Liner Notes: Aedín Gormley on this year's Oscar music contenders

Updated / Wednesday, 28 Feb 2018 14:00

By Aedín Gormley

Ahead of next Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony, Movies and Musicals host Aedín Gormley takes us through this year’s Oscar nominated scores and songs.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: THE CONTENDERS

Dunkirk - Hans Zimmer

Dunkirk, written and directed by Christopher Nolan tells its story from three perspectives, the land, sea and air. The dialogue is sparse, and so suspense is well created through the impressive visuals and the  soundscape. Composer Hans Zimmer is a long-time Nolan collaborator since 2005’s Batman Begins - he also provided the memorable scores to Inception and, more recently, Interstellar. His composing style has always been a good fit for thrillers and action movies - Zimmer is an expert at creating intensity with a sort of relentless drive of percussion and harsh droning sounds. We also get the use of Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations within the score, which certainly gives it an emotional core. This is a soundtrack that creates mood and atmosphere and works well with the visuals when watching the film. I’m not as drawn to listening to it outside of the film, but make no mistake - it certainly works.

Phantom Thread - Jonny Greenwood 

This is director Paul Thomas Anderson's fourth collaboration with composer Jonny Greenwood (after There Will Be Blood, Inherent Vice and The Master) Greenwood’s music has always been important to Anderson’s films, but it is dominant in Phantom Thread in a way that it hasn’t been before - his score features in 90 minutes of the 130 minute film. The instrumentation is small and chamber-like. focusing on strings, harp and piano. This soundtrack is quite classical in tone, which works very well in establishing the mood of the film - the fashion, the opulence and the mood swings of Daniel Day Lewis's central character. Impressive stuff from Johnny Greenwood. 

The Shape of Water – Alexandre Desplat 

Alexandre Desplat has already won an Oscar for The Grand Budapest Hotel - and I think he might take another one home this Sunday. He has already won the Golden Globe and the BAFTA for this soundtrack, and I have to say I am a fan. This is the first time Desplat and filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro have worked together, and it appears to be a match made in heaven. Despite some darker moments, the film’s tone is on the whole one filled with magic and wonder. Desplat gives us melody and light, utilizing an array of instrumentation - twelve flutes, strings, piano, accordion and harp, not to mention Desplat himself whistling to convey his (mute) heroine's voice in her carefree happy moments. The melodies create waves, orchestrated in a way that evokes the sensation of being underwater... magic! 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – John Williams

Well there is just no stopping John Williams, is there? He is the most Oscar nominated living person. This is his 51st nomination, he has won 5 Oscars for Best Original Score - the last one in 1994 for Schindler’s ListStar Wars has remained a key franchise in the composer’s life. As for his Last Jedi soundtrack, musically it goes without saying that we are in safe hands with John Williams. There is nothing quite like the opening bars of the Star Wars theme, is there? Once again, Williams makes us feel at home with some familiar moments, but creates some great new themes too. This time out, he places particular emphasis on the brass section, which brings with it great drama and a surprising little jazzy moment for the scene in an intergallactic casino where the music breaks into a little samba jazz, using steel drums. Great job once again, Maestro Williams, but I think a 6th Oscar win is unlikely. 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missiouri – Carter Burwell

Carter Burwell is best known for collaborating musically with The Coen Brothers on the likes of Fargo and Barton Fink, as well as working on the Twilight movies and scoring the 2016 film Carol. Burwell worked before with writer/director Martin McDonagh on In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths and his work on Three Billboards is spot on. This score has quite a western feel to it; Burwell decided to concentrate on Frances Mc Dormand’s character Mildred, to see the film from her perspective and play the game as she sees it. When she's at war, the score plays a stomp-and-drum march. When she's reflecting on her loss, it's a soulful guitar ballad. There is also a theme for death, which is never far away in this tale. I think Burwell got it just right. 

Who should win? Alexandre Desplat for The Shape of Water 

Who will win? Alexandre Desplat for The Shape of Water 

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: THE CONTENDERS

This Is Me from The Greatest Showman

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul won last year for City of Stars from La La Land. Will they win a second year in a row? Performed by Keala Settle, it stands a very good chance. Personally I found all the songs in The Greatest Showman too over produced and formulaic for my liking, but that’s just me. This soundtrack has been a massive hit, the song won the Golden Globe and if Keala performs it live on the night, it will be a big crowd pleaser.

Stand Up For Something from Marshall 

Songwriter Diane Warren is an 8-time Oscar nominee, and Andra Day and Common sing the theme for a movie about the arrest and trial of a wrongly accused black man in 1940 Connecticut .To get into Marshall's mindset, Warren listened to Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come and Curtis Mayfield's People Get Ready. This has a Motown feel to it, but with a contemporary edge. 

Mighty River from Mudbound

Mary J Blige has become the first person ever to be nominated for an acting performance (in the Best Supporting Actress category) and Best Original Song in a single year. The R&B icon, who already has nine Grammy awards, stars as an impoverished farmer's wife in Mudbound. Blige co-wrote Mighty River with Raphael Saadiq and it is a rallying cry against racial division, and another strong contender. 

Remember Me from Coco 

We know that animated films take years to reach the big screen. So long, in fact, that Remember Me was written in 2013 - shortly before husband and wife team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez won their Oscars for Let It Go. This song is central to Coco's story about honouring and remembering your family, and is performed in four distinct versions - from a crowd-pleasing mariachi rendition to a plaintive lullaby. It’s so clever to thread it through the film in these different versions - and boy does it stick in your head!

Mystery of Love  from Call Me By Your Name 

The songs of Sufjan Stevens are wonderful in this superb film, the story of a young man finding love for the first time in 1980s Italy. Sufjan was apparently wary about writing songs for a film, but made an exception for director Luca Guadagnino, as he felt that Guadagnino was one of those directors who uses music and sound so fiercely and with such mastery that you cannot imagine the films without the music. Two of his songs were shortlisted for the Oscar, but it is Mystery of Love - which soundtracks the budding romance of our central characters that made the final cut and it works perfectly.

What should win? Remember Me from Coco

What will win? This Is Me from The Greatest Showman 

Join Aedín Gormley for an Oscars Special on Movies and Musicals this Saturday, March 3rd from 1-4pm on RTÉ lyric fm