2014 Calvin Awards: Best Use of Music
By Kim Hollis
February 11, 2014

Carrying on in the proud tradition of Frosty and other long melted snowmen.

The Oscars, Golden Globes and the like single out scores and individual songs to honor for their year-end trophies. At BOP, we like to give our prize to the film that makes best use of music altogether. It doesn’t matter if the songs are original or compiled for a soundtrack, lush orchestral arrangements or spare guitar-oriented tunes, what we are looking for is music that emerges as so critical to the film that it’s almost a character itself.

In 2013, our movie with the most outstanding use of music was Frozen, Disney’s glorious animated musical and tribute to sisterhood. Not only does Christophe Beck’s score provide a triumphant accompaniment to the proceedings, but the tunes from husband-and-wife songwriting team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez are the best Disney songs in years.

With “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” the film starts the viewer empathizing with the two heroines, Anna and Elsa, sisters who delight in playing together and using Elsa’s “gifts” to have a blast. Years later, “For the First Time in Forever” has the sisters eagerly and fearfully anticipating their first public interaction in decades.

Olaf the Snowman has a showcase song as well. He may be comic relief, but “In Summer” is a profound, heartfelt sentiment about wanting something that might not really be good for him, though fortunately ignorance is bliss. And of course, the epic “Let It Go” has set the standard to be followed for any animated musical moving forward. Sung by the amazing Idina Menzel, this powerful ballad is a testament to accepting oneself. As such, it’s been embraced by audiences of different shape, size and orientation. There’s a reason that it made perfect sense for Disney to release a sing-a-long version of the film – everyone universally loves the soundtrack and knows it by heart. Considering the movie’s still in theaters and hasn’t even hit home video yet, that’s a truly impressive feat.

Second place goes to Gravity, where the music lives as a tertiary character as it gives us subtle clues about the action that is forthcoming. Director Alfonso Cuaron was heavily involved in decisions about what went into the score, created by British composer Steven Price. There is no percussion, making the musical accompaniment subtler than you might see from a director with less restraint. Similarly, only small groups of instruments played at one time rather than a full orchestra, allowing Price to mix the sounds in a unique approach that heightens the discomfort and tension felt by the audience.

Inside Llewyn Davis is another musical of sorts, in that it focuses upon a folk musician and the people who surround him. The Coen brothers’ inspiration from the film came at least in part from a memoir by a singer named Dave Van Ronk, and the music in the film certainly pays homage to his work. The Coens worked with T-Bone Burnett to create the perfect tunes for the film, and he went on to co-produce the soundtrack with Marcus Mumford. Oscar Isaac’s talent is showcased on songs like “Hang Me, Oh Hang Me,” and even though the character of Mike (Llewyn’s musical partner) is absent from the film, we get a sense of him in “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song).” And the silliness of “Please Mr. Kennedy” spotlights the insidiousness of a sellout, complete with a goofy bass-voiced dude making weird noises. It’s a beautiful way to highlight a snapshot of an era.

Edgar Wright has always put fantastic soundtracks behind his films, from Shaun of the Dead to Hot Fuzz to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. He maintains that consistency with The World’s End, the final film in the Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy, a wistful film that centers on a middle-aged guy who desperately yearns to recapture the glory days of his youth. We all know a guy like Gary King (as played by Simon Pegg), and he probably identified with songs like Primal Scream’s “Loaded” or “I’m Free” by the Soup Dragons. Other great stuff like Stone Roses, Saint Etienne and The Sundays is mixed in as well, along with a backing score from Steven Price, who must be feeling pretty good about himself right about now with two mentions in our top five.

I never thought that I’d be writing about Skrillex for any sort of Calvins vote, but here he is serving as the primary musical source for the soundtrack of Spring Breakers. And if you think about it, director Harmony Korine’s insistence that the dubstep musician be a part of the film makes perfect sense. He’d seen real “spring breakers” dancing to the very same music. Along with Skrillex and his collaborations with Cliff Martinez, there are a couple of homages to Britney Spears sung by the cast. Some have even claimed the film is a metaphor for Spears’ career. No matter what you might think the film is really about, you’ll be transported to spring break through the dreamy, trippy beats.

From the lasciviousness of spring break we move to the good old-fashioned family-friendly glory days of Disney. Once upon a time, Walt Disney desperately wanted to create a movie version of P.L. Travers’ children’s book Mary Poppins, but she was averse to the idea. Saving Mr. Banks tells the story of how the film came to be, with Travers journeying from England to Los Angeles to meet Disney himself. The Sherman Brothers were responsible for the music in Mary Poppins, and they’re lovingly recreated here through portrayals from Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak. As we see how the movie and its music came together, we tap our toes and sing along to the songs we’ve known for years, but we’re seeing them in an entirely different light as viewed through the eyes of Travers.

When it comes to singular, unique creativity in film, you won’t find anyone like Baz Lurhmann. In the past, films like Moulin Rouge! and Romeo+Juliet have taken music out of time and place with it setting and made it come together in a seamless vision. With The Great Gatsby, songs like Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black are re-imagined by Beyoncé and Andre 3000, but there are also contemporary tunes by the likes of will.i.am, Florence + the Machine and Brian Ferry. Lana Del Rey penned the signature song, “Young and Beautiful,” which is pretty much what the characters are all about. Notions of doomed romance, parties, money and class all are present in song, reinforcing the movie’s themes and motifs.

From brash and over-the-top we move to minimalist with the soundtrack for her. Crafted by Will Butler (of this year’s Calvin Award winner for Best Album Arcade Fire) along with Owen Pallett (aka Final Fantasy), including input from Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the score complements the loneliness and solitude of Theodore Twombly. It feels very appropriate for the near-future setting crafted by Spike Jonze.

Hans Zimmer has been responsible for an outrageous number of scores that you probably know and hum without knowing it. From The Lion King and Crimson Tide to his work with James Newton Howard on the Dark Knight trilogy, he’s been a part of any number of seminal musical compositions for film. He’s such a big deal that he wrote the scores for both our ninth and tenth place films in this category, 12 Years a Slave and Rush. With 12 Years a Slave, Zimmer’s music evokes the mid-1800s with a smaller sound that focuses primarily around cello and violin, an understated approach that could have gone unacceptably maudlin.

Along with Zimmer’s compositions for the score, Rush features era-appropriate songs from Dave Edmunds, Thin Lizzy, David Bowie, Steve Winwood and Mud. It’s a testament to the music of the film that the viewer is constantly amped up and anticipating what will happen next – and it’s particularly impressive when you consider that few viewers previously cared about the sport depicted in the first place.

Finishing just outside of the top ten were throwback cohorts The Wolf of Wall Street and American Hustle, along with Philomena, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.

2014 Calvin Awards
Calvins Intro
Best Actor
Best Actress
Best Album
Best Cast
Best Character
Best Director
Best Overlooked Film
Best Picture
Best Scene
Best Screenplay
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
Best Videogame
Breakthrough Performance
Worst Performance
Worst Picture