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Movie Music UK Awards 2020

January 26, 2021 Leave a comment Go to comments

2020 has been, by far, the strangest year in living memory for both films and film music. The rampant COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic shuttered cinemas around the world and pushed the overwhelming majority of the mainstream studio tentpoles to 2021, 2022, or to an ignominious debut on one of the several streaming services. As such, the list of scores that were released during the calendar year became something of a crapshoot, with no-one ever being quite sure what would come out from one year to the next. As a result of all this, my list of Scores of the Year for 2020 is an independent studio’s dream – there is only one major blockbuster score among my top ten.

It’s perhaps the most eclectic and non-commercial awards I have ever done, but with many of the traditional big guns missing from the list, it allowed a large number of exceptionally talented newcomers and perhaps lesser-known journeymen and women a chance to shine in the spotlight.

Ultimately four of my five nominees for Score of the Year came from British productions – perhaps an indication that circumstances on that side of the pond were slightly less impacted by everything – and amazingly none of those Top 5 scores were written by American composers – quite a change from the usual set of dominant markers. Instead, in addition to the Brits, we have scores from Japan and Spain in the top ten, and as you go further and further down the list you will find numerous unexpected choices, ranging historical dramas and adventure fantasies from Germany, horror films from Norway, super hero-themed thrillers from Spain, documentaries from Israel by way of China, romantic comedies from Ireland, and so much more! So, without further ado, here are my choices…

 

SCORE OF THE YEAR

  • THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD, music by Christopher Willis (review)

Nominees:

  • EMMA, music by Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer (review)
  • ENOLA HOLMES, music by Daniel Pemberton (review)
  • FANNY LYE DELIVER’D, music by Thomas Clay (review)
  • WONDER WOMAN 1984, music by Hans Zimmer (review)

THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD was one of the first scores I heard in 2020, and was never bettered throughout the year. Christopher Willis’s score for Armando Iannucci’s lavish, whimsical Charles Dickens adaptation is just gorgeous. As I wrote in my review, “this is the music of an idealized England; the contrast between the bustling streets of London and a more languid life in the countryside, the distinct beauty of its sun-kissed fields and its rugged sea shores, the depiction of lords and ladies and gentlemen, scoundrels and thieves, high society and common folk, and the way that this most profound of literary protagonists weaves his way through it all … Willis writes it with such skill, such beauty, such intelligence, and such exquisite technique is just icing on the cake. There is not a dull moment in the album’s entire 55 minute running time. There is not a moment where Willis is not taking the time to say something interesting with his music – presenting a new theme, a variation on an existing one, or painting a vivid musical picture of this specific time and place”.

Three other depictions of a historical England also feature in my Top 5. Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer’s music for the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s EMMA has that quintessential English period sound so beloved of the BBC, and of films based on works by Austen and the Bronte sisters. The orchestrations are beautiful, ranging from the effortlessly charming combination of strings and woodwinds, to the operatic vocals that soar. And the technical content of the score is outstanding too, with a strongly thematic approach. Daniel Pemberton gave ENOLA HOLMES – Sherlock’s hitherto unknown sister – three main themes, all of which are memorable in their own way, and the way that Pemberton constantly finds new ways to adapt them, arrange them, change the instrumentation, and find new emotional messages, is very impressive. The depth and intricacy of the orchestrations means that the score is never dull; there’s always a new sound combination, or a new texture, just around the corner.

In the super-super-independent FANNY LYE DELIVER’D, director/composer Thomas Clay went all the way back to the mid-1600s for his ‘puritan western’. For a composer like Clay – who isn’t a professional composer at all, and is better known as a writer and director – to have created a score with this much depth and creativity, this much sophistication, this much instrumental specificity and period accuracy, and this much emotion, is nothing short of miraculous. There are hints of other composer’s styles here and there, of course, but for the most part the whole score sounds fresh and original, which is something rare in 2020, and needs to be celebrated.

