2007 Calvin Awards: Best Use of Music

February 15, 2007

Which one is Hall and which one is Oates?

Without music, movies would have no atmosphere. There would be no transition and mood would be difficult to establish. The Academy Awards honor the best score and the best song, but we look at the overall big picture and give our accolades to the one that most effectively uses music in conjunction with its themes and ideas.

Our winner in this category, A Prairie Home Companion, exemplifies the critical role that music can play both in establishing the proper tone as well as advancing the story itself. There is music to accompany death and music to shill products. Some of the standout songs include My Minnesota Home and Goodbye to My Mama, sung by screen sisters Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly make for a fantastic duo as well, with Whoop-I-Ti-Yi-Yo and Bad Jokes providing truly memorable movie moments. Even Lindsay Lohan's earnest Frankie and Johnny is great. In the end, it's a moving musical tribute to both Garrison Keillor's universe and Robert Altman's life.

Children of Men finishes in a close second. While most of its music is indeed instrumental, none of it is actually original. Instead, what we have are extended modern music pieces, including music hall work from English composer Sir John Tavener that is used to amazing effect. There's a bit of Handel and Mahler thrown in as well. What works well is that because the music is unfamiliar to most ears, it feels like it is designed specifically for the film. Instead, it works because Alfonso CuarĂ³n has a canny ear and prodigious talent for direction.

Devotchka is the primary reason for the whimsical sound in Little Miss Sunshine, a movie that required something singular to accompany its story. Toss in a couple of great Sufjan Season songs (Chicago feels particularly appropriate at the moment it is played) as well as a perfect use of Rick James' Superfreak and you've got a musical confection that is key to the overall workings of the movie.

Given that it is a concert film, it almost seems silly to say that Dave Chappelle's Block Party would not have used music well. There were no disappointments here, though. On top of Chappelle's explorations of the Brooklyn community where his party is to be held, we get both great comedy and awesome music. Performances by Mos Def, Kanye West, Talib Kweli, Cody ChesnuTT, Dead Prez, The Roots, Jill Scott and a reunited Fugees, it's a celebration that is simply not to be missed.

Martin Scorsese is known for his masterful use of music in film (I can never hear the closing of "Layla" without thinking of Goodfellas), and The Departed is certainly no exception. In addition to a fine, atmospheric score from Howard Shore, there is also a variety of well placed vocal music, including the Dropkick Murphys, the Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Badfinger and the Beach Boys. Perhaps the most striking musical moment, though, comes with a cover of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb, peformed by Van Morrison, Roger Waters and The Band. It is an odd rendition of the song and as a result, is as jarring as Scorsese surely intended it to be.

Outkast's movie musical Idlewild and the teen noir Brick tie for sixth. Outkast's music was completely anachronistic with the time frame against which the movie was set, but it worked really well in a Moulin Rouge! kind of way. Both Big Boi and Andre 3000 are truly entertaining. As for Brick, it was selected not only for Nathan Johnson's great score that perfectly employs the noir theme in its updated environment, but also for the use of such songs as Frankie and Johnny (making its second appearance in this discussion) and The Velvet Underground's Sister Ray.

Our list is closed out with Shortbus, The Queen and Science of Sleep. Shortbus relies on reflective indie music to accompany its study of love and lust. Scott Matthew contributed several original songs to the soundtrack, and other acts featured include Yo La Tengo, Animal Collective, The Hidden Cameras and Azure Ray. For The Queen, Alexandre Desplat went a more classical route than is typical for his scores, and it suited the film just perfectly. It's no mistake that he received an Academy Award nomination for this work. Science of Sleep is here on the strength of its original music by Jean-Michel Bernard and some well-placed songs from The Willowz and Kool & the Gang.

Just missing the top ten in this category were Clerks II, V for Vendetta, Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny and The Illusionist. (Kim Hollis/BOP)

Top 10
Position Film Total Points
1 Prairie Home Companion, A 48
2 Children of Men 46
3(tie) Little Miss Sunshine 44
3(tie) Dave Chapelle's Block Party 44
5 The Departed 30
6(tie) Idlewild 19
6(tie) Brick 19
8(tie) Shortbus 16
8(tie) The Queen 16
10 Science of Sleep 15

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