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Movie Music UK Awards 2019

January 19, 2020 Leave a comment Go to comments

Popular opinion among the film music community has posited that 2019 was the worst year of the decade for new original scores, and while that may be the case for the majority of mainstream Hollywood, that is absolutely not the case for the wider film music world. Yet again, I have to stress that there is some absolutely tremendous film music being written out there by a plethora of young, ambitious, supremely talented composers – if only people are prepared to step from out of their comfort zones and actually seek it out.

My choices for the Scores of the Year all meet the criteria of what I believe makes for outstanding film music: rich, varied ensembles that blend orchestras with electronics, vocals, and soloists in interesting ways; compelling musical architecture which tells a story and supports the visuals in a way which draws the viewer and/or listener into the film’s narrative; inventive writing which uses different themes, interesting compositional ideas, and clever techniques; and strong emotional content which connects the audience with the film it is accompanying.

Four of my five nominees for Score of the Year are indeed from mainstream American productions – one of which is from the granddaddy of all blockbuster franchises – but as you go further and further down the list you will find several works from Asia (Japan, China, Vietnam), as well as contemporary fantasy dramas from Germany, historical biopics from Switzerland, romantic comedies from Sweden and France, historical war movies from Spain, documentaries from Romania, and animated films from all across the globe! So, without further ado, here are my choices…

 

SCORE OF THE YEAR

  • STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, music by John Williams (review)

Nominees:

  • GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, music by Bear McCreary (review)
  • HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD, music by John Powell (review)
  • LITTLE WOMEN, music by Alexandre Desplat (review)
  • MASQUERADE HOTEL, music by Naoki Sato (review)

The success that John Williams has achieved in creating scores for nine Star Wars films across almost 40 years is unparalleled in cinematic history. When viewed as a single overarching story, Williams has somehow managed to tell a coherent musical narrative that spans more than 18 hours of film, using literally dozens of character-specific and subject-specific leitmotifs, plus dozens of other set-pieces and sequences of action music, arranged into a tapestry of sound that has captured pop culture consciousness since the 1970s and inspired an entire generation of film composers. STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is the culmination of all this – a masterpiece of musical ingenuity that builds even further on the brilliance of all that preceded it, finds time to introduce a handful of brand new themes into the already bulging cache of Star Wars music, and sends the series off with a rousing finale of emotional nostalgia. Of course it’s the Score of the Year. How could it not be?

Until Star Wars came along in December, HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD was the clear leader. John Powell’s music for the final installment of yet another popular trilogy contains music full of drama and pathos, as the Viking clan leader Hiccup says goodbye to his scaly friend Toothless with a combination of tender emotion and romantic acceptance as the Night Fury dragon goes off and finds a mate. Like Star Wars, Powell’s HTTYD scores are full of recurring themes and ideas that span the entire series, as well as several sequences of barnstorming action and adventure, and that is certainly case in this stirring sendoff.

Bear McCreary enjoyed an astonishing 2019, but for me his magnum opus was GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, the sequel to the first film scored by Alexandre Desplat. McCreary wrote what he described as a ‘monster opera,’ witj brilliantly-realized individual musical identities for each of the enormous kaiju that dominate the film. Not only that, the score is a powerhouse of orchestral and choral scale, and it pays respectful homage to its roots by working in a number of outstanding Japanese vocal and percussion styles, and acknowledging the franchise’s musical origins in the work of the great Akira Ifukube. Speaking of Japan, Naoki Sato had yet another stellar year on the other side of the world, with his best being his score for the murder-mystery MASQUERADE HOTEL, which brought a level of richness and opulence to the film’s lavish setting through various waltz-like themes, but then added numerous spectacular action sequences full of energy and intensity.

Finally, Alexandre Desplat tackled the latest adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN with class and grace, giving the story of these four strong and independent women a grounding in period drama, while recognizing their hopes and dreams and romantic endeavors with a series of gorgeous fully-orchestral pieces that captured the sense of time and place to perfection.

Rounding my Top 10 film scores of 2019 (in alphabetical order) are: CAPTAIN MARVEL by Pinar Toprak, MẮT BIẾC by Christopher Wong, SHAZAM by Benjamin Wallfisch, SORDO: THE SILENT WAR by Carlos Martín Jara, and ZWINGLI by Diego Baldenweg, Lionel Vincent Baldenweg, and Nora Baldenweg.

