movies.
The first of my four stories in a special edition of this week’s Variety deals with fantasy-film scores, specifically The BFG by John Williams and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by James Newton Howard. Both composers gave me time on the phone last month, Williams before he dove back into the Star Wars universe — he begins recording in a matter of weeks — and Howard prior to leaving for an extended stay in Europe. These are two of the finest orchestral scores of the year and, in this story, we delve into the details and the approaches to two very different fantasy tales (one by Roald Dahl, whom Williams knew, and one by J.K. Rowling herself).