Finally, we have our one and only blockbuster: Hans Zimmer’s WONDER WOMAN 1984, which burst onto our home cinema screens on Christmas Day overflowing with joy and energy, and gave me my favorite Zimmer score since Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End in 2007. I totally fell in love with its upbeat attitude, its buoyant sense of fun and optimism, and the unashamed, un-ironic sincerity of its emotional content from the moment I heard it, and then its use in context only deepened my appreciation more. Not only that, the depth and complexity of Zimmer’s thematic ideas makes the score satisfying from an intellectual point of view, meaning that the whole thing succeeds on every count.

Rounding my Top 10 film scores of 2019 (in alphabetical order) are: THE CALL OF THE WILD by John Powell, DA 5 BLOODS by Terence Blanchard, FUKUSHIMA 50 by Tarô Iwashiro, THE LAST FULL MEASURE by Philip Klein, and EL VERANO QUE VIVIMOS by Federico Jusid.

Just missing the cut are: ANIMAL CRACKERS by Bear McCreary, EFFIGY: POISON AND THE CITY by Nic Raine, HARBOR FROM THE HOLOCAUST by Chad Cannon, JIM KNOPF UND DER WILDE 13 by Ralf Wengenmayr, THE MIDNIGHT SKY by Alexandre Desplat, MORTAL by Marcus Paus, ORÍGENES SECRETOS by Federico Jusid, WENDY by Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin, WILD MOUNTAIN THYME by Amelia Warner, and THE WITCHES by Alan Silvestri.

 

COMPOSER OF THE YEAR

  • CHRISTOPHER WILLIS

Nominees:

  • LORNE BALFE
  • BEAR McCREARY
  • DANIEL PEMBERTON
  • HANS ZIMMER

I had a lot of trouble coming up with my Composer of the Year rankings, so in the end I chose to simply double down and give the award to the composer who wrote the score of the year: CHRISTOPHER WILLIS. The English composer was inspired by the greatest English composers of the late romantic period and early 20th century – Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Britten, Holst, and so on – on his score for The Personal History of David Copperfield. He crafted numerous gorgeous themes and arranged them for a traditional, fully symphonic ensemble, placing most emphasis on the strings, but giving every section gets its chance to shine at some point – there are gorgeous piano solos, moments of brass-led bombast, percussive intensity, deft woodwinds, and even places where the harp takes center stage. It’s all just magnificent.

Scottish composer LORNE BALFE has perhaps the most consistently excellent year of his career to date, impressing enormously with the action sequel Bad Boys For Life, the intimate boxing drama Jungleland, and especially the epic fantasy TV series His Dark Materials. Balfe is writing some of the most interesting and compelling music of his life right now, and these three scores are the prime reasons he is up in this list. Similarly, DANIEL PEMBERTON is showcasing his astonishing versatility, building on his amazing work in 2019 with scores that range from super-hero action in Birds of Prey to courtroom drama in The Trial of the Chicago 7, and evocations of Victorian England in Enola Holmes, his best score of the year.

None of BEAR McCREARY’s scores ended up in the highest brackets, but he continues to be remarkably consistent. His score for the animation Animal Crackers is a virtuoso celebration of classic cartoon music, Season 5 of the TV series Outlander maintains its beautiful combination of Scottish reels and Appalachian folk music, Freaky saw a return to his popular pop-horror style, and he also found time to score a sexy assassin thriller (Ava), a horror TV reboot (Fantasy Island), and what feels like 287 episodic TV shows.

Finally, as I mentioned earlier, HANS ZIMMER wrote my favorite new score from him since 2007 in the shape of Wonder Woman 1984, a magnificent explosion of action fantasy super hero extravagance, but he also contributed to several smaller scores that were impressive in different ways, notably the raw family drama Hillbilly Elegy, and the emotional documentary Rebuilding Paradise, which he co-scored with Balfe.

Five other composers who also had excellent years in 2020 are: ANNE-KATHRIN DERN, FEDERICO JUSID, GEORGE KALLIS, IVAN PALOMARES, and HOWARD SHORE.

