Oscars 2015 - The Retrospective Soundtrack Players vs Best Picture, actual soundtracks, and other opinions

21/02/2015

The 87th Academy Awards ceremony is a weird thing. It basically celebrates (mostly) western films, usually made in or with the aid of Hollywood, a back-slapping air of congratulation and indulgence. Mostly you'll know that there will be one patriotic film pushing out an actually decent nominee, almost none of your favourite films will be on there, and if there's a blockbuster, it will have to have been phenomenally successful. As for the other categories, best actress in a leading/supporting role is generally defined by 'red carpet dresses' and how they look, while best actor in a leading/supporting role is all-defining and important. People have a laugh with best animated film, no one saw any of the best foreign language category, and the technical awards are reserved for those OTHER super-successful comic book her/sci-fi epics/fantasy adaptations that they just can't justify giving actual awards to. 

This year though, it feels a little different. Well, no significant difference; there's no changing of the world here unfortunately. Non-whites are still being marginalised and women are still being judged poorly. We know this. We want it changed. BUT, Best Picture is INTERESTING this year. Things have generally looked better in the past few years with excellent films like Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Silver Linings Playbook and Nebraska getting a proper look in. This year really feels a little bit different.

But before we get into that, we decided to steak Kyle (from The Retrospective Soundtrack Players) away from his reading hour at 10pm and quiz him about the film soundtracks for Best Picture nominees, as well as having a general discussion about a few of the major categories. So let's do that shall we?


Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

XMR: Probably - probably - my personal favourite film. It's artsy, including things you don't entirely understand how they did, mixes fantasy and reality well without losing the brutality of real life, deals with a theme I can relate to (artist trying to do artistic things, and basically failing and falling apart while doing so), and has some fine work all round from an acting, technical, writing and musical point of view. Let's listen over there and hand over to Kyle for his thoughts.

"You've got a film that's just inside an old theatre, not at showtime, and it did add a kind of pulse to it, I thought."  

Kyle: "It's interesting isn't it, you'd think that (the drum intro to the film) would be from Whiplash (a film about jazz drumming, basically) if you hadn't seen either. I saw Birdman and thought it was intriguing. Not everyone has been all that keen on the Birdman soundtrack but I thought it worked really well. I didn't love everything about the film. I thought it was a little bit 'look at me' and when you actually saw the drummer inexplicably in the bowels of the theatre or later in the street, at one point, fine I got what they were doing. It needed to kind of merge between fantasy and reality constantly but I found that a little bit...well, showing off. But I did like the drumming, it really added to the intensity of the film. I wouldn't listen to it at home. As for the film, If you've been an 'artist' in any sort of way, than it does raise a lot of things you spend a lot of time thinking about. When I came out of it I though 'Christ, that's good'. I really wanna see it again. Although, it also had that thing - and I have no right to do this whatsoever, but - I came out thinking 'awww, it shoul'd have finished 10 minutes earlier, but that's not my choice to make. It's not my film."

The Imitation Game

XMR: The story is, for me, extremely important in terms of history - both triumphant and horrifically shameful - for our nation (if you care about that sort of thing). I was eager to see how it would be done, and while it's obviously compelling - Alan Turing manages to create a machine to break the ENIGMA code machine the Nazis were using to send coded messages in WWII - but it isn't in the league of some of the other films represented. Soz Sherlock.

"I'm not a music theorist but here's definitely something scientific about the plinky plonkiness of that synth. That might be the correct musical term. I'm sure someone could ratify it."

Kyle: "Desplat. I've seen his name a lot but on the spot without my phone to cheat, I can't think of other soundtracks. But I remember watching and I think I was the youngest person in the cinema by about 20 years It was on some sort of day off I'd wangled, some teacher-training day or something and I took myself to the cinema. I do remember thinking I did enjoy the soundtrack and it worked very well. 

I really enjoyed the film because I teach maths and I'm always trying to tell my students about Alan Turing. It was great and terrifying when I saw that Cumberbatch was going to be playing him because at least the students know who HE is, but I think they did the story justice, and didn't go too far into biopic ham, which they often do with these things. I really liked it. I think Keira Knightley seems to get better really. I never thought, about five years ago, that she would ever do anything good but definitely pulled it round. I wouldn't go so far as an Oscar nod but I think (Actress in a supporting role) is a pretty weak category all round. The script was a little bit The Queen-esque, a little bit hammy in places. Also a little pet hate of mine is the mad, frustrated genius mathematician, to the point where they can't function in a proper manner. There's no other type of mathematician or scientist in film. We got that slight Sherlock-ism of the character but on the whole they did a good job and there's lots of people talking about Turing, the petition going round to get all men in the same position (convicted of homosexual acts, chemically castrated in some cases, including Turing) pardoned, not just Turing, I think it's a thumbs up all round from me."

