Week of Favorites: Composers

In the past few years, I’ve really taken to collecting film scores when I can afford it. It’s amazing to think that I had an even MORE difficult time compiling a favorites list of film composers than I did for actors or actresses. When it comes down to it–and I hope if you haven’t read anything else I’ve written, that you read this–that picking favorite film composers for the average movie lover is something that really comes down to the thought, what do you like to listen to? For someone who grew up playing many instruments and being involved in music frequently, I still lack that intuitive knowledge that would say, This is a good soundtrack because of X reason. At the end of the day, these composers are on this list because I really favor one or multiple scores of theirs.

John Williams

I’m not ranking John Williams on this (even though it is just a FAVORITES LIST) because I don’t think he ought to be ranked. He’s composed some of the greatest scores of our time and is a household name today. He’s absolutely brilliant when it comes to taking a few notes and creating a memorable melody that is remixed decades later for film remakes. On Williams’s 80th birthday, I posted about him in more detail. You can check out that post here.

6. Daft Punk

Since it’s nearly impossible to find a normal picture of Daft Punk, please enjoy this light-up dance routine to one of the tracks from TRON: Legacy.

Again, I struggled having only five composers on my list. It’s ironic that Daft Punk even makes this list considering that they have scored the soundtrack for only one film. The clincher for me is that it is one of my favorite scores I have listened to on repeat constantly, and I can’t find any other scores even comparable: TRON: Legacy. For two years, the duo that makes up Daft Punk–Frenchman Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter–collaborated with Joseph Trapanese, an arranger and composer who lives in LA. The score is performed by an 85-piece orchestra that combines both electronic and orchestral sounds. Daft Punk has released other types of albums, yet I hope that more film scores are in their future.

5. Henry Jackman

Henry Jackman is really a darkhorse pick even in terms of favorite composers of mine, because I haven’t heard a whole lot by him. After learning that he’s actually partially composed several scores, such as being the music programmer for The Da Vinci Code, the music arranger for The Dark Knight, and contributing to the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean films, I consider Jackman to be more of an up and comer in the film composition industry. Jackman has worked under the strong direction of Hans Zimmer, who’s been referred to as Jackman’s mentor in the past. Jackman’s also helped write the score for Zimmer’s The Holiday, as well as the scores for the films Vantage Point and Monsters vs. Aliens. He’s recently started to head his own projects, the most memorable being his rich, intense score for last year’s X-Men: First Class. It was one of my favorite soundtrack scores of last year; you can read more about it in this previous post.

4. Nancy Wilson

To many, Nancy Wilson may be considered an odd choice given that she’s known more as a rock musician. According to her IMDB profile, Wilson has performed or written tracks for over 20 films. In terms of film composing, however, her number is quite a bit smaller: four films. Previously married to filmmaker Cameron Crowe, Wilson lended her film composing skills to several of his films, including Jerry Maguire, Almost FamousVanilla Sky, and Elizabethtown. I’m still convinced that Crowe went directly with Jonsi only for the score of We Bought a Zoo because he no longer has Wilson to collaborate with, but that’s just me speculating. Despite only composing for four films (some of which have only one or two tracks), Wilson still makes my favorites list because I’m a big fan of each of her tracks on each album. She mainly works with only acoustic guitar, and there’s a very earthy, deep feel to the sound. My recommendation is to check out her Elizabethtown score. I talk about it a little more in this post. It’s my favorite!

3. Hans Zimmer

This list would be incomplete without the addition of Hans Zimmer. He reminds me of the Peter Jackson of the film composition world because he’s so open and communicative with his fans. Zimmer has collaborated with other brilliant film composers, such as Klaus Badelt on some of the Pirates of the Caribbean scores as well as James Newton Howard (one who barely missed this list!) on Christopher Nolan’s batman films. Zimmer has won multiple awards, although he’s won only one Academy Award in his time (crazy or what?!) for The Lion King in 1994. His award-winning (and nominated) film scores tend to be his most well-known, such as GladiatorThe Last Samurai, and Inception. His colleagues at DreamWorks, who Zimmer happens to be head of the music division there, include both legendary film composers John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams, who composed the memorable, uplifting score for The Chronicles of Narnia films. Zimmer is also known for his collaboration with director Christopher Nolan, having joint-composed (if that can be a term) for Batman BeginsThe Dark Knight, and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises with Newton Howard and composing for the critically-acclaimed film, Inception. My current favorite film scores of Zimmer’s are for Guy Ritchie’s first Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Inception.