 

BREAKTHROUGH COMPOSER OF THE YEAR

  • THOMAS CLAY

Nominees

  • PHILIP KLEIN
  • NAMI MELUMAD
  • MARCUS PAUS
  • ISOBEL WALLER-BRIDGE AND DAVID SCHWEITZER

No new composer impressed me as much in 2020 as Englishman THOMAS CLAY. After spending years trying to find the right musical sound for his film Fanny Lye Deliver’d without success, the director simply decided to score it himself; in order to maintain period authenticity Clay tried wherever possible to only use instruments that were in common use in the time period the film was set (with a bit of leeway), which led to him sourcing musicians from all over Europe who could play cornetts and sackbuts, recorders and citterns, lutes, hurdy-gurdys, and the viola de gamba. The end result is as score that brims with emotion, has several recognizable themes, some moments of surprisingly effective action, some moments of even more surprisingly effective light horror dissonance, and several points of large-scale instrumental and choral power – and all from a composer who isn’t really a composer at all. Astonishing.

Despite her having written the choral music for her sister’s show Fleabag, ISOBEL WALLER-BRIDGE and her composing partner DAVID SCHWEITZER really broke through in 2020 with Emma, their glorious combination of lush period orchestral English classicism, superb bel canto opera, and traditional folk music, all of which is light, cheerful, and whimsical. Every cue is full of movement and life, vivacious and energetic, constantly moving around between the instruments, and is intensely rhythmic throughout. At times it simply bounces with joy. At the other end of the scale, composer PHILIP KLEIN gave his score for The Last Full Measure an earnest, serious, emotionally powerful military sound which celebrates the life and legacy of this American hero without being mawkish or overly-manipulative. Klein has been orchestrating and writing additional music for several of Hollywood’s top composers for many years, but this debut score of his is a stunner.

Israel-born NAMI MELUMAD appeared on the scene in 2020 working with Michael Giacchino on two vastly different scores: the comedy An American Pickle and the action video game Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond. She showed a real talent for emotional pathos and clever klezmer pastiche in the former, but then knocked my socks off with her rousing and heroic action music in the latter. Finally, Norwegian composer MARCUS PAUS – who is already considered a wunderkind in classical circles – blew me away with score for the super-hero fantasy/horror Mortal, only the third of his career. Having heard his dazzling combination of bold orchestral strokes and intelligently designed electronica, hopefully it won’t be long until he’s scoring all the films Elliot Goldenthal and Don Davis were getting in the 1990s.

Five other composers worth keeping an eye on in the future are: Marco Biscarini and Daniele Furlati (VOLEVO NASCONDERMI), Susan Di Bona and Salvatore Sangiovanni (I LIVIATANI: CATTIVE ATTITUDINI), and Joep Sporck (KRUIMELTJE EN DE STRIJD OM DE GOUDMIJN).

 

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

  • “Húsavík (Hometown)” from EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA, music and lyrics by Savan Kotecha, Rickard Göransson, and Fat Max Gsus (review)

Nominees:

  • “I’ll Be Singing” from WILD MOUNTAIN THYME, music and lyrics by Amelia Warner and John Patrick Shanley (review)
  • “Jaja Ding Dong” from EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA, music and lyrics by Gustaf Holter and Christian Persson (review)
  • “Sakın Bırakma” from SADAN HANIM, music and lyrics by George Kallis and Candan Erçetin (review)
  • “You’re My Effigy” from EFFIGY: POISON AND THE CITY, music and lyrics by Nic Raine and Jana Raine (review)

Having been a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest for most of my life, I of course fell in love with the songs in EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA. What’s so great about these songs is that, without exception, they could all be genuine Eurovision songs, rather than parody-homages. The songwriters clearly did their research to capture the tone and spirit of the competition’s most famous and popular entries, and between then came up with half a dozen knockout pieces which both pay appropriate respect to the competition itself, and are (in my opinion) genuinely good songs in their own right. The best of these is “Húsavík (Hometown)” by Savan Kotecha, Rickard Göransson, and Fat Max Gsus. The song is the climax of the film; it’s a beautifully intimate song, which switches from English to Icelandic and back again, has a sweeping and moving orchestral backing, and finishes with a glass-shattering ‘speorgnote’ that ends the movie on an emotional high. It plays an integral part of the film progressing the plot, and it’s genuinely great both musically and lyrically.

