UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 27th February 2012

DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

The Conformist (Arrow Video): Bernardo Bertolucci’s adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s novel is a dazzling exploration of his country’s facist past. When an Italian bureaucrat (Jean-Louis Trintignant) becomes an assassin for Mussolini‘s secret police, we see his troubled past in flashback, as he attempts to kill a former mentor now living in Paris. A landmark in cinematography, Vittorio Storaro’s compositions and lighting are some of the best of the 1970s and not only proved influential but led to work with directors such as Coppola (Apocalypse Now) and Beatty (Reds). A haunting portrait of Europe in the 1930s under the spell of Facism. [Buy the Dual Format DVD/Blu-ray from Amazon UK]

We Need to Talk About Kevin (Artificial Eye): Lynne Ramsay’s return to films after nine years is a dazzling adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s novel is a bold and unsettling drama that borders on horror. Depicting the anxieties of a middle class American mother (Tilda Swinton) it charts her disturbing relationship with her son  over a number of years: the young toddler (Rocky Duer), the creepy 6-8 year old (Jasper Newell) and the malevolent teenager (Ezra Miller). Brilliant audio-visual design and a predictably great performance from Swinton are just some of the highlights, as the film homes in with laser-like precision on the darkest fears of motherhood. [Buy the Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK] [Read our full review]

The Mizoguchi Collection (Artificial Eye): A Blu-ray release a box set with four films by Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi, renowned for his renowned for his carefully constructed takes and emotional purity. It contains the following films:

[Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD box set]

ALSO OUT

In Time (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Mr Popper’s Penguins (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) (Blu-ray / Normal)
Paranormal Activity 3 (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Sleeping Beauty (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Front Line (Showbox Media Group) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Scorpion King 3 – Battle for Redemption (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Three Musketeers (Entertainment One) [Blu-ray / Normal]

Recent DVD & Blu-ray picks
The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2011

Inspirational Movie Music

What is the secret of inspirational movie music?

By inspirational, I mean the kind of music traditionally used to salute artists who have inspired audiences and other artists.

Watching the Oscars last night, this struck me during the In Memoriam sequence and the ‘what-do-movies-mean-to-you’ segments.

Part of the reason cinema has traditionally been a superior medium to television is the immersive experience in an auditorium.

It accentuates not only the sound design of the film but also the musical choices of the director.

Although the effect is reduced at home in front of your TV (or computer) the same principles are at work.

But how do they work?

Composer Hans Zimmer briefly touches upon the subject in this interview about his early career, when he discusses the rise of MTV, how he got his break in Hollywood [interview starts about 0:30]:

When we listen to music our brains instantly detect a mood, which makes it appear effortless or easy.

But is actually precisely the opposite, as the composer or director are always skating on very thin ice as they risk the danger of sentimental cliche at any moment.

Such a moment can ruin a sequence, which is especially apparent in a film when the final audio and visual mix blends so many key elements together.

I’ve written before about frequently used trailer cues and, though they often get overused, there is a reason they were popular in the first place.

What’s interesting is that these pieces of music don’t necessarily have to be in great movies.

Last night I saw this tweet about music that was playing during one of the Oscar montages:

Although I saw Hoffa (1992) when it came out, for some reason it rarely gets played on UK television.

I remember it as an interesting, rather than a great movie, but listening to David Newman‘s score again I realised that there was something about it that fits neatly into a tribute segment.

His brother Thomas Newman is also a noted film composer and he too had a piece of music used in a montage last night.

It was from Meet Joe Black (1998) – a passion project for director Martin Brest that is now remembered as a costly 3-hour indulgence.

But although it is by no means a masterpiece, Thomas Newman’s score is magical, hitting emotional buttons all over the place.

Likewise, I’ve heard cues from Newman’s scores for Road to Perdition (2002) and Finding Nemo (2003) crop up on television, often in factual programming that needs a bit of a musical lift, which have his signature blend of melodies and instrumentation.

Similarly Carter Burwell’s main theme for Miller’s Crossing (1990) is another piece of music that provokes an instant mood, which is probably why it was used on the trailer for The Shawshank Redemption (1994).

Although it didn’t do that film’s theatrical prospects much good – it was only later that it became a hit on VHS and TV – you can see the marketing folk at Castle Rock chose it.

Then there are pieces of film music that live in through influence.

One of the most indelible scores of the last twenty years is Hans Zimmer’s work for Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998).

The track ‘Journey to the Line’ somehow manages to capture the epic dread, excitement and adrenaline rush of men about to kill each other.

But like a lot of music used in Malick movies, somehow goes beyond that to a state of ecstasy that is hard to pin down.

Not only have I heard it pop up on television occasionally, but Harry Escott’s opening musical theme to Shame (2011) appears to be heavily influenced by it. (It also features in the trailer).

Zimmer repeated the soaring strings – albeit with a heavy does of electronic elements – for his remarkable score to Inception (2010).