2. Danny Elfman

Danny Elfman has a giant resume of film scores that I’ve never listened to, yet he makes it so high on this list because I’ve very much enjoyed the ones I have heard. He’s clearly at the top of his game right now composing for multiple films almost every year since 1980! Elfman is known for his collaboration with director Tim Burton, having composed for almost every one of Burton’s films. One of the most epic film score themes that earned Elfman a Grammy was the theme for Burton’s Batman in 1989. Elfman has been nominated four times for an Academy Award and has yet to win one. Because of his previous time spent in a rock band, Elfman has suffered hearing loss, which reminds me a little of Beethoven (that is, it’s interesting that great people in music needlessly work in the industry in spite of having poor hearing! crazy!). My favorite scores of his are for Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series.

1. Alan Silvestri

The biggest reason Alan Silvestri is in my number one slot is that he composed my favorite score tracks I have heard. It seems that some of the biggest directors and film composers have tag-teamed in their collaborations to make films. Robert Zemeckis is the director who has acted as Silvestri’s main collaborater, Silvestri having scored for twelve of Zemeckis’s films. Silvestri has won two Grammys, one for the song “Believe” in The Polar Express, and one for the theme song to Cast Away in the Best Instrumental Composition category. Silvestri’s been nominated only twice for an Academy Award, once for Best Score for Forrest Gump and once for Best Original Song in The Polar Express. I think it’s a wonder that he can so strongly compose and write for two incredibly different segments of music, be it instrumental scores or writing an original song. You can look forward to hearing the score for the upcoming Avengers film coming out in May of this year. I can narrow down my favorites of Silvestri’s film scores to the Back to the Future series, Cast Away theme song, Forrest Gump, and Captain America: The First Avenger.

OK, who’s your favorite film composer(s)? What do you think of my choices? And most importantly, what tracks/albums/composer recommendations do you have for me? 🙂

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Week of Favorites: Actresses

Thinking about who my favorite actresses are as opposed to who my favorite actors are was a very different process. Since I’m more established with which actors’ performances I value and enjoy the most, as well as the films that star said actors (more so than actresses in general), I have a VERY different list of actresses on my list. By no means am I claiming these are the best actresses, but for me personally, they happen to be favorites of mine.

6. Queen Latifah

This list was actually so hard for me to compile, that I had to include a sixth entry. It was impossible for me to leave Queen Latifah off this list. She’s put in some hilarious and enjoyable supporting performances in Stranger Than FictionWhat Happens in VegasThe Dilemma, Valentine’s Day, and Mad Money, while lending her voice to film-adapted musicals like Hairspray and Chicago, and occasionally starring in her own films, such as Just Wright and The Last Holiday. Although I don’t care for some of the films she’s been in, I typically appreciate Latifah’s role because she’s very good at playing character and supporting roles. Queen Latifah exudes confidence, and I’m always impressed with the depth and capacity she has to be either humorous, dramatic, or serious.

5. Kirsten Dunst

Kirsten Dunst was a tough one to put on the list because I’ve seen only some of her work. I’ve yet to see her talked-about performance in Melancholia, but I can say that I grew up watching her in Interview with the Vampire, JumanjiLittle WomenBring It On, The Virgin Suicides, and Tower of Terror. I think she has a very different look and air about her that seems to separate her from the masses. I didn’t much care for her portrayal of Mary-Jane Watson in the Spiderman series although I think a lot of it has to do with how her role was written. She’s played several parts that have shown off her range, from her role in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to Marie Antoinette. My personal favorite role of hers is in Elizabethtown.

4. Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts is one of those actresses who played iconic roles in her time and really established herself. My like for her really goes back to my like of almost all the actors I put on my favorites list in my previous post. I think she’s this timeless actress, almost elevated above many who have tried to do what she has. Roberts really had a way of defining a leading lady in the romcoms of the 90s. For me, she makes this list because I’ve seen several of her films, and I’ve really enjoyed watching her on screen. I think some actresses are easier to enjoy watching than others. My favorite film of hers is somewhere between My Best Friend’s Wedding and Notting Hill, although Pretty Woman comes in at a close third.

3. Reese Witherspoon

The first film I saw Reese Witherspoon in was Legally Blonde, and I knew from there on out that I was going to like her. Although she’s dabbled in some flimsier films from time to time, she’s quite strong in both comedy and drama, and I think she’s excellent at showing vulnerability on screen. Her portrayal of June Carter in Walk the Line is one of her best performances, and she has an Academy Award to show off for it. I will admit that I haven’t seen several of her films, but from the ones I have seen, I typically enjoy watching her in, although How Do You Know is a gross exception. I’m excited to see her take on some new projects and hope she continues to make smart choices.

2. Drew Barrymore

Saturday Night Live has accurately made fun of Drew Barrymore, and it’s almost understandable given Barrymore’s unusual voice or accent. One of the movies I watched over and over again as a kid was Ever After, a loose take on Cinderella. Barrymore certainly isn’t the prettiest girl who could play a Cinderella-like character, but she was every bit believable as a Danielle who fell in love with a prince. I much enjoyed her 90s through early 2000s films, especially The Wedding Singer and Never Been Kissed. What I enjoy most about her is that she’s comes across very human and relatable in her performances, at least the films in which I’ve seen her in. I definitely think she has a different look (and obviously sound) to her, but at the end of the day she’s really just this funny person who enjoys acting.

1. Emma Stone

I almost want to smack myself for choosing Emma Stone because she’s only 24 years old with what now appears to be a long career ahead of her. I’ve seen almost all of her movies and I will readily admit that if she’s in a movie, I would probably go just for the sake of seeing her. It really wasn’t Easy A that made me totally dig Emma Stone, even though I thought she was pretty awesome in that (also, that’s the kind of teen comedy I can deal with today). I think she’s absolutely hilarious and not afraid to do some silly things on screen, even if she might look stupid. Stone is easily my favorite character in The House Bunny, a rather pointless fluff movie, but entertaining nonetheless with Stone trying to “attract” guys by spraying herself with a hose. She played the “it” girl in Zombieland and the annoying, weird girl in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (you caught her in that, right?). The year 2011 really skyrocketed Stone’s career (and name) when she starred in two big hitting films, Crazy, Stupid, Love and The Help. I can imagine Emma Stone becoming the Julia Roberts or maybe more so, the Sandra Bullock, of her time as she ages and takes on more roles.

OK, it’s your turn. Who are your favorite actresses? Does my list sound as crazy to you as it does in my head? Don’t answer that.

Week of Favorites: Actors

The great thing about film is that there are so many aspects to appreciate, favoring specific tracks on soundtracks to cinematographers to performances to directors. Another great part about film is that it’s always evolving, introducing new actors, rehashing old story plots, improving technology. There are always new and old films to watch and rewatch, new introductions to characters to be made, new soundtracks worth listening to, and so on.

After a stroke of writers’ block, I decided to get back to the basics and post my “Favorite Five” of various film categories each day this week, today starting with my five current favorite actors. While over time (and with more films to view), I’m sure my favorites will change over time, but for now, these are my five six favorites. Stay tuned for favorite actresses, films, and other favorite lists coming up this week.

6. James Franco

I’m of the belief that James Franco will become one of the best actors of the younger generations. He’s still only in his 30s, but he already has a rocking resume that boasts plenty of potential. He’s done everything successfully, from the big screen to the small screen to soaps to hosting the Oscars, and yet he pulls it all off with incredible charisma. I really enjoyed him playing the sharp, confused Harry Osborne in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, although I was especially blown away by his Oscar performance in 127 Hours. I still laugh at him in Never Been Kissed, watching the then-unfamous, unrecognized Franco spout off a couple forgettable one-liners in the background. Who would have figured him to have embodied James Dean only two years later? There’s loads more of positive things I could say about him, so I would direct you to my spotlight post on him here.

