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LEGENDS OF THE FALL – James Horner

March 18, 2019 1 comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Having just finished the comedy Leaving Normal, director Edward Zwick decided to change direction and film an epic historical drama, which showcased the talent of rising star Brad Pitt as a romantic leading man. To that end he found the perfect vehicle in the 1978 novella Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison. His production company Bedford Falls purchased the film rights with TriStar Pictures agreeing to distribute. Zwick, William Wittliff and Marshal Herskovist would produce the film, with Zwick directing. He hired screenwriters Susan Shilliday and William D. Wittliff to adapt the story for the big screen and brought in an outstanding cast, which included Brad Pitt as Tristan Ludlow, Anthony Hopkins as Colonel William Ludlow, Aiden Quinn as Alfred Ludlow, Henry Thomas as Samuel Ludlow, and Juilia Ormond as Susannah Fincannon. The film is set in the territory of Montana circa 1890 when Colonel William Ludlow resigns his commission, loathe to continue his part in the army’s cruel betrayal and slaughter of native Americans. He settles on a ranch in a remote part of Montana where he and his wife Isabel live a tranquil existence in peace. Isabel bears him three sons – Tristan, Alfred, and Samuel – but ends up leaving him as she is unable to bear the isolation and long harsh winters, which forces William to raise the boys himself. Almost 20 years later, the the now-grown Samuel returns home to the ranch with his fiancé Susannah, but this is a harbinger of sorrow as it precipitates a series of tragic events which fracture the family and set brother against brother as they compete for her affections. Read more…

JURASSIC PARK – John Williams

February 25, 2019 5 comments

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Steven Spielberg became aware of Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park as the two collaborated on the television series E.R. A bidding war for the rights ensued, with Spielberg and Universal Pictures prevailing over Warner Brothers and Tim Burton, Columbia Pictures and Richard Donner, James Cameron and Joe Dante. Kathleen Kennedy and Gerald Molen would produce the film with Spielberg directing. Spielberg understood the challenges he faced bring the dinosaurs to life and sought at all costs to not repeat the technical nightmare he experienced in Jaws. He turned to George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic Company to create groundbreaking computer –generated imagery and ended up making history. Crichton was hired to adapt his novel to the screen but Spielberg was unsatisfied with the violence. Malia Scotch Marmo was tasked with the rewrite in late 1991, but she also did not satisfy Spielberg’s vision. Universal executives brought in Casey Silver and David Koepp who ultimately crafted the script used in the film. A fine cast was assembled with Sam Neill securing the role of Alan Grant after William Hurt and Harrison Ford both declined. Joining him would be Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler, Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm, Richard Attenborough as John Hammond, Bob Peck as Robert Muldoon, Samuel Jackson as Ray Arnold, B.D. Wong as Henry Wu, and Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello as Hammond’s niece and nephew Lex and Tim. Read more…

SCHINDLER’S LIST – John Williams

February 18, 2019 1 comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

The genesis of Schindler’s List lay with holocaust survivor Leopold Pfefferberg, whose tale of Oskar Schindler inspired Thomas Keneally to write his Booker Prize winning novel, Schindler’s Ark, in 1982. It came to pass that studio president Sid Sheinberg saw opportunity in the story and mailed Steven Spielberg a review of the book by the New York Times. Spielberg was deeply moved by the narrative and secured financial backing from Universal Pictures, which purchased the screen rights. Yet the then 37-year-old hesitated and ultimately delayed production ten years as he felt himself too young to take on the pathos of the Holocaust. When the time eventually came to begin production, he tasked Steven Zaillian with writing the screenplay, and the struggled to hire a director, soliciting several including Roman Polanski, Sydney Pollack, Billy Wilder and Martin Scorsese. Ultimately Spielberg took Wilder’s counsel to direct the film himself. For the cast he brought in an outstanding ensemble, which included Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern, Ralph Fiennes as Captain Amon Göth, Caroline Goodall as Emilie Schindler, Jonathan Sagalle as Poldek Pfefferberg, and Embeth Davidtz as Helen Hirsch. Read more…

BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA – Wojciech Kilar

February 11, 2019 1 comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

The genesis of the film lay with actress Winona Ryder, who wished to make amends with director Francis Ford Coppola after her late withdrawal from The Godfather Part III. She brought him a script written by James V. Hart, which provided an adaptation of the famous 1897 novel Dracula by Irish author Bram Stoker. Coppola was intrigued by the sensuality and eroticism of Hart’s retelling and immediately moved forward to bring it to the big screen. He would produce the film with Fred Fuchs and Charles Mulvehill using his own production company of American Zoetrope. Coppola had an uncompromising conception of the film and went to great lengths to create his cinematic vision. Indeed, the film shattered the traditional mythos and caricature of the black caped Dracula with a new, stylish, and significantly more erotic rendering. He assembled a fine, but controversial cast with Gary Oldman playing the titular role. Supporting him would be Winona Ryder as Mina, Anthony Hopkins as Professor Abraham Van Helsing, Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker, Richard E. Grant as Dr. Jack Seward, Cary Elwes as Lord Arthur Holmwood, Billy Campbell as Quincy Morris, Tom Waits as Renfield, and Sadie Frost as Lucy Westenra. Read more…

RAISE THE RED LANTERN – Zhao Jiping

February 4, 2019 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Following the enormous international critical success of his film Ju Dou in 1990, director Zhang Yimou sought a new collaboration with its beautiful star Gong Li. He was intrigued by the 1990 novel Wives and Concubines by Su Tong, and hired screenwriter Ni Zhen to adapt it to the big screen. Zhang’s vision was to provide a stunning visual beauty, which bathed the viewer with crimson auras, graced with Gong Li as the film’s focal point. He submitted the finished screenplay, entitled Dahong Denglong Gaogao Gua or Raise the Red Lantern, to Chinese censors, which gave the project the green light without edits. Zhang proceeded to assemble a splendid cast anchored by the gorgeous Gong Li as Fourth Mistress Songlian, and who, after this film, would rise to become China’s leading film star. The film is set during the Warlord era of China, circa 1920. Songlian is an intelligent nineteen-year-old young woman pursuing a college education. It comes to pass that her life dreams are derailed when her father dies unexpectedly, leaving a bankrupt estate. To avoid liquidation of the family estate, Songlian is sold off by her stepmother to a wealthy land lord to become his fourth wife. While her initial reception by her much older husband is lavish, she soon discovers the grim realities of her gilded cage existence. Each night the Lord would order a red lantern hung in front of the enclosure of the wife he is honoring with his company. What Songlian discovers is intrigue, born of a fierce and toxic competition for Master Chen’s time and affection. The winner was rewarded with a foot massage, the decision of the next day’s meal menu, as well as enhanced status, attention and respect from the servants. When Songlian feigns pregnancy to gain Master Chen’s favor, she is betrayed by her handmaiden Yan’er and Second Mistress Zhuoyun, which results in her disgrace, and denial of the red lantern. Sadly, over time, her isolation and lack of fulfillment leads to despair and ultimately, madness. Read more…

DANCES WITH WOLVES – John Barry

January 28, 2019 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Kevin Costner had long wished to produce and star in a western and, after several years of searching, finally came upon a script by his friend Michael Blake that piqued his interest. Set in the post-Civil War era, the tale explored the clash of civilizations between the indigenous American Indians and the westward expanding white Europeans. Costner asked Blake to expand his script into a novel to improve its chances of being adapted to the big screen. He did so, and Dances With Wolves was published in 1988. Costner immediately purchased the film rights and set his plan into motion, using his own Tig Productions Company to finance the film. He would audaciously produce, direct and star in the film. He began with a production budget of $15 million dollars, which ballooned to $22 million due to his insistence on geographical, linguistic and cultural authenticity. To support him in the lead role of Lieutenant John Dunbar he hired Mary McDonnell as Stands With A Fist, Graham Greene as Kicking Bird, and Rodney A. Grant as Wind In His Hair. Read more…