Just missing the cut are: 1917 by Thomas Newman, CYBER WORK AND THE AMERICAN DREAM by Chad Cannon, THE LION KING by Hans Zimmer, THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN by Bear McCreary, and UNTAMED ROMANIA by Nainita Desai.

 

COMPOSER OF THE YEAR

  • BEAR McCREARY

Nominees:

  • ALEXANDRE DESPLAT
  • JOHN POWELL
  • NAOKI SATO
  • JOHN WILLIAMS

Despite always being busy, the 40-year old American composer Bear McCreary pushed his career to new heights in 2019, writing music for an astonishing six movies and four TV series without a drop in the quality of the music across any of them. His score for GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS was one of the best of the year – as noted above – but his other efforts were just as accomplished. THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN was a gorgeous, lush period drama anchored by a magnificent main theme; CHILD’S PLAY re-booted the 1980s horror franchise with a score that saw McCreary doing deranged things to an array of children’s toys; HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U was a fun follow-up to his own score for a fun slasher movie that now has the time-traveling twist; RIM OF THE WORLD was a classic Jerry Goldsmith-style kids sci-fi adventure score in the style of Explorers… it just goes on and on, and it’s all wonderful.

John Williams makes the list purely on the strength of STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, and John Powell makes the list purely on the strength of HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD, both of which are absolute masterpieces of the highest order. Alexandre Desplat was able to supplement his ravishing score for LITTLE WOMEN with a fun sequel score to his own animated comedy THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS 2, and two outstanding scores written in his native France: the drama-thriller ADULTS IN THE ROOM, and director Roman Polanski’s J’ACCUSE/AN OFFICER AND A SPY which brings the Dreyfus Affair back into public consciousness, and inspired Desplat to write a bold and tumultuous main theme.

Finally, over in Japan, the great Naoki Sato continued to be quietly brilliant, churning out excellent score after excellent score while absolutely none of the mainstream film music press pays any attention to him. In addition to his Score of the Year nominated effort MASQUERADE HOTEL, he also wrote a fantastic score for the epic historical action-drama THE GREAT WAR OF ARCHIMEDES, and a gorgeous score for the animated TV series CRESCENT MOON, all of which should be on everyone’s radar.

Five other composers who also had excellent years in 2019 are: FEDERICO JUSID, YUGO KANNO, THOMAS NEWMAN, and BENJAMIN WALLFISCH, FREDERIK WIEDMANN

 

BREAKTHROUGH COMPOSER OF THE YEAR

  • NAINITA DESAI

Nominees

  • JOSEBA BERISTAIN
  • MATHIEU LAMBOLEY
  • PHILIPP NOLL
  • ROMAIN PAILLOT

British composer Nainita Desai had what’s known as a ‘moment’ in 2019. Although she has been tirelessly working away on British television projects and theatrical documentaries for almost twenty years, it has been her work over the past 12-18 months that has really propelled her to the forefront of the list of new, exciting composers. Her stunning score for the nature documentary UNTAMED ROMANIA is likely to be her most popular work – it’s a rich, bold orchestral score overflowing with life an color – while her score for the extraordinarily powerful documentary FOR SAMA, about the plight of those still living in Syria in the aftermath of the civil war, is likely to be her most important work considering that the film has just been nominated for multiple Oscars and BAFTAs. Not only that, she has written music for an Anglo-Indian thriller (DARKNESS VISIBLE), a historical action movie (ENEMY WITHIN), and an espionage-themed video game (TELLING LIES), all of which are available on CD, and all of which are worth investigating.

The four nominees in this category are all for the works which introduced me to their music. Spanish composer Joseba Beristain wrote a full-blooded seafaring action adventure score for the animated film ELCANO Y MAGALLANES. LA PRIMERA VUELTA AL MUNDO, about the voyages of Ferdinand Magellan. French composer Mathieu Lamboley wrote a gorgeous, expressive orchestral score for the animated film MINISCULE: LES MANDIBULES DU BOUT DU MONDE, which follows the adventures of a family of insects trying to rescue their missing son, and is told without dialogue, meaning that Lamboley’s music had to carry 100% of the film’s emotional weight.