You can see why Nolan – a huge Malick fan – went to the same man who composed that poetic war movie.

The combination of strings, brass and slow-burn build up pays off brilliantly.

Which brings us back to last night’s Oscars ceremony as another piece of music used in the montage ‘what-makes-movies-great’ segments was Mychael Danna’s score to Moneyball (2011).

Not only was this my personal favourite of last year, I suspect that it is going to become a fixture with TV companies looking to add inspiration to their coverage of the forthcoming Olympics or various other supporting events.

Not only does it sound like a cross between Philip Glass and the aforementioned Thomas Newman, but it doesn’t fall into the trap of overkill.

As a commenter on YouTube puts it:

“the progression and growing intensity in this piece rouse feelings of tremendous achievement, glorious victory, energized accomplishment…”

Which is ironic because Moneyball reflects the bitter-sweet nature of Billy Beane‘s career – whilst his ideas conquered Major League Baseball, his team did not.

In fact, his turning down the chance to manage the Boston Red Sox in 2002 – on the brink of their fairytale redemption in the 2004 World Series – gives the film a fascinating ‘if only’ quality.

But then that is arguably a strength of the film is that it focuses on the power of ideas (specifically on-base percentage) rather than luck or phoney sports movie clichés.

The score reflects this by always holding back on a big flourish – some of the pieces are under 2 minutes – so maybe that’s partly what’s so effective about it.

In his fascinating book Music and the Mind, Anthony Storr says:

“Absence of external association makes music unique among the arts”

Whilst this is true of music generally, it does not apply to film music as it is precisely about the external association of sounds with the image we see on screen.

There are differences between music specifically scored for a film and use of pre-existing pieces (maybe the subject of another post) but it the question still remains as to why it affects our emotions in this way.

It is hard to write down or even talk about the precise effect film music has on us, so I asked Twitter users earlier what music they found ‘inspirational’ (not a perfect word, but it is indicative of a certain mood) and they suggested the following.

Kelli Marshall suggested the opening theme to Chariots of Fire (1981) – note the mix of 80s synths, classical piano and the serious amount of smoking in the video.

Another user suggested:

‘most of Sergio Leone’s films’

Can you imagine the climax from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) without Ennio Morricone’s iconic score?

[Spoiler alert, obviously]

It is worth noting that this is Quentin Tarantino’s favourite movie scene of all time, which is interesting that such a master of dialogue should fall for a wordless sequence – but then maybe that’s what he admires about it.

What would be you inspirational music of choice?

>; Film Music at Wikipedia
>; Frequently Used Trailer Cues
>; Buy Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr from Amazon UK

84th Academy Awards: Winners

The Artist won five awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, (Michael Hazanavicius) and Best Actor (Jean Dujardin).

Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) was awarded Best Actress, whilst in the supporting categories Christopher Plummer (Beginners) and Octavia Spencer (The Help) won for their respective roles.

Hugo was the big winner in the technical categories, winning Cinematography, Sound Editing and Mixing, Art Direction and Visual Effects.

The Artist also became the the first silent film to win Best Picture since Wings (1927), which won the same prize at the very first Academy Awards.

So in a year that has seen great changes as cinema shifts from celluloid to digital, there was something appropriate in the big winners being tributes to the silent era and one of its true pioneers, Georges Méliès.

FULL LIST OF WINNERS

Official Oscar site
> Explore the 84th Academy Awards in depth at Wikipedia

84th Academy Awards: Final Predictions

  • Best Picture: THE ARTIST
  • Best Director: MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS – The Artist
  • Best Actor: JEAN DUJARDIN – The Artist
  • Best Actress: VIOLA DAVIS – The Help
  • Best Supporting Actor: CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER – Beginners
  • Best Supporting Actress: OCTAVIA SPENCER – The Help
  • Best Original Screenplay: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS – Woody Allen
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: THE DESCENDANTS – Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash from The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
  • Best Animated Feature: RANGO
  • Best Art Direction: HUGO – Dante Ferretti
  • Best Cinematography: THE TREE OF LIFE – Emmanuel Lubezki
  • Best Costume Design: THE ARTIST – Mark Bridges
  • Best Documentary Feature: PARADISE LOST 3: PURGATORY
  • Best Documentary Short Subject: SAVING FACE
  • Best Film Editing: THE ARTIST – Annie-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
  • Best Foreign Language Film: A SEPARATION
  • Best Makeup: THE IRON LADY
  • Best Original Score: THE ARTIST – Ludovic Bource
  • Best Original Song: THE MUPPETS – Man or Muppet
  • Best Animated Short Film: THE FANTASTIC FLYING BOOKS OF MR MORRIS LESSMORE
  • Best Live Action Short Film: TUBA ATLANTIC
  • Best Sound Editing: HUGO – Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
  • Best Sound Mixing: HUGO – Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
  • Best Visual Effects: RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White, and Daniel Barrett

84th Academy Awards: Best Picture

NOMINEES

This category is the only one in which every member of the Academy is eligible to nominate and vote on the final ballot.