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS – Danny Elfman

January 14, 2019 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Director Tim Burton related that, as a teenager growing up in Burbank California, he felt estranged, isolated and misunderstood. A drawing by him of a solemn man bearing long sharp blades spoke to his inability to form and retain friends. The drawing served as inspiration for his film Edward Scissorhands, where he sought to explore a young man dealing with feelings of isolation and self-discovery. After reading First Born, a 1983 novelette by Caroline Thompson, he was sufficiently impressed to hire her to write the screenplay for the film. Burton and her sought inspiration from the classic monster movies of the past including The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, and Frankenstein, as well traditional fairy tales. The project was very personal to Burton, and Thompson relates she wrote the screenplay as a love poem to the director. 20th Century Fox acquired the film rights, and given Burton’s stunning commercial success with Batman in 1989, gave him complete creative control. He assembled a fine cast, including Johnny Depp for the titular role. Joining him would be Winona Ryder as Kim Boggs, Dianne Wiest as Peg Boggs, Anthony Michael Hall as Jim, Kathy Baker as Joyce, Robert Oliveri as Kevin Boggs, Alan Arkin as Bill Boggs, O-Lan Jones as Esmeralda, and Vincent Price in his final screen role as Edward’s creator. Read more…

AVALON – Randy Newman

January 7, 2019 1 comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Avalon offered Barry Levinson’s third installment of his semi-autobiographical tetralogy of ”Baltimore Films” – Diner (1982), Tin Men (1987), Avalon (1990) and Liberty Heights (1999) – which explored immigrant life in his hometown Baltimore from the 1940s through the 1960s. He served as producer, director and screenwriter for the project and his production company Baltimore Pictures financed the film. He brought in a first class cast, which included Leo Fuchs as Hymie Krichinsky, Lou Jacobi as Gabriel Krichinsky, Armin Mueller-Stahl as Sam Krichinsky, Joan Plowright as Eva Krichinsky, Israel Rubinek as Nathan Krichinsky, Eve Gordon as Dottie Kirk, Elizabeth Perkins as Ann Kaye, Aiden Quinn as Jules Kaye and Elijah Wood as Michael Kaye. The film offers a commentary on the challenges of immigrant Russian-Jews trying to assimilate in America. Sam, the patriarch of the Krichinsky family, arrives in 1914 to forge a new life, eventually settling in Baltimore where he works as a wallpaper man. Matriarch Eva is firmly grounded in the old ways and ensures the family stays true to its roots. Conflicts between old country familial culture and modern American culture are inevitable and elicit generational clashes as Sam and Eva struggle to balance the old with the new. Despite hardships, which include an armed robbery, a devastating home fire, and children abandoning their surname for an American one, the family holds together, weathering the storm, united in love. The film was a commercial success and secured four Academy Award nominations including Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Best Film Score. Read more…

BATMAN – Danny Elfman

December 31, 2018 2 comments

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Bringing Batman to the cinema was a torturous journey that took ten years to come to fruition. Producers Benjamin Melniker and Micheal Uslan purchased screen rights from DC Comics in 1979, and their creative vision was to abandon the campy TV iteration and fashion a dark and serious exposition of the hero. Regretfully United Artists, Columbia Pictures and Universal Pictures all turned down the project, as they wanted a script that reprised the campiness of the TV series. Eventually in 1980 Warner Brothers took on the project seeking to capitalize on its massive success with Superman. Tom Mankiewicz was hired to write the script, which was completed in 1983. Yet the project stalled until 1985 when Tim Burton was hired. Burton wanted his own vision and so rejected Mankiewicz’s script, instead tasking Sam Hamm, a comic book fan, to write a new screenplay. After three years of delays by Warner Brothers executives, the film was given the green light to proceed in April of 1988. Casting the principles could have supported a feature film of its own. Instead of going with one of the leading male action movie stars of the day, Burton selected Michael Keaton whom he had directed in Beetlejuice, which caused uproar among comic book fans who sent 50,000 letters of protest to studio executives. The casting drama continued when Robin Williams was hired for the role of the Joker and then let go in favor of Jack Nicholson. Rounding out the cast would be Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale, Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon, Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent, and Jack Palance as Carl Grissom. Read more…