Selma

XMR: One of the controversial ones on the awards list this year, not for the content, but because of how it seems to be the only film where the majority of the cast are not white deemed worthy of being noticed. And even then, it is only nominated for Best Picture and best original song. Regardless, it's an excellent film. Like The Imitation Game, but far more so, it's historically poignant. Martin Luther King takes his civil rights campaigning to the town of Selma where they intend to protest and fight against voting restrictions. Will be sorely overlooked, which is why people are so unhappy this is the only truly important category it's in.

"There were a few moments where my ears pricked up and I thought 'yeah, nice choice'. It wasn't overpowering. I didn't think it was death by 60s musical montage or anything."

Kyle: "I'm not a fan of John Legend really. It's not the genre there's just something about him that I've never been a fan of. But I thought (the soundtrack) was really great. There was a little bit of protest music, and I thought there would be a big moment with some Dylan on the soundtrack, which I didn't want to happen because it would feel a bit token, and there wasn't which was great. 

I loved Selma, actually. I went to a late screening at my local cinema and it seemed to fly by. I was engrossed and I vaguely know a little bit about the story but like most people my knowledge of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement ended a little bit before that, when people got the right to vote, and was a little bit ignorant of the years that followed so a little slap on the wrist for me. But David Oyelowo's performance was just incredible really. Looks right, sounds right - it's a bit like with Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash, very different, but similarly - after it finished - I couldn't remember what Martin Luther King looked like. It's a good sign. As has been noted, it's all Brits playing Americans in lead roles which is quite funny."  

The Theory of Everything

Kyle and I have not seen this yet. The story of Stephen and Jane Hawking, before the MS really hits the renowned scientist, it has gone down a treat at the BAFTAs and Eddie Redmayne's performance as the scientist seems to have enraptured many. Looking forward to seeing how this British-made film does. We didn't have much to say about the soundtrack without context.

"My wife saw it! She said she liked it more than she thought she was going to. There was less science in it than she thought there was going to be, which is probably why she liked it."

 

Slightly controversial ground I think but you're off to a sympathetic start when playing that role, not that I'm in anyway suggesting it would be easy to play such a role, but...it's difficult to judge him against other actors who are playing (original characters). How can you judge him against a slightly less sympathetic character like Michael Keaton in Birdman?

It's a weird year. You've got Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking, Chris Kyle, Steve Carrell (John Eleuthère du Pont) and you've got Martin Luther King, but he didn't even get a nod for it, and then you've got Birdman. That's four our of five playing a real life person. A few years ago there was four out o five years in a row the winner was a biopic. It was Jamie Foxx in Ray, which is rubbish, Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, which is not as good as you'd think, bit boring..this is the thing, you're on a head start when you're in a biopic because people already have their view toward a person and when you're launching a character yourself in 1.5 hrs to 2 hrs, it's harder. If you're playing Alan Turing, you can go in at the point of everyone's perception and run with it; you've got a lifetime of people's expectations to kick on from. Also, wait...no Ralph Fiennes?"  

Boyhood

XMR: In 3 hours, you experience the life of a young boy growing up and, by the end of the film, he's going to college. That's it. Yet it is the most convincing portrayal of how lives are changed, and people mature, that will ever be committed to film. Why? Because Richard Linklater filmed it over 12 years with the same cast. It's undeniably warm and humane and beautiful. And it will probably win Best Picture. Controversially, I would describe it as an ordinary story told in an extraordinary way. Make of that what you will.

"The music was chosen from each period. I thought that was a nice touch. I was 15 when the first song came out so it was strange for me hearing the music progressing over the kids lives."

Kyle: "I loved everything about the film, including the music. The biggest compliment I could pay it is when it finished I didn't instantly think 'that's amazing how they did that' I was thinking 'that's a brilliant film, so touching and warm and it wasn't til about five minutes later we started asking how they did it and 'how did they pick it up and remember where they were?'. It's just incredible and a really long 3 hours felt like an hour and half. When I knew what the premise was, I was dreading every twenty minutes the screen would go black, with little updates about what had happened in the intervening years but it was absolutely seamless. It's what it's like when someone grows up, sometimes they look different after a year, and sometimes they don't look all that different over the course of a couple of years It was perfectly done and it allowed them to do something really nice with the start of a relationship against the end with everyone looking 3 years older and a bit sadder. When they usually do that, they've given them a wig or put a little less makeup, made the hair a bit longer and given them a bit more beard. I think it will win and I think it deserves it. By a hair, it's not the film I've enjoyed the most out of all of them."  

