Alexandre Desplat

Between Us

It is a challenge to take a story originally intended to be performed on stage in front of a live audience and adapt it for the very different environment of the big screen. A compelling story is a compelling story, but sometimes the moment the restrictions of the stage are taken away through “movie magic,” an important element is lost rather than gained. On stage it comes down to the actors and their performances and while that can be an immersive experience when watching live, it does not always translate to film. Movies are about being shown rather than told and plays are more about the dialogue and subtle performances of the actors. There is a connective tissue that does not always exist on stage, but does in film, and can help bridge this gap – music. Films need music to help round out emotion, especially when the actor is not standing right in front of you. But creating the music for a film adapted from a play is a very specific, and not always simple, undertaking. Composer Alexandre Desplat seemed to have cornered this market, having composed for Carnage based on the stage play of the same name and The Ides of March based on the stage play Farragut North, but two new composers, H. Scott Salinas and Tobias Enhus, have thrown their hats into the proverbial ring with their score and sound design for Between Us.

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Editor’s note: This review originally ran during Cannes 2012, but we’re re-running it as the film’s limited theatrical release begins this weekend. Those expecting Matteo Garrone to follow up 2008’s excellent Gomorrah with another authentic new world crime drama might be surprised to hear that his latest project replaces the seedy criminal underworld for a thoroughly modern exploration of the current fascination with reality TV and its particular brand of disposable fame. In Reality, we follow the tragi-comic story of Luciano (Aniello Arena), a Neapolitan fishmonger with aspirations to find his fortune on the Italian version of Big Brother at the behest of his family who see him as a star and inspired by the success of former housemate Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante). We also follow his subsequent delusional breakdown. Reality is effectively Garrone’s take on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, replacing the golden ticket with the chance to make it into the Big Brother House and instead of giving Charlie his fantastical pay-off, tricking him and trapping him in a perpetual hunt through Wonka bars for his one big shot. Offered an irresistible glimpse at what the prize would mean for his future, and intoxicated with the modern Fame Disease, Luciano quickly turns from charming family man to an obsessive, paranoid reclusive, convinced that the casting team of Big Brother are testing him for selection long after the show has started.

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annakarenina10

There are currently only two Academy Awards given out for music: Best Original Score and Best Original Song. This might seem like a silly thing to point out, but it wasn’t always the case. As recently as 1998 there were separate categories for Dramatic Score and Musical or Comedy Score, divided like the Golden Globes divide their acting and picture awards. And in the past there’s been a Best Adaptation Score, the name of which was changed over and over again, while back in the late 1930s there were another two separate categories, Best Scoring and Best Original Score. Music at the Oscars has had a complicated history. The context makes it all the more strange that, with only the Best Original Score category left, stuff can get thrown out for being too “adapted.” True Grit and Black Swan were both declared ineligible for nomination because they were based on 19th Century hymns and Swan Lake, respectively. The Academy, which once went out of its way to recognize adaptation in musical composition, now rejects it entirely. This year, however, in both musical categories the best work is full of allusion and the blending of influences. Gone are the days of Max Steiner and Bernard Herrmann, whose music was often brilliant but tended to strive for originality within a single orchestral playbook.

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Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward in Moonrise Kingdom

It’s the summer of 1965, and a storm is heading towards New Penzance Island. The small dot of land is home to a few permanent residences, but it’s also a seasonal destination for a troop of Khaki Scouts who camp amidst the lush green forests and golden fields. Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) awakes one morning to discover the troop’s least liked member, Sam (Jared Gilman), has gone missing. Elsewhere on the island the Bishop family realizes their daughter Suzy (Kara Hayward) has also disappeared. The two pre-teens fell for each other the year prior during a brief, chance meeting, and have now taken off on an adventure as young lovers are prone to do (in movies at least). Sam and Suzy soon have half the island searching for them, but being such a small, sparsely populated place that search party consists almost entirely of the Scout Master, the local constable, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Suzy’s parents, Walt and Laura (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand). Wes Anderson‘s latest film splits its time between the kids on the run and their mostly adult pursuers, and in doing so it tells two sides of a story that offer equal amounts of humor, whimsy and heartbreak. It’s a return to form for the director and his first to follow-up on the promise of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums as it highlights the wide-eyed possibilities of youth and the harsh reality of adulthood.

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When I was given the opportunity to interview French composer Alexandre Desplat, the question wasn’t what I would ask him, it was how many questions I would be able to get in. One of the busiest composers in the business, just this year alone Desplat has created the scores for The Tree of Life, A Better Life, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Ides of March, Carnage, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and is already on deck to compose next year’s Moonrise Kingdom. Desplat first caught my attention a few years ago when I realized he was the composer behind both the quirky score for Fantastic Mr. Fox and the epic score for Twilight Saga: New Moon – two very different films with two very different musical tones. Having won Film Composer of the Year at the World Soundtrack Awards, it is clear that the rest of the world is starting to take notice as well. As this year comes to a close, I spoke with Desplat about what inspires him, his composing process, the differences between working on American and French films, and how he balances his various projects while keeping his passion for composing fresh with each go around.

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This article is part of our Oscar Week Series, where you will find breakdowns and predictions for all of the major categories. There are few categories as enigmatic as Best Score. What do voters even consider when marking their ballots? Which music was the best? Which music aided the film the most? How many synthesizers and tribal drums were used? That mystery is part of the complexity which speaks to how difficult film scoring is and how truly transcendent the music of movies can be. It’s a diverse field this year, but there can be only one. With my proposed winner in red, here are the nominees:

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For me to have walked away from the last two films I’ve screened — Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Roman Polanski’s The Ghost Writer — thinking that both were heavily influenced by the work of Hitchcock isn’t a shock. Nor does it make either movie less interesting or take anything away from the two great directors behind them. In fact, it makes them both more interesting.

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