CINEMA PARADISO – Ennio Morricone

November 26, 2018 1 comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

As a young small town Sicilian boy, director Giuseppe Tornatore fell in love with the cinema where he would spend hours every day insatiably viewing films. With the advent of television and the VCR, many believed that the days of the town cinema were numbered. This film abounds with nostalgia as Tornatore explores his movie going memories and how they affected his life. Drawing from his own life experiences, he crafted a screenplay, which secured the financial backing of the French production company Les Films Ariane. A fine cast was assembled, which included; Philippe Noiret as Alfredo, Salvatore Cascio as Salvatore Di Vita (child), Marco Leonardo as Salvatore Di Vita (adolescent), Jacques Perrin as Salvatore Di Vita (adult), Agnese Nano as Elena Mendola (young), Leopoldo Trieste as Father Adelfio, Antonella Attili as Maria (young), Pupella Maggio as Maria (adult) and Isa Danieli as Ana. Salvatore Di Vita, aka Toto, is a precocious kid who falls in love with movies shown at his town’s theater, Cinema Paradiso. It comes to pass that he worms his way into the heart of projectionist Alfredo, who befriends him and takes him on as his apprentice. Over time Salvatore masters the projector and often runs it himself. So great is his love of movies that he buys a movie camera and begins making his own home movies. Tragedy strikes one night when the Cinema Paradiso catches fire and burns down, with Salvatore saving Alfredo’s life, but not before he is badly burned and blinded. Read more…

THE MISSION – Ennio Morricone

November 19, 2018 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Producer David Putnam and director Roland Joffe were seeking to sustain the acclaim of their last collaboration, The Killing Fields (1984), and so recruited renowned screenwriter Robert Bolt to compose a compelling historical drama. The independent British production company Goldcrest Films financed the project, providing a generous budget, and a fine cast was assembled, which included Robert De Niro as Captain Rodrigo Mendoza, Jeremy Irons as Father Gabriel, Ray McAnally as Cardinal Altamirano, Aidan Quinn as Felipe Mendoza, Cherie Lunghi as Carlotta, Ronald Pickup as Don Hatar, Chuck Low as Don Cabeza and Liam Neeson as Father John Fielding. The film offers a classic morality play, which explores the tragic events surrounding the 1750 Treaty of Madrid. The Spanish and Portuguese are warring along the Brazil and Paraguayan border and the treaty ended the conflict by requiring Spain to cede territory south and east of the Rio Uruguay to Portugal. This would require the seven Jesuit missionaries to leave and place the Guarani inhabitants in peril as Portugal, unlike Spain, used slavery to man their plantations. The film opens in 1740 with Jesuit missionary Father Gabriel seeking to convert the Guarani to Catholicism. The opening scene of a Jesuit cast over the waterfall tied to a cross reveals the Guarani’s hostility to outsiders. He is joined by slaver Rodrigo Mendoza who seeks repentance following the murder of his brother, who he caught sleeping with his fiancée. Father Gabriel gains the trust of the Guarani through his oboe playing and they over time convert. Rodrigo finds new meaning to his life, abandons weapons, and commits to joining the priesthood. Read more…

AGNES OF GOD – Georges Delerue

November 5, 2018 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

John Pielmeier’s play 1979 Agnes of God was both a commercial and critical success, achieving a respectable run on Broadway. Norman Jewison convinced Columbia Pictures that the story had big screen potential, and secured backing for the project. He would both produce and direct the film, and brought in Pielmeier to adapt his play for the cinema. Crucial to the film’s success would be finding three actresses to fill the trio of roles on which the story unfolds. Jane Fonda was cast as Dr. Martha Livingston. Joining her would be Anne Bancroft as Mother Superior Miriam Ruth, and Meg Tilly as Sister Agnes Devereaux. The film offers a murder mystery where science and faith intersect and clash. The story reveals nuns rushing from evening prayers to Sister Agnes’s room in answer to her screaming. They discover her bleeding profusely and a dead baby lying in a basket strangled by its umbilical cord. The court assigns Dr. Livingston to assess Sister Agnes for competency to stand trial. A clash of wills unfolds between Dr. Livingston efforts to discover the truth, and Mother Superior efforts to protect her niece, who she believes is innocent. What results is a classic confrontation of science and faith, with both sides working with the best of intentions. Read more…