The Grand Budapest Hotel

XMR: For sheer fun, a ride that can't be compared to any of the rest of the films on offer, Wes Anderson's latest is superb. Essentially the tale of a boy concierge whose eccentric mentor goes on the run with him after being accused of murder, it's the kind of colourful and humourous rollercoaster of a high-velocity Anderson offering. Destined to be dismissed as "another of those quirky comedies", it's a lot better than that and deserves more. Kyle skips on the soundtack in his eagerness to chat about the films successes.

"I usually find Wes Anderson a bit much, a bit twee, but I absolutely loved it."

 

Kyle: "Compared to last year - I probably would've gone Dallas Buyers Club or maybe 12 Years A Slave - there's four, maybe five that I enjoyed this year more than that and this would've been one of them. Absolutely loved it. A bit like Boyhood, the thing I was terrified of was...I don't really like the way they advertised this. The poster had 20 famous actors' faces, so I thought this was gonna be 2 hours of 'oh look, it's him, it's him, oh aren't these people great, giving each other backslaps' but again it wasn't like that at all. I didn't really care. 'Oh is that Willem Dafoe? Might be, not really bothered, more interested in whats going on'. And the dialogue, the script is absolutely hilarious, brilliantly written. It's right up there for me, but probably about third."

Whiplash

XMR: I haven't seen this yet. I love passionate musicianship, including jazz. It has the excellent JK Simmons being terrifying in it. Basically it's made for me. We'll see what Kyle made of it. Does he like jazz?

"Just when they were playing 'Whiplash' and 'Caravan', it had my pulse going, the hairs on the back of my neck standing up going 'yeah, this is amazing!' And that's coming from someone who is a certiifed non-jazz fan."

"There's only so much time a bit like classical music and graphic novels and jazz. I'm sure all these things are great, but there's only so many hours in a year and I just don't have time to find the good jazz in the bad jazz. So I've just had to let it go and say jazz is not something that's going to be part of my life. Having said that it did seem lie the most thrilling thing you could possibly conceive after watching Whiplash for an hour and a half. The recordings they've got are fantastic. You don't usually listen to any sort of music through the kind of speakers you're listening to when sat in a cinema, so it's special.  

You're so invested in it from the very start of the film. It puts you right in the shoes of the protagonist and you're 100% invested in the music and you need to care about it and where it's going. It's not chilled out 'nice' type jazz. It's rollocking double swingtime or something, absolutely thrilling. JK Simmons, absolutely incredible. Everyone mentions the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket, which is definitely the closest comparison. This might be my film of the year. I thought it was fantastic, but I might be more invested in it than most because I'm a teacher and I'm naturally interested in 'how far is it ok to push someone' and 'do you need to draw a line for what's ok'  and 'do the ends justify the means?'. This is something that I've thought about and read about a lot. It's been criticised for being too 'man-heavy'. There's one woman there for token value but really there's only two characters in it, but I guess more people in jazz are men and that's reflected in the film. It's true of all the films this year -  it's a bit testosterone heavy, and that's reflected in the actress categories."

American Snipper (sorry, Sniper)

XMR: Probably the most well-known composer in film music, Ennio Morricone comes up with a dub-spliced take on his own signature sound. It's a heavyweight name for the music in line with the obvious blockbuster of the bunch: the traditional American patriotic war movie! YAY! As you'd expect, neither of us have seen it, so we have little to say here. Sorry, America.

"My mum saw it and called it American Snipper when she texted me which is really sweet and she liked it. So there you go; gets the thumbs up from mum."

 

Kyle: "Wow, I didn't even know he was still doing stuff (Ennio Morricone). Definitely sounded like Morricone. I liked the sound of it whether it was or wasn't but I'm not desperate to see the film. 

Predictions and hopes - general roundup

I'm sure I'll get round to it eventually. I've heard different things. A friend said it was like watching a Nazi propaganda film from the 30s but I've had a few people say it's not actually that one-sided and it does give a bit of an even-handed...I mean, I really like Clint Eastwood as a director. Bradley Cooper must be alright if he's got in among the best acting nominees, which I'm amazed at, but again Bradley Cooper gets one very year though, so that's just part of Oscar routine now I suppose. He is brilliant in Silver Linings Playbook, but he made the mistake of being up against Daniel Day Lewis that year when there is no category for Best Actor. Last year was American Hustle, the other David O Russell film in which he wasn't that great. The film was alright. In conclusion, I don't know if I'll see American Sniper." 