5. Tom Cruise

Coming in at my number 5 slot is none other than Tom Cruise. He may not be the most popular person in real life, but on screen, he’s one of my favorites. I tend to lean more toward his 90s or early 2000s films, such as A Few Good MenVanilla Sky, and my favorite of his, Jerry McGuire. He also established himself through the Mission Impossible franchise, his latest film hitting theaters only in December of last year. He’s versatile enough to be playing action hero or dramatic lead, and he brings an intensity to each role that he plays. I found him unusually funny in Interview with the Vampire, easily outdoing his popular co-star Brad Pitt. Although Risky Business wasn’t my favorite film, I still appreciated Cruise’s hilarious performance back when he was younger. The guy ceases to age physically, as Richard Roeper tweeted during the Oscars that Cruise has aged at least 3 years in the past 30.

4. Matt Damon

Matt Damon is another hard hitter, although he’s often overlooked for George Clooney or Brad Pitt. While both the latter are good actors in their own ways, there’s this drama and insight that I see more in Damon. He embodied a newer, more interesting, James Bond-like character as Jason Bourne in the Bourne series, but he really won me over with his stunning and moving performance in Good Will Hunting. He’s transitioned from action star to more fatherly roles in his more recent films, and he balances them well. He works well as both a supporting and leading man in film, and I’m excited to see what else he has up his sleeve.

3. Will Smith

Part of me leans toward Smith because I grew up watching Fresh Prince and I dug his humor. He lights up the screen in whatever film he’s in. Smith either fights off the bad guys or moves you to tears. He also does a nice job of staying out of the limelight despite being married to an incredible actress and raising two kids that are turning in careers of their own. Since 2005, Smith has acted as producer for all of the films he’s collaborated with. My favorite films of his are currently Hitch and The Pursuit of Happyness. Will Smith is one of the few actors who seem to hold a strong grip on comedy, action, and drama films, making him one of the more flexible actors in Hollywood today. I don’t care much for the Men in Black franchise, but I look forward to him taking on newer projects in the future.

2. Jim Carrey

One of my favorite actors of all time is Jim Carrey. He tends to play character actors in most of humorous roles, but he’s also created new funny guys such as Bruce Almighty. Carrey is probably known best for his funniest films: Liar Liar, Dumb and Dumber, or The Cable Guy. It’s often said that comedic actors struggle to cross over into drama; that may be true, but Carrey would be an exception. From Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to The Truman Show to The Majestic to The Number 23, Carrey could be considered a dramatic actor every bit as much of a comedic one. He’s turned in multiple performances that make you question how someone can so effectively walk the line between comedy and drama and come out as successful as he has on both ends.

1. Tom Hanks

When I was thinking through some of my favorite actors, Tom Hanks was the first to come to mind. I grew up watching him in Big and Turner and Hooch and Sleepless in Seattle, and I loved how he was really the everyman in his films. I’ve always found Hanks to be a relatable guy in most of the roles he embodied, and that’s what always attracted me to his films. He’s won two Oscars and I wouldn’t be surprised if he weren’t through with winning big awards yet. He’s starred in some of the most memorable films, from Forrest Gump to The Green Mile to Philadelphia to one of my favorite films of his, Saving Private Ryan. He seems to have done a little bit of everything, from voicing the iconic animated character Woody in the incredibly successful Pixar franchise Toy Story, to working with CGI animation in The Polar Express, to bringing The Da Vinci Code books to life, to playing a man stuck in an airport in The Terminal. Hanks is one of those actors who will do most anything, even gaining a significant amount of weight, acting against himself, and talking to a volleyball in my favorite film of his, Cast Away.

Who are your favorite actors? What makes them so good to you? Who holds your top spot?