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.

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