Best Picture

"I'm almost certain they're gonna go for Boyhood. I have a little inkling they'll go for Grand Budapest Hotel because the last few years have been very serious and they might go 'there's so much crap going on, let's just pick a big sweet, fantasy silly film" but even Boyhood I think is very sweet and sentimental and 'its exactly the sort of thing they'd want to be Best Picture. I'm totally in favour of that. My absolute favourite, by a nose, is Whiplash but it's a really strong year and I'm absolutely delighted for it to be Boyhood."

Best Actor in a leading role

"I'm shockingly underprepared to comment because I think it will be Eddie Redmayne without any shadow of a doubt, and I'm only going on my wife's review. I'm totally in favour of that and I'm all for British actors going and stealing the show, that's great. It's pretty criminal that David Oyelowo didn't get a nod for Martin Luther King, and also Ralph Fiennes. It's an odd one. Lots of big, big leading male performances, so I guess it would be nice for Stephen Hawking to go away with it up against those others. You wouldn't be too surprised to see Cumberbatch get there eventually, just not now."

Best Actress in a leading role

"Well it will be Still Alice. Patricia Arquette, that's a supporting role is it? I'm always a bit confused as to these things. I thought she was amazing, but I think it will be Julianne Moore and it's not out yet so I can't comment. My wife is more well versed than me (duly noted - XMR) because of 'Baby Cinema Club'. I think Marion Coutilard is brilliant. My wife saw (Deux jours, une nuit [Two Days, One Night]) and she said it she was pretty good in that.

Best Actor in a supporting role

"I think Robert Duval poos himself in (The Judge) so if you want to guarantee yourself an Oscar nod, there you go in,continence is the way if all else fails. I think he's the oldest person ever to have been nominated for best supporting actor. I think Ed Norton is gonna feel hard done by but I think it will be JK Simmons and in any other batch it could easily have been Norton. I thought he was so good in Birdman, almost show stealing, sending himself up and fellow actors, and having great fun in the role. JK Simmons though...it's weird, the lead and supporting actor award, because he owns every single scene that he's in. You can't look anywhere else. It'll be him. He was very sweet and humble at the BAFTAs too, so we'll get the same at the Oscars."

Best Actress in a supporting role

Patricia Arquette for me. I really like Emma Stone but I didn't find her convincing (in Birdman). I didn't think the part was well written. She had one big scene where she told her dad what for, which was great, but the part was underwritten and she didn't have a lot to go on. She's great but maybe something else another time for her. Same for Keira Knightly; you wouldn't be too surprised to see her up there for something else in a few years time.

Best animated film / Best song

"I did see The Lego Movie. It's bizarre (NB - The Lego Movie isn't nominated for best animated film, despite being the best animated film all year). Don't wanna get too conspiracy theorist, but a few things get slated in it. It does take a tongue-in-cheek dig at a few big corporations so maybe they upset a sponsor or something. Probably they just didn't like it. As long as it gets best song. If they try and claim there's a better song (than 'Everything Is Awesome'), then they really have got it in for them. It'll be embarrassing if they try to pick something else. 'Everything Is Awesome' is like Bruce Springsteen's 'Born In The USA'; 99% of people think it's about everything being awesome and it's not at all. But, out of context, you wouldn't know that so I'm sure the Boss can sympathise."

Overall / snubs

"I think they kinda got it right. Pretty much my favoruite actor is Tom Hardy and he was in a really tiny film called Locke, one of my favourite films I saw this year. It does fit into this small niche of films that is set entirely in a BLANK (coffin, lift, car). So good. He's the only person in it, but it's a bit too small really to get their attention. Also, though I didn't like the film as much as other people had, I think Scarlett Johansson should've had recognition for Under the Skin, in which she is fantastic. I read somewhere that there were fewer words in Under The Skin than in the opening conversation of The Social Network. It sounds like it could be right.  But she was fantastic and when you put it in with those other actresses that seem thrown together (it's a snub). Also, in Grand Budapest Hotel all the women are ancient or dead or maids. Selma, there are a few female characters but they don't get any screen time because, in this case, they're not the interesting part of the story. King's wife doesn't get enough screen time. T (although I thought Carmen Ejogo was excellent - XMR).  Theory of Everything (Felicity Jones - up for best actress in a leading role), Keira Knightly (The Imitation Game): yeah, just about. Birdman: all the female characters are incidental. Emma Stone was the worst thing about the film. Basically, it was a bad year for strong female parts. We'll see next year.