OUT OF AFRICA – John Barry

September 3, 2018 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Notable directors such as Orson Welles, David Lean and Nicolas Roeg had long sought to bring to the big screen the 1937 novel Out of Africa by Isak Dinesan (Karen Blixen). None were successful in adapting the story into a cogent screenplay. Sydney Pollack however was determined to succeed, and after two years of struggle managed with the assistance of screenwriter Kurt Luedtke to fashion a screenplay drawing from Blixen’s “Out of Africa”, but also her novel “Shadows on the Grass” and Elsbeth Huxley’s novel, “The Flame Trees of Thika”. Mirage Enterprises agreed to fund the project, which would be produced by Kim Jurgensen and Sydney Pollack, who would also direct. A fine cast was assembled, which included the dashing Robert Redford as Denys Hatton, Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen, and Klaus Maria Brandauer as Baron Bror von Blixen. The story offers a sad testament to the life of a wealthy Danish woman Karen Blixen, and the love of her life, Denys Hatton. After she is spurned by her Swedish lover, Karen relocates to British East Africa and enters into a loveless marriage of convenience with his brother, Baron Bror Blixen. They plan to start a dairy cattle farm, but on the wedding day Bror informs her that he plans to instead start a coffee plantation. His infidelity leads to her contracting syphilis, which requires that she return to Denmark for treatment. She returns to find Bror more interested in Safaris than her and they separate. Read more…

RAN – Tôru Takemitsu

August 27, 2018 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

Ran, which translates as Chaos, was a passion project for the legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, and most critics believe it to be his last great film. He had envisioned the film for many years, and he even made detailed paintings of the castles and sets he hoped to one day construct. He began writing the screenplay in 1976 but production was delayed by Tōhō Studios executives who balked at the estimated $5 million price tag, which would have made it the most expensive Japanese film ever made. The fact that his last film, Dodes’kaden, was a box office flop also served to harden studio resistance. Fortunately the great success of his film Kagemusha restored studio confidence in Kurosawa, and he was able to forge a partnership, securing funds from French producer Serge Silberman. There are recognizable parallels between Ran and Shakespeare’s King Lear, although Kurosawa related that the similarities did not become apparent to him until after he had conceived his script. Ran was Kurosawa’s last great epic film, one that offers a classic morality play, which affirms the truism that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. We are offered an excruciating tragedy, which reveals deception, envy, treachery, betrayal and hubris. Read more…

THE NATURAL – Randy Newman

August 20, 2018 Leave a comment

100 GREATEST SCORES OF ALL TIME

Original Review by Craig Lysy

In 1982 Columbia Pictures studio executive Victor Kaufman created a joint venture, TriStar Pictures, with CBS and HBO. The goal was to pool their resources given the ever-escalating costs of making movies. For their first film they chose to celebrate America’s national pastime by adapting The Natural, a baseball biopic novel by Bernard Malamud. The film offered classic Americana and Kaufman believed it was the perfect vehicle for launching TriStar Pictures. Mark Johnson was given the reigns to produce the film, and Barry Levinson was tasked with directing. Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry were brought in to write the screenplay, which would be loosely based on the life of Roy Hobbs, a man of incredible “natural” baseball talent. Robert Redford, whose good looks and leading man talents were ascendant, was cast for the titular role. Joining him would be Robert Duvall as Max Mercy, Glenn Close as Iris Gaines, Kim Basinger as Memo Paris, Barbara Hershey as Harriet Bird, Wilford Brimley as Pop Fischer, Darren McGavin as Gus Sands, and Robert Prosky as the Judge. Read more…