2015 Calvin Awards: Best Use of Music
By Kim Hollis
February 10, 2015
It was a wealth of riches in category for Best Use of Music. The BOP takes pride in this particular category, as it honors more than just great scores or fantastic single songs. Best Use of Music allows us to recognize those films that used music in ways that are unique or striking, or simply those movies where the songs and/or score are so integral to the plot that you can’t help but notice.
The easy winner of the 2015 Calvin for Best Use of Music is the jazz-infused Whiplash. The movie opens with drumming… and that relentless, ever-present rhythm remains with us until the film’s final note (which comes during a sequence that we named Best Scene, by the way). The title song is a 1973 tune created by composer Hank Levy, one that is extremely difficult due to a swapping of tricky time signatures (7/8 and 14/8). The song is symbolic of lead character Andrew’s quest to be in his music academy’s top band. Of course, once he masters that song, things only get harder, and the music featured in the film matches that struggle to attain near-perfection, including Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” a particularly challenging song that leads to a truly wow-inducing moment in the film.
Our runner-up in the category is Interstellar, which features a stunning score from the great Hans Zimmer. His work is notable not only for the emotional wallop it packs, but also because it is successfully able to provide appropriate accompaniment to the film’s many scientific concepts. And of course, it’s impossible to discuss the score in Interstellar without acknowledging the blaring organ music that is said to have broken an IMAX theater due to its extreme volume. It’s an overwhelming sound that fits precisely with the messages director Christopher Nolan is trying to convey.
Third place goes to the delightful Begin Again, director John Carney’s (Once) examination of the creative process and the music business. Although the scene where Dan (Mark Ruffalo) envisions an entire band around Gretta (Keira Knightly) as she (Keira Knightley) plays a guitar alone is the flashy one, there are numerous other delightful musical numbers to be heard during the film. When Dave (Adam Levine) plays the song “Lost Stars” the way it was intended, it’s a touching and wistful moment. The joy of Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home,” performed by Gretta’s band on a rooftop, celebrates everything that is perfect about music and collaboration.
There was a time that if I said to you, “Ooga chaka, ooga, ooga,” that your mind would instantly go to the dancing baby from Ally McBeal… or perhaps you were born in the early 1990s and have absolutely no idea what that reference means. Anyway, audiences in 2014 knew that “ooga chaka” meant that Star-Lord was probably rocking out to his Awesome Mix Vol. 1. That mix would come into play throughout the movie, culminating in a world-saving dance performed to “Ooh Child” by The Five Stairsteps. Of course, Star-Lord’s mix tape is important for other reasons, too, but director James Gunn’s ability to weave classic tunes into a science fiction space opera set in the future required a deft touch. Given the audience response to the film (and the fact that the soundtrack reached the top of the Billboard chart), I think it’s safe to say he succeeded.
It would be easy to say that The LEGO movie appears on this list purely for the practically perfect “Everything Is Awesome.” Okay, that’s probably about 95% of the truth, actually, because the song sets the stage for the entire film, and its themes repeat through to the movie’s finale. But it’s also important to acknowledge the crackerjack score from the great Mark Mothersbaugh, who you may know as the co-founder of Devo.
Speaking of fantastic scores, Alexandre Desplat is one of my personal favorite composers and one who has seen his work honored in this space before (winner for Moonrise Kingdom, placed for Fantastic Mr. Fox). For The Grand Budapest Hotel, his music styles are wildly varied to suit the scenes they are meant to complement. Flamenco guitars, music boxes, church organs, harpsichords and haunted house-style music all have a place here.
The moment I walked out of the theater from watching Birdman, I said it was like watching jazz on the screen. The soundtrack probably has much to contribute to that feeling, although the music probably wouldn’t specifically be classified as jazz. Instead, it’s an almost constant percussion that ramps up tension and punctuates dialogue.
Similarly, Under the Skin uses its discordant tones and noises as a secondary voice for the character of “the woman,” portrayed by Scarlett Johansson. In fact, these sounds are practically a character unto themselves, revealing the woman’s inner thoughts and personality development. If you’re looking for pretty music, move along, but those who enjoy complex, challenging scores will appreciate Mica Levi’s work on Under the Skin.
Chef is a different sort of celebration of the creative process. In the film, Jon Favreau is fired from an unsatisfying job but takes the opportunity to open a touring food truck featuring Cuban cuisine. As he moves from town to town, he’s accompanied by Latin tunes as well as New Orleans jazz and blues. You’re guaranteed to find yourself dancing in your chair.
We wrap it up with Gone Girl, another joint venture from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. This duo has now collaborated with director David Fincher three times. They won this category for their work on The Social Network and were runners-up for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. We still really, really like them this year, but the competition was awfully fierce.
Movies that just barely missed the cut for this year’s Best Use of Music list include X-Men: Days of Future Past, Skeleton Twins, Into the Woods, Boyhood, Big Hero 6 and 22 Jump Street.
2015 Calvin Awards
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music
||Guardians of the Galaxy
||The LEGO Movie
||The Grand Budapest Hotel
||Under the Skin