I could have easily filled the rest of this category with other songs from EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA but in the end I held myself to just one: “Jaja Ding Dong” by Gustaf Holter and Christian Persson. It’s fantastic parody of German schlager music, a drinking song with a polka beat, a prominent accordion, and lyrics that used barely disguised double-entendres to talk about sex. The chorus is ridiculously catchy, and best of all it pays loving tribute to all those nonsensical party songs which dominated Eurovision in the late 1970s and early 80s.

The other three songs are all beautiful ballads performed by female vocalists. Sinéad O’Connor sings “I’ll Be Singing” from WILD MOUNTAIN THYME with all the resonance and yearning she can muster in her voice, a glorious and haunting sound. Turkish singer-songwriter Candan Erçetin translated the lyrics of the song “The River of Life” from the documentary SADAN HANIM into her native language as “Sakın Bırakma”, and performed George Kallis’s melody with a smoky, exotic quality in her voice, a Turkish version of Édith Piaf. Finally, “You’re My Effigy” from the film EFFIGY: POISON AND THE CITY was performed with diva-like operatic majesty by singer Jana Raine, a song which build on her husband Nic Raine’s stunningly beautiful main theme.

Other outstanding songs in 2020 include: the rest of the songs from EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA (“Double Trouble,” “Lion of Love,” “Volcano Man”), Rivers Cuomo for “Beginning of the End” from BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC, Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite for “Hear My Voice” from THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross for “(If Only You Could) Save Me” from MANK, Ross Stewart and Tomm Moore for “Howls the Wolf” from WOLFWALKERS, and Diane Warren for “Free” from THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN.

 ==========================================================

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

  • FANNY LYE DELIVER’D, music by Thomas Clay (review)

Nominees:

  • DA 5 BLOODS, music by Terence Blanchard (review)
  • FUKUSHIMA 50, music by Tarô Iwashiro (review)
  • THE LAST FULL MEASURE, music by Philip Klein (review)
  • EL VERANO QUE VIVIMOS, music by Federico Jusid (review)

Special mentions should also go to: EFFIGY: POISON AND THE CITY by Nic Raine, THE LAST VERMEER by Johan Söderqvist, NEWS OF THE WORLD by James Newton Howard, SILVER SKATES by Guy Farley, and VOLEVO NASCONDERMI by Marco Biscarini and Daniele Furlati.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A COMEDY FILM

  • THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD, music by Christopher Willis (review)

Nominees:

  • ADORING, music by Nicolas Errèra (review)
  • AN AMERICAN PICKLE, music by Michael Giacchino and Nami Melumad (review)
  • EMMA, music by Isobel Waller-Bridge and David Schweitzer (review)
  • WILD MOUNTAIN THYME, music by Amelia Warner (review)

 Special mentions should also go to: GODMOTHERED by Rachel Portman, I LIVIATANI: CATTIVE ATTITUDINI by Susan Di Bona and Salvatore Sangiovanni, PERMETTE? ALBERTO SORDI by Paolo Vivaldi, SUPERINTELLIGENCE by Fil Eisler, and VIER ZAUBERHAFTE SCHWESTERN [THE SPRITE SISTERS] by Anne-Kathrin Dern.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR AN ACTION/ADVENTURE/THRILLER FILM

  • ENOLA HOLMES, music by Daniel Pemberton (review)

Nominees:

  • BAD BOYS FOR LIFE, music by Lorne Balfe (review)
  • THE CALL OF THE WILD, music by John Powell (review)
  • IL DELITTO MATTARELLA, music by Marco Werba (review)
  • ORÍGENES SECRETOS, music by Federico Jusid (review)

Special mentions should also go to: DE PIRATEN VAN HIERNAAST/THE PIRATES DOWN THE STREET by Matthijs Kieboom, KRUIMELTJE EN DE STRIJD OM DE GOUDMIJN by Joep Sporck, LASSIE – EINE ABENTEUERLICHE REISE by Enis Rotthoff, MULAN by Harry Gregson-Williams, and TENET by Ludwig Göransson.