German composer Philipp Noll wrote a sparkling orchestral score for the cinematic fantasy-drama TRAUMFABRIK, in which a young man fascinated with the power of the movies uses his passion for cinema as an inspiration to rescue his love from the other side of the Berlin Wall. Finally, French composer Roman Paillot wrote a full-throated blood-and-thunder score for the Moroccan horror movie ACHOURA, blending powerful dissonance and thematic strength to create one of the most impressive monster-movie scores in quite some time.

Five other composers worth keeping an eye on in the future are: DAVID STONE HAMILTON (Solis), JOHN KOUTSELINIS (The Great Alaskan Race), GERARD PASTOR (Barcelona 1714), DAVID REICHELT (8 Tage), and CHRISTOPHE ZIRNGIBL (Finis Terrae).

 

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • “Show Yourself” from FROZEN II, written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, performed by Idina Menzel and Evan Rachel Wood

Nominees:

  • “Có Chàng Trai Viết Lên Cây” from MẮT BIẾC, written and performed by Phan Manh Quynh
  • “I’m Gonna Love Me Again’ from ROCKETMAN, written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin, performed by Elton John and Taron Egerton
  • “Into the Unknown” from FROZEN II, written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, performed by Idina Menzel
  • “Lost in the Woods” from FROZEN II, written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, performed by Jonathan Groff

As if writing the Oscar-winning ear-worm “Let It Go” for FROZEN in 2013 was not enough, husband-and-wife songwriting team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez had to go and surpass even their own high standards with the brilliant FROZEN II. Truthfully, I could have nominated all the songs from this animated musical, but in the end I limited myself to just three, with the winner being “Show Yourself”. This musically complicated, lyrically deep ballad is a duet between Idina Menzel as Elsa and Evan Rachel-Wood as her mother Iduna, is anchored by a superb, longing vocal performance, and contains several perfect references to Christophe Beck’s outstanding original score, which is something the first movie lacked.

The other two songs from Frozen II are “Into the Unknown,” another adventurous and optimistic showcase for Idina Menzel’s epic pipes which was touted as this film’s answer to ‘Let It Go’; and “Lost in the Woods,” an absolutely perfect (and intentional) homage to classic 1980s rock power ballads by people like Chicago and Peter Cetera, which finally allows the loveable dope Christophe to have a song, and allows Tony winner Jonathan Groff to show why he was hired in the first place.

Rounding out the nominees are two very different songs. The first is “I’m Gonna Love Me Again” from the biopic ROCKETMAN, written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin and performed by John with actor Taron Egerton, who plays him in the film. It’s a classic toe-tapping rock song that hearkens back to Elton’s golden period in the 1970s, with a gospel-style backing and a catchy chorus. The second is a bit odd as it was not initially written for the film it appears in: Vietnamese singer-songwriter and pop star Phan Manh Quynh wrote the song “Có Chàng Trai Viết Lên Cây” as a standalone single months previously, but somehow in the minds of the Vietnamese public it became associated with the publicity for director Victor Vu’s drama film MẮT BIẾC – so much so that composer Christopher Wong incorporated the melody of the song into his score, and the song appears on the soundtrack. I have no idea what Quynh is singing about, but there’s just something about the music and phonology of the Vietnamese language lyrics that captured me instantly; I have been obsessed with it ever since.

Other outstanding songs in 2019 include: Jeremy Renner for “Dinner for One” from ARCTIC DOGS; Randy Newman for “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” from TOY STORY 4; Helene Fischer, Philipp Klemz, Philipp Noll, and Joe Walter for “See You Again” from TRAUMFABRIK; Carlos Martin Jara, Asier Etxeandia, and Enrico Barbaro for “Simplemente Perfecto” from SORDO: THE SILENT WAR; and Alan Menken, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul for “Speechless” from ALADDIN.

