R. Christopher Teichler, Composer

My Favorite Film Scores

I will always love film music. I first wanted to be a composer because of film music. To this day, people tell me that they can hear the influence of film music in my writing (sometimes a compliment, often not!). My career goals shifted as I went through school, and seeing what was awarded the Oscar for Best Original Score every year played a part in me re-thinking what i wanted to do with my writing. Let's face it: the Academy almost always gets it wrong when it comes to music (well, maybe every category!). When you have a legend like Jerry Goldsmith, who only won a single Oscar in his life even though he was regarded as one of the best film composers ever by his peers, something isn't right.

But, that is a tangent for another day!

In thinking of the 89th Academy Awards ceremony, I started thinking about my favorite film scores. I have listed them below, along with whether they were nominated for an Oscar, whether they won the Oscar, and, if not, what won instead.

1. The Shawshank Redemption - Thomas Newman

 With a stark simplicity that is haunting and beautiful, no film score has consistently moved me the way this one has, nor has a soundtrack so perfectly conveyed the setting and innermost essence of the characters. Newman's soundtrack (like most of his), doesn't tell the viewer what to feel as much as he tells the viewer what the characters feel.

Nominated for Academy Award: Yes
Won Academy Award: No, lost to The Lion King by Hans Zimmer

2. Jaws - John Williams

Everyone knows the famous "dun-dun-dun-dun" Stravsinkian motive that elicits that primal, base fear (that still keeps me out of the ocean!), but what makes this soundtrack so special is the variety. There are sea shanties that accompany the heros out to sea, the delicate piano/harp/vibraphone writing as the Chief has his movements mimicked by his son, the baroque-inspired "Montage" as people mindlessly flock to the beaches unaware of what is waiting for them. This score is iconic, and for good reason.

Nominated for Academy Award: Yes
Won Academy Award: Yes

3. Vertigo- Bernard Herrmann

The Hitchcock-Herrmann collaborations not only gave us some of the best movies of all-time, but some of the greatest film scores as well. Vertigo is haunting, beautiful, troubling, dizzying (!), romantic, disturbing; and Herrmann's score captures all of this. The Wagnerian "sigh" of the main theme tells us this is a tragic love story, and the score walks a tightrope of pushing us to root for the ill-fated lovers, but also tells us that the whole thing is just very wrong. The "Scene d'amour" is worth the price of admission alone.

Nominated for Academy Award: No

4. On the Waterfront - Leonard Bernstein

While West Side Story and On the Town are canonized films that have Bernstein's music, this is his only true film score. At times it is bluesy and dissonant, portraying the unfavorable working conditions on the Jersey docks; and there are also those moments where the music beautifully conveys the innocence of Edie, the soft side of Terry's true nature, and the slightly awkward-yet-innocence of their falling in love. A masterful film score, but it is evident that the quick scene and mood changes of the cinema were not Bernstein's cup of tea, and the music is best heard in a concert venue, in my opinion.

Nominated for Academy Award: Yes
Won Academy Award: No, lost to The High and the Mighty by Dimitri Tiomkin 

5. Star Trek: The Motion Picture

OK, I'll just come out and say that this is not a very good movie! However, Goldsmith's score takes it from almost unwatchable to passable. The theme is one of the most iconic in film/TV history, originally used in  this film but also ended up being the theme for 5 later films and the television series "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Goldsmith makes the vast unknown of space at times romantic heroic, other times cold and mysterious. He has themes for the barbaric Klingons, a gorgeous love theme for Ilia and Decker, an almost chant-like melody for Spock, all in addition to the main theme which can be both swashbuckling or reverent. 

Nominated for Academy Award: Yes
Won Academy Award: No, lost to A Little Romance by Georges Delerue

Those of you who know me well will say, "Where's Star Wars???" Well, those films are just in a completely separate category!

Thanks for reading my list! Sadly, I believe that the best days of film scores are behind us, as everything seems to be getting homogeneous from film to film, composer to composer. But who knows, maybe there will be a renaissance of film music someday in the near future. If my list is any indication, we can't trust the Academy Awards to find them for us.


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