 

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

  • WONDER WOMAN 1984, music by Hans Zimmer (review)

Nominees

  • JIM KNOPF UND DIE WILDE 13, music by Ralf Wengenmayr (review)
  • MORTAL, music by Marcus Paus (review)
  • WENDY, music by Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin (review)
  • THE WITCHES, music by Alan Silvestri (review)

Special mentions should also go to: THE CLAUS FAMILY by Anne-Kathrin Dern, THE LOST PRINCE by Howard Shore, THE MIDNIGHT SKY by Alexandre Desplat, RON HOPPER’S MISFORTUNE by Iván Palomares, and SONIC THE HEDGEHOG by Tom Holkenborg.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR AN ANIMATED FILM

  • ANIMAL CRACKERS, music by Bear McCreary (review)

Nominees:

  • FEARLESS, music by Anne-Kathrin Dern (review)
  • SCOOB, music by Tom Holkenborg (review)
  • THE WILLOUGHBYS, music by Mark Mothersbaugh (review)
  • WOLFWALKERS, music by Bruno Coulais (review)

Special mentions should also go to: JUL PÅ KUTOPPEN [CHRISTMAS AT CATTLE HILL] by Gaute Storaas, MOSLEY by Alain Mayrand, OOPS! 2: TWO BY TWO OVERBOARD! by Eímear Noone and Craig Stuart Garfinkle, PETS UNITED by David Newman, and UPSIDE-DOWN MAGIC by Tom Howe.

 

 BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A DOCUMENTARY

  • HARBOR FROM THE HOLOCAUST, music by Chad Cannon (review)

Nominees:

  • COLGAR LAS ALAS, music by Carlos Martín Jara (review)
  • ELEPHANT, music by Ramin Djawadi (review)
  • SADAN HANIM, music by George Kallis (review)
  • SAN MAO: THE DESERT BRIDE, music by Marc Timón Barceló (review)

Special mentions should also go to: DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: A LIFE ON OUR PLANET by Steven Price, HIGH SCORE by Power Glove, MARCHE AVEC LES LOUPS by Armand Amar, REBUILDING PARADISE by Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe, and WORDS FOR AN END OF THE WORLD by Iván Palomares.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR TELEVISION

  • THE QUEENS GAMBIT [S1], music by Carlos Rafael Rivera (review)

 Nominees:

  • THE FLIGHT ATTENDENT [S1], music by Blake Neely
  • HIS DARK MATERIALS [S2], music by Lorne Balfe
  • OUTLANDER [S5], music by Bear McCreary
  • PENNY DREADFUL: CITY OF ANGELS [S1], music by John Paesano

Special mentions should also go to: BELGRAVIA [S1] by John Lunn, THE CHOICE [S1] by Tamer Karawan, DRACULA [S1] by David Arnold and Michael Price, LOVECRAFT COUNTRY [S1] by Laura Karpman and Rafael Saadiq, and THE MANDALORIAN [S2] by Ludwig Göransson.

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE FOR A VIDEO GAME 

  • MEDAL OF HONOR: ABOVE AND BEYOND, music by Michael Giacchino and Nami Melumad

Nominees:

  • ORI AND THE WILL OF THE WISPS, music by Gareth Coker
  • THE PATHLESS, music by Austin Wintory
  • WOLCEN: LORDS OF MAYHEM, music by Cedric Baravaglio and Jean-Gabriel Raynaud
  • WORLD OF WARCRAFT: SHADOWLANDS, music by Glenn Stafford, Neal Acree, David Arkenstone, Jason Hayes, Grant Kirkhope, and Jake Lefkowitz

Special mentions should also go to: ASSASSIN’S CREED VALHALLA by Jesper Kyd and Sarah Schachner, GENSHIN IMPACT by Yu-Peng Chen, GHOST OF TSUSHIMA by Ilan Eshkeri and Shigeru Umebayashi, HADES by Darren Korb, and STAR WARS: SQUADRONS by Gordy Haab.

 

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