LA Times shines light on notable 2009 composers

Posted by · 6:56 am · December 9th, 2009

Fantastic Mr. FoxLA Times music critic Todd Martens has posted a useful series of short interviews with the men behind some of the year’s most distinctive film scores. Indeed, it’s group of five names that isn’t too hard to imagine mirroring the year’s eventual Oscar slate: Alexandre Desplat for “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Michael Giacchino for “Up,” Randy Newman for “The Princess and the Frog,” Marvin Hamlisch for “The Informant!” and Elliot Goldenthal for “Public Enemies.”

There are nice quotes and musical snippets peppered throughout all the profiles, but I was particularly drawn to read Desplat’s take on his “Fox” score, given how curiously — yet happily — the jangly Americana and English folk notes in the work sit with his more Euro-flavored oeuvre:

“I just felt that if we found a sound that would belong to these little puppets, it would make them come alive,” Desplat said. “I suggested to Wes that we do a sort of puppet orchestra. I wanted to make everything sound like they were play- ing. I wanted little things — the mandolin, the banjo, the whistle, the recorder and all these little families of instruments. They weren’t toys but kind of toy-ish instruments.”

I love the wit of Desplat’s work, and his sistance to pigeonholing — both musical and cinematic. (I have yet to see “New Moon,” but his score for the much-derided film is a thing of beauty. Kudos to Desplat for not reserving his best work for prestige fare.)

It’d be a major injustice if he were denied at least one Oscar nod to mark this most prolific of years for the Frenchman: my favorite Desplat score of 2009 remains the underappreciated “Chéri,” but a nomination for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” would be a fitting testament to his versatility.

Sticking with the jauntier sounds of 2009, I also liked Martens’s description of Marvin Hamlisch’s brashly retro, tongue-in-cheek score for “The Informant!,” which marked his return to film composing after a 13-year absence:

From start to finish, Hamlisch’s score for “The Informant!” may be the bounciest accompaniment to a film in the composer’s storied career, which includes drafting the music for “A Chorus Line,” “[The] Sting” and “Bananas,” among many others. Loosely tied together with a ragtag jazz sound, Hamlisch’s music is, in many ways, the only thing that’s honest in the film.

Based on the true story of whistle-blower Mark Whitacre, who was spinning lies and defrauding his own dishonest company all while working for the FBI, Hamlisch’s music becomes a character in the film — the one living inside Whitacre’s bipolar mind.

You can read all the profiles (plus a talk with Mary J. Blige on her “Precious” song) at the LA Times’s Pop & Hiss blog here.

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10 responses so far

  • 1 12-09-2009 at 7:07 am

    Frank said...

    Desplat deserves an Oscar.

    Amazing work this year in Fantastic Mr. Fox, New Moon, and Julia & Julia. He’s firing on all cylinders this year.

  • 2 12-09-2009 at 7:10 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Don’t forget “Coco Before Chanel,” “A Prophet,” “Cheri” …

  • 3 12-09-2009 at 7:23 am

    Chase K. said...

    Sorry, Desplat’s score for “New Moon” sucked. It doesn’t even compare to Carter Burwell’s “Twilight” score.

  • 4 12-09-2009 at 7:51 am

    Matthew said...

    Michael Giacchino for the win.

  • 5 12-09-2009 at 8:18 am

    taptup said...

    @Chase K.

    Please, don’t make me laugh.

  • 6 12-09-2009 at 8:20 am

    Chris said...

    Alexandre Desplat is my hero. That guy works so much, but you never get tired of hearing his original compositions that blend in perfectly with what’s on screen. I wish he’d won the Oscar for “Ben Button”. (To be fair, I wish lots of people had won Oscars for “Ben Button”.)

    But still I think the year’s best score is Clint Mansell’s work on “Moon”.

  • 7 12-09-2009 at 9:44 am

    AmericanRequiem said...

    The Curious Case of Benjamin Button lose still stings quite a bit, though I dont think this is his year for the win, UPs score will get that

  • 8 12-09-2009 at 10:54 am

    Intermezzo said...

    I didn’t like Public Enemies too much, and I love Goldenthal but this is not a good comeback. It’s not bad but is nor worthy of a nomination. The same argument with Hamilsch’ score for The Imformant which is funny and (almost) original but as a score is just a compilation of a few melodies.

    Giacchino’s Up is the frontrunner and is a lock for the nom. Randy Newman will get the credit because the Academy loves him and he did a good job but nothing compared to the masterpiece legacy of Alan Menken for the previous Disney. I would be satisfied if Desplat is nominated for anything but Coco which is his weakest score. Fantastic Mr. Fox and over all, New Moon, would be a great choice.

    Can someone tell the music branch to nominate Joe Hisaishi for Ponyo and Chris Young for Drag Me to hell.? It’s about time. Come on. The guys deserve recognition. Those are wonderful scores.

  • 9 12-09-2009 at 10:59 am

    Anthony B. said...

    Going off of what Chase K said, I think Carter Burwell is criminally underappreciated. For my money, he has written the three best scores of the last three years: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007), In Bruges (2008), and A Serious Man (this year, along with the brilliant collaboration with Karen O on the Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack).

  • 10 12-09-2009 at 12:59 pm

    Mike said...

    His Benjamin Button scoere was brilliant. He was robbed. I that the Oscar is going to The Princess and the Frog for both score and song. Back in the nineties, Disney musicals won both almost every year.