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What’s cinema without music?

What’s cinema without music?
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After being nominated and missing out on the award seven times before, French composer Alexandre Desplat finally struck gold with his 8th! He won the Academy Award for best original score for The Grand Budapest Hotel. I must admit that I hadn’t seen the Wes Anderson film till it won four awards at last week’s glitzy ceremony, and after seeing it, what struck me most was the
foot-tapping, happy score!

In over 100 years of filmmaking, a composer’s touch has become an intrinsic part of cinema’s obvious power. A musical cue stamps an iconic scene, a director’s vision and a film’s legacy. Memories are connected to the opening notes of iconic themes. Remember the shower scene in Psycho? Or, Inception’s grand, larger-than-life music as Dom Cobb plants dreams? That, my friend, is the power of music!

The Academy is known to award scores that leave their voters humming, and Grand Budapest Hotel certainly manages to do that with its bouncy, dance-y, folksy feel. It thus comes as no surprise that his previous seven nominations, which were way too nuanced and graceful and, never overpowered the visuals, failed to get the Academy’s nod. But, that is not to say that the Academy does not support newer forms of music. In fact, no two soundtracks that have won the coveted golden statuette have been similar. Yes, a lot many sublime scores have been ignored, but hey, there can only be one winner!

It’s impossible for me to list all my favourite Oscar-winning film scores, but there are a few that I can never tire of listening to, that made me fall deeper in love with cinema. Here are five of my most favourite original soundtracks since the time I started understanding music and got into a very intense, lifelong relationship with it.

1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
Alan Menken is an Oscar veteran, if one can call him that. He’s won eight statuettes during his active years. Who can ever forget the music that Belle dances along with Beast, in the ballroom, to? It was the first animated film I ever saw. And, the first time I heard Celine Dion’s magical voice, long before she captured teen hearts with her rendition of Titanic’s My Heart Will Go On. Rumor has it that Dion, a relatively unknown Canadian singer at the time, was drafted in to sing the title song only because the studio could not afford a ‘big star’. Of course, she rose up to the occasion, won an Academy Award for best original song, and went to eclipse many a stars!

2. Gravity (2013)
A lot of eyebrows were raised when Gravity was nominated for an Academy Award for best score. Most critics argued that there was a lot of ‘silence’ throughout the film. But that, in fact, is what made Steven Price’s score the real winner! He was originally hired as a music supervisor on Gravity, but that he quickly took on the role of a full-time composer as his ideas for the space thriller’s music began to evolve. He ultimately dished out a score that was haunting, immersive, and bold enough to bolster a film as visually engrossing and thought provoking as Gravity.

3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

This was the year when some of my favourite films were nominated in this category – films that continue to move and inspire me the way they did when they first released. Chocolate, Gladiator, Malèna, The Patriot – it was going to be a tough call. And then, a Chinese contemporary classical composer conquered Hollywood and captured the top honours! Tan Dun created a magical, exotic score with local flavour for Ang Lee’s equally magical and exotic martial art saga. And, who can ever forget internationally renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s ethereally beautiful contribution to the music!

4. The Social Network (2010)

 Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ Oscar victory for David Fincher’s zeitgeist drama was hardly surprising, given the Vangelis-inspired, high intensity, and extremely busy soundtrack they managed to conjure. The dark ambient soundtrack drives the film’s headlong momentum. It seamlessly corresponds with the tenor- laidback at times, urgent and furious on other. From drones to synth-rock to gentle ivory tickles and even an off-the-wall rendition of In the Hall of the Mountain King, the musical duo’s electronic opus, unlike the career path of Mark Zuckerberg, is practically unblemished!

5. Schindler’s List (1993)

This is one film that tears me up every time I watch it, which is quite often because I cannot seem to get over Liam Neeson’s greatly nuanced portrayal of Jew sympathiser and businessman Oskar Schindler. This is John Williams at his very best. I remember watching it for the first time at a screening in my grad-school auditorium on a sweaty, summer afternoon. The fans creaked with full gusto and managed, somewhat, to cool our sweat-soaked necks, but what of our tear stained faces?
Nothing would help, because the tears just wouldn’t stop. Such was the haunting beauty of every frame, and the aching melancholy of the supporting music. What he created for Steven Spielberg’s film just aches with palpable desolation. He has won five Academy Awards – Fiddler On The Roof (1971), Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), and been nominated 49 times. But, Schindler’s List remains his most haunting work, and my favourite, till date.

The author is a snotty single child, mountain junkie, playback singer, Austen addict, hopes to soon finish writing her debut novel, and dreams of singing alongside Buddy Guy
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