You know what they say: music maketh movies.
Well, alright, maybe they don't actually say that. But the sentiment is absolutely true: movies wouldn't be the same without their scores. For every film that includes a score, you feel something - whether that 'something' is joy, sorrow, terror, or hope - and you have a composer to thank for that feeling. It isn't news that music has incredible power to shape our emotions, and that couldn't be more true than on the big screen.
So, since the 2018 Academy Awards are coming up this weekend (Sunday, March 4, 5:00 PM PST), here's a little about each of the five scores nominated this year.
1. Dunkirk - Hans Zimmer
I'm a little ashamed to say that this is the only film on this list that I've actually seen. The score is one that, in typical Zimmer style, features a lot of long chords that ratchet up the tension onscreen. In a fascinating interview with the New York Times, Zimmer mentioned that he wrote music that would be intentionally difficult to play, creating a certain discomfort among the musicians that translates into audible uneasiness in the score. With a few ticking-clock motifs to emphasize the characters' race against time and the sounds of engines to heighten the sense of danger, the score builds to a dramatically drawn-out "Nimrod" from Elgar's Enigma Variations. The moment when the tension breaks and "Nimrod" shines through is such a beautiful moment of hope in an otherwise rather stressful film, I'm not ashamed to say I shed a tear. Listen:
2. Phantom Thread - Johnny Greenwood
Greenwood, best known for his work as a member of Radiohead, leaned on the sweeping melodies and swelling strings that were common in old Hollywood films in order to bring the world of postwar London to life in Phantom Thread. It's a perplexing score in the best way, at times hazy and dissonant, at others lush and romantic, and Greenwood finds musical inspiration in a huge variety of sources, from Messiaen to Bach to Britten. He said in an interview with the New York Times that, in writing the score,
"The principal thing was to make sure the emotion was sincere ... In a way it goes back to my first audition for a youth orchestra. I'd never heard the real thing. I'd been in small orchestras that couldn't play. Suddenly here's this room of 17- and 18-year-olds, and I'd never heard this noise, and I've never forgotten it."
3. The Shape of Water - Alexandre Desplat
"At the end of the day, this movie is about love," Desplat said after winning Best Original Score at the Golden Globe Awards in January. "Nothing else. Love. Sharing. Humanism and respect. The music just had to convey that." I couldn't have said it better. Take a listen:
4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi - John Williams
When it comes to Hollywood film scores, what hasn't John Williams written? And for that matter, who hasn't heard at least some of the music he's composed for the ongoing Star Wars series? For The Last Jedi, Williams proves once again that he is the modern-day master of the leitmotif, delivering a Wagnerian score that brilliantly incorporates beloved themes from the previous films with new material that somehow still feels familiar. Listen, and get ready to take on the universe:
5. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri - Carter Burwell
For Burwell, Three Billboards is as much about ambiguity as it is about any of the characters or the plot. For this reason, he struggled to find a thematic center for his score, writing in his notes on his website that "The interpersonal dynamics are so intense, subtle, and constantly shifting that I found it difficult to put my finger on a central concept." Ultimately, he found that focus in the character Mildred, who, in the words of director Martin McDonagh, is a woman who goes to war with the police. "There's a stomp-and-clap march when she goes to War," Burwell writes. "And there's a theme for Death, which is never far away. As the story and the relationships develop, the themes intertwine until, by the last couple of reels, they're barely recognizable."
Now, having heard all of these equally incredible - and strikingly different - scores, I make no prediction as to which composer will walk away with a statuette on Sunday evening. I'm woefully uninformed this year, as it's been some time since I've been to the movies, but I'll be watching anyway, and rooting for the few films I have actually seen. Head to the official Oscar website for more information, and for results on the big night.