Also Pride but it's not the sort of thing they go for. It's weird with the Brit ones. Sometimes they really go for them like The King's Speech or sometimes they just think that it's just a small British film. Even though they've expanded best film to 8 slots, there's not many I could really argue with. Bradley Cooper must be pretty damn good in American Sniper. I think Interstellar should've been up for best film but I'm a big Christopher Nolan fan. Probably not in the best 5 films I've seen but in the best 8. But it wouldn't have won either way. We'll give him a break for this round."


"Feelings about hobbits" - Val Gritsch on the final Middle Earth film trilogy getting lost

Val Gritsch is our resident Middle Earth fanatic and adores The Hobbit trilogy. I'm of the opinion that it's fairly lacklustre, but Val will probably hit me for that. It is a little weird that every film of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was nominated for Best Picture (and The Return of the King won), while its highly anticipated prequel trilogy never got close. Here, she gets passionate about it, as she does about things that matter to her. Which is what we're all about here, frankly. Get passionate about the things that matter to you, otherwise what is your life really? - XMR


"The year is 2004, and the 76th Academy Awards are happening. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is nominated for 11 awards, and in an amazing way to send off Middle Earth, Return of the King brings them all home. I remember watching this ceremony, glued to my television, and I'm pretty sure I cried with joy when the entire cast and crew got on stage to accept Best Picture. I still have all the saved newspaper clippings from the following day.
 
Fast forward to present day. The Oscars are upon us again, but this time the final installment in another Middle Earth trilogy has been snubbed. The Hobbit films are not on par with The Lord of the Rings. For one thing, it's not the story of The Hobbit alone. It's elongated with extra scenes, characters, and bits added in. Personally, I don't mind most of these additions because it fleshes out the story more and more Middle Earth is never a bad thing. Yet, as much as I enjoyed each Hobbit film, I did not nearly enjoy them as much as each Lord of the Rings film. So I can understand the final film, The Battle of the Five Armies, not being nominated for most of the categories The Return of the King swept.

But The Battle of the Five Armies has only been nominated for best sound editing. While there were many magical sounds in this magical land, there is so much more going on. Let's try to get through this: The Hobbit is not Best Picture material, we all know this, we accept it. Best costume design? Well, it's interesting *to me*, but it's nothing we haven't seen before in five other Middle Earth films. The original score is done by Howard Shore, a true talent, but again, it's nothing we haven't heard before.

Now, best original song? If any fan can listen to Billy Boyd's 'The Last Goodbye' without going fetal then it's very possible they are dead inside. Seriously - that song is the most perfect send off to this world Tolkien, and Jackson, have created, and for that I really feel 'The Last Goodbye' deserved a nomination. Oh I'm getting misty just watching the music video for the song. Let's hastily move along.

It's been widely said The Battle of the Five Armies was snubbed when it came to best visual effects. The masterminds behind Weta Digital did incredible work with this final film, from Smaug destroying Laketown, to five different armies fighting at the base of the Lonely Mountain (the biggest, longest battle in a Middle Earth film), to the final face off between Thorin and Azog (a completely CG character who I forgot was CG), to cite a few. It's especially odd that Weta got the nomination in this category for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, instead of Battle of the Five Armies. Even Joe Letteri, visual effects supervisor from Weta, was disappointed for The Hobbit to be left out. The films who did earn the nomination here were all very strong and deserving, it just puzzles a lot of people as to why the last installment of this trilogy was not seen as strong or deserving.

The Battle of the Five Armies earned over $951 million at the box office. This is a film that, for all the issues, was still very loved, and seen numerous times in theaters by fans (cough-I-saw-it-six-times-cough). It was one of the top earners in 2014. I dare you to watch WIRED's video on some of the visual effects developed and featured in The Hobbit this time around (watch below) and not be a little impressed. Whatever, Weta and The Hobbit are always winners in my heart."


FILMS! Thanks for getting all the way to the end. You must like us (and films) a lot. Let's discuss them together. What do you think will win? Are there any films that should've been highlighted better? Do you think women and non-white people (hell, even non-English speaking white people) were under represented and reveals the sorry state (in 2015!!!) of the mainstream film industry? Did you see how GOOD Selma was? Where the hell is Jennifer Anniston's nomination? What is going on? Let us know at Facebook, Twitter @Xtra_Mile and on contributions[at]xtramilerecordings[dot]com. Because we love talking to you. Not during a film though. Shut up. Why aren't you eating popcorn?