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Hereafter, presented without additional comment, are my choices for the best scores in each of the genre categories:

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A DRAMA FILM

  • LITTLE WOMEN by Alexandre Desplat (review)

Nominees:

  • MẮT BIẾC by Christopher Wong (review)
  • THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN by Bear McCreary (review)
  • TRAUMFABRIK by Philipp Noll (review)
  • ZWINGLI by Diego Baldenweg, Lionel Vincent Baldenweg, and Nora Baldenweg (review)

Special mentions should also go to: CLIFFS OF FREEDOM by George Kallis, DOWNTON ABBEY by John Lunn, DVESELU PUTENIS [BLIZZARD OF SOULS] by Lolita Ritmanis, A HIDDEN LIFE by James Newton Howard, and THE WHITE CROW by Ilan Eshkeri.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A COMEDY FILM

  • SWOON by Nathaniel Méchaly (review)

Nominees:

  • EDMOND by Romain Trouillet (review)
  • EL CUENTRO DE LAS COMADREJAS by Emilio Kauderer (review)
  • ISN’T IT ROMANTIC by John Debney
  • PADRE NO HAY MAS QUE UNO by Roque Baños

 Special mentions should also go to: DOLEMITE IS MY NAME by Scott Bomar, GENTE QUE VIENE Y BAH by Arnau Bataller, JOJO RABBIT by Michael Giacchino, LONG SHOT by Marco Beltrami and Miles Hankins, and LE MYSTÈRE HENRI PICK by Laurent Perez del Mar.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR AN ACTION/ADVENTURE/THRILLER FILM

  • MASQUERADE HOTEL by Naoki Sato (review)

Nominees:

  • 1917 by Thomas Newman (review)
  • THE GREAT WAR OF ARCHIMEDES by Naoki Sato
  • THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT by Joe Kraemer (review)
  • SORDO: THE SILENT WAR by Carlos Martín Jara (review)

Special mentions should also go to: DORA AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD by John Debney and Germaine Franco, THE GOOD LIAR by Carter Burwell, JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL by Henry Jackman, KNIVES OUT by Nathan Johnson, and L’UOMO DEL LABIRINTO by Vito Lo Re.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A FANTASY/SCI-FI/HORROR FILM

  • STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER by John Williams (review)

Nominees

  • AVENGERS: ENDGAME by Alan Silvestri (review)
  • CAPTAIN MARVEL by Pinar Toprak (review)
  • GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS by Bear McCreary (review)
  • SHAZAM! by Benjamin Wallfisch (review)

Special mentions should also go to: ACHOURA by Romain Paillot, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2U by Bear McCreary, MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL by Geoff Zanelli, RIM OF THE WORLD by Bear McCreary, and SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME by Michael Giacchino.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR AN ANIMATED FILM

  • HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD by John Powell (review)

Nominees:

  • BUÑUEL IN THE LABYRINTH OF THE TURTLES by Arturo Cardelús (review)
  • ELCANO Y MAGALLANES. LA PRIMERA VUELTA AL MUNDO by Joseba Beristain (review)
  • FROZEN II by Christophe Beck (review)
  • MINISCULE: LES MANDIBULES DU BOUT DU MONDE by Mathieu Lamboley (review)

Special mentions should also go to FAFNER IN THE AZURE: THE BEYOND by Tsuneyoshi Saito, KLAUS by Alfonso Aguilar, THE LAST FICTION by Christophe Rezai, ONE PIECE: STAMPEDE by Kohei Tanaka, and to Hans Zimmer for updating his 1994 score for THE LION KING.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A DOCUMENTARY

  • UNTAMED ROMANIA by Nainita Desai (review)

Nominees:

  • CYBER WORK AND THE AMERICAN DREAM by Chad Cannon
  • FINIS TERRAE by Christoph Zirngibl (review)
  • THE LOUVRE: A TIME TRANSCENDING BEAUTY [LOUVRE IN 8K] by Akira Senju
  • OUR PLANET by Steven Price

Special mentions should also go to: AMERICAN FACTORY by Chad Cannon, CHAMBORD by Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen, ÉRASE UNA VEZ by Pedro Contreras, NEPAL: BEYOND THE CLOUDS by Cyrille Aufort, and PENGUINS by Harry Gregson-Williams.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR TELEVISION

  • THE ORVILLE by John Debney, Joel McNeely, Andrew Cottee, and Bruce Broughton

 Nominees:

  • THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE by Daniel Pemberton and Samuel Sim (review)
  • DOCTOR OF TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE by Mark Chait (review)
  • HIS DARK MATERIALS by Lorne Balfe
  • SHERLOCK: UNTOLD STORIES by Yugo Kanno

Special mentions should also go to: 3 NEN A KUMI [MR HIRAGI’S HOMEROOM] by Akihiko Matsumoto, ALTA MAR by Federico Jusid, CRESCENT MOON by Naoki Sato, DOGORO by Yoshihiro Ike, THE DRAGON PRINCE by Frederik Wiedmann, GAME OF THRONES by Ramin Djawadi, GOOD OMENS by David Arnold, HERNAN by Federico Jusid, LOST IN SPACE by Christopher Lennertz, and PERFECT WORLD by Yugo Kanno.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A VIDEO GAME OR INTERACTIVE MEDIA

  • REND by Neal Acree

Nominees:

  • ERICA by Austin Wintory
  • GREEDFALL by Olivier Derivière
  • MORTAL KOMBAT 11 by Wilbert Roget II
  • STAR WARS JEDI: FALLEN EMPIRE by Gordy Haab and Stephen Barton

Special mentions should also go to THE DARK PICTURES: MAN OF MEDAN, Jason Graves, DARKSIDERS GENESIS, Gareth Coker, ONINAKI by Shunsuke Tsuchiya and Mariam Abounnasr, A PLAGUE TALE: INNOCENCE by Olivier Derivière, and WARHAMMER: CHAOSBANE, Chance Thomas.

  1. KrzyF
    January 21, 2020 at 1:58 am

    I’d like to change only one award. In BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR TELEVISION category I prefer “Good Omens” score written by David Arnold.

  2. Boubis
    February 4, 2020 at 12:59 am

    great choices Jon ! i don’t heard mat biec, lost in space s2, moon, rend, sherlock, louvre and some other scores.

    my lists :

    only from 2019 productions :

    scores of the year
    the lion king[2019] – zimmer & lebo m.
    doctor of traditional chinese medicine – chait
    masquerade hotel, the great war of archimedes – sato
    star wars ix : the rise of skywalker – williams
    how to train your dragon 3 : the hidden world – powell
    l’amore strappato – p. vivaldi & sartini

    film scores of the year
    the lion king[2019] – zimmer & lebo m.
    masquerade hotel, the great war of archimedes – sato
    star wars ix : the rise of skywalker – williams
    how to train your dragon 3 : the hidden world – powell
    the elephant queen – heffes
    a hidden life – howard

    drama/romance
    a hidden life – howard
    the king – britell
    the professor and the madman – mccreary
    zwingli – the baldenweg brothers
    swoon – mechaly
    runners-up
    downton abbey – lunn
    traumfabrik – noll
    mrs lowry and son – armstrong

    comedy
    the personal history of david copperfield – willis
    remember me – gaigne

    action/adventure/war/mystery/thriller
    the lion king[2019] – zimmer & lebo m.
    masquerade hotel, the great war of archimedes – sato

    fantasy/sci-fi/horror
    star wars ix : the rise of skywalker – williams

    animation
    how to train your dragon 3 : the hidden world – powell
    elcano y magallanes – beristain

    documentary
    the elephant queen – heffes
    chambord – versnaeyen
    gauguin in tahiti : paradise lost – anzovino

    television
    doctor of traditional chinese medicine – chait
    l’amore strappato – p. vivaldi & sartini
    for all mankind s1, the umbrella academy – russo
    victoria s2 & s3 – barrett

    video game
    wolcen : lords of mayhem – banavaglio & raynaud

    ///

    my best 2019 releases from older productions :

    masterpieces 10/10
    hearts of iron iv – waldetoft
    hitler vs picasso and the others – anzovino

    excellent 9/10
    the legend of the war horse – dern & james
    informer – eshkeri
    the other side of the wind – legrand
    van gogh – anzovino
    la noche de las dos lunas – de la puente

    very good 8/10
    il contagio – p. vivaldi
    stellaris utopia – waldetoft
    minuscule 2 – lamboley
    water lilies of monet – anzovino
    bunuel in the labyrinth of the turtles – cardelus

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