It is the final award given out during the ceremony and since 1951, is collected by the film’s producers.

At the 1st Academy Awards there was no ‘Best Picture’ award, but instead it was split between ‘Outstanding Production’ (won by Wings) and Artistic Quality (won by Sunrise).

It was the following year that the Academy instituted Best Production and decided to honour Wings, which is the reason it is  is often listed as the winner of the first Best Picture award.

From 1944 until 2008, the Academy the Academy nominated five films for Best Picture until they expanded it to ten films from 2009-10.

This year saw more changes to the category when it was announced that the number of nominees would vary between five and ten films, provided that the film earned 5% of first-place votes during the nomination process.

Part of the reason for these changes was anxiety about declining ratings of the ceremony, which is actually a big deal because that’s where the Academy make most of their money but whether these changes have made any difference is an open question.

With that in mind, here are this year’s Best Picture nominees and their listed producers.

THE ARTIST – Thomas Langmann

Back in May the idea of a silent, black and white French film winning Best Picture seemed highly unlikely. But Harvey Weinstein returned to the Oscar game last year with a vengeance and returned to the kind of feelgood ‘underdog’ period film of his Miramax days.

It also happens to be brilliantly made and utterly delightful. Against all odds, since early September it has been the unlikely frontrunner.

THE DESCENDANTS – Jim Burke, Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne

For a long time it seemed the closest rival to The Artist, Alexander Payne’s bittersweet comedy-drama. Despite only one Best Picture winner (Slumdog Millionaire) Fox Searchlight have a formiddable awards machine.

With an acclaimed premiere at Telluride, it seemed they had a strong contender for Best Picture, but the momentum of The Artist has proved irresistible for voters.

EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE – Scott Rudin

Uber-producer Scott Rudin was screened two films late in the awards season game and this adaptation  of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel got a critical hammering. Why then was it nominated for Best Picture?

I’m guessing that it moved some Academy voters before the negative reviews came out and Max Von Sydow’s character has become a kind of avatar for older viewers as they try to process the genuine horrors of 9/11.

THE HELP – Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Baranathan

The sleeper hit of the summer obviously appealed to the tastes of certain Academy members. Despite the lingering controversy over its depiction of race, it could still see two actresses (Viola Davis and Octavia) pick up awards.

This is the kind of film which benefitted enormously from being released over the summer when it stood out against more commercial fare. With the log jam of Autumn and Winter, will awards contenders be tempted to follow its example?

HUGO – Graham King and Martin Scorsese

It has the most nominations (11), but Hugo’s best shot is in the technical categories. Scorsese’s 3D love letter to cinema has many intriguing parallels with The Artist, but it was caught up in the Thanksgiving weekend crush and faltered at the box office.

However, it may come to be seen as an important film in years to come as the high priest of celluloid (Scorsese) uses the latest digital tools (ARRI Alexa camera on a Cameron-Pace 3D rig) to craft a tribute to the medium we love.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS – Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum

When Woody Allen’s latest film was heralded at Cannes it seemed like it was a case of Fracophile love for the director. But this really was a delightful return to form, if not quite the career heights of the late 1970s and 80s.

Given his prodiguous and patchy output over the last decade (when some of his films have failed to secure UK theatrical distribution) it was a welcome return to the kind of smart fantasy/comedy of Zelig (1983) and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985).

MONEYBALL – Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz, and Brad Pitt

When Sony gradually realised how this movie was playing  given this a big push all season and it is a remarkable film pulled out of the ashes of a previously cancelled production. In any other year Brad Pitt and Bennett Miller would be strong contenders.

But whilst the filmmaking is impeccable, the subtle themes and execution probably meant it didn’t satisfy Academy voters looking for a more triumphalist sports movie. In the same way Billy Beane’s theories had a major influence on baseball, hopefully it can inspire other major studios to take more chances.

THE TREE OF LIFE – Dede Gardner, Sarah Green, Grant Hill, and Bill Pohlad

Possibly the greatest film of the bunch, it divided audiences (but not critics) who were freaked out by the ambition and the little matter of a creation sequence, which actually makes perfect sense in the context of the film. The old guard of the Academy really came through for Malick here just by nominating this film, showing the respect and awe he inspires in voters. It won’t win but the fact that this film even got made in 2011 is a miracle.

WAR HORSE – Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy

As soon as this went into production in 2010 it was an immediate contender for this year. The pedigree of Spielberg, the high calibre of his regular collaborators, period setting and the emotional vibes all seemed tailor made for the Academy.

But it doesn’t always work out and despite the strong box office this didn’t garner many heavyweight nominations and the lack of a Best Director nod was noticeable.

Official Oscar site
Explore previous winners of Best Picture at Wikipedia