Classical Music

Rocks Off's Favorite Movie Scores, Oscar Winners or Not

Just because Céline Dion won an Academy Award in 1998 for the song we darest not speak of (lest it be stuck in your head all day) doesn't necessarily make it one of the best songs in the history of filmography. But it was a huge worldwide hit, and as such, it will be included this weekend in the Houston Symphony's Red Carpet Oscar Party (plan your toilet breaks accordingly!).

Thankfully, the Symphony's homage to the Academy Award for Best Score will feature some higher-brow selections too, from the era of Golden Hollywood when men like Charlton Heston were handsome ancient heroes instead of gun-toting fogies, and when starlets looked like this instead of this.

The Symphony will also perform scores from this year's nominated films, including Up and Avatar (as though James Cameron needed another statuette). No doubt the Symphony will also perform some of the work of Andre Previn, winner of four Best Original Score Oscars, including the soundtrack from Gigi. From 1967 to 1969, Previn was music director of the Houston Symphony.

Rocks Off started thinking about exactly what a soundtrack adds to a film, the kind of mood a certain music creates, and we immediately thought of one of our all-time favorite movies, Apocalypse Now. There are a dozen reasons to love this movie, from its notoriously troubled production to the scathing simplicity of its source material to the clever way the story was reworked to apply to the Vietnam War. And don't forget Dennis Hopper.

"Ride of the Valkyries," Apocalypse Now

But more than any other movie, Apocalypse Now serves as this film nut's archetype for how music can take a film to a whole other level. According to folklore, Francis Ford Coppola first befriended Jim Morrison in college. Coppola told Morrison he wanted to become a film director, and Morrison told Coppola he wanted to be a rock star. Coppola replied that if Morrison became a musician, he'd use his music in a film. And thus we get the iconic bone-chilling opening scene.

Yes, Rocks Off knows "Ride of the Valkyries" isn't an original score. But it does add something to the film that an actor, a few edits and some special effects never could, especially if you know a little bit about the history of Wagner.

"Blue Danube," 2001: A Space Odyssey

In a film full of tension and confusion, this is a delightful musical interlude reminiscent of a ballet or an elaborate mating ritual. It's beautiful.

"Main Theme," 2046

Every single bit of music for Won Kar-wai's retro-modern tale of unrequited love is a perfect compliment to the vintage feel of the flashbacks and the subservient femme-bots in the year of the title. Wong also uses songs from Dean Martin, Xaviar Cugat, Connie Francis and Nat King Cole to great effect. In fact, the other films in Wong's trilogy reveal his exquisite musical touch as well.

"Original Score," Amélie

Yann Tiersen's entire catalogue was purchased by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet on a whim after Jeunet's assistant played a CD for him. The director later commissioned Tiersen to compose some original songs for the film's bittersweet soundtrack.

Jaws and Psycho

Both scores show how a simple two-note tune can set the hair on your arms at attention. Hitchcock originally wanted no music for the now-famous shower scene. Can you imagine the most infamous murder in cinematic history without the screeching violins?

"Tubular Bells," The Exorcist

Jeez, does this not freak you out just now hearing it in the middle of the afternoon? Art history fun-fact: the movie poster for The Exorcist was inspired by a René Magritte painting called The Empire of Light, which is hanging in Houston's very own Menil Collection.

"Flying Theme," E.T.

Okay, we'll end on a softer note. Here's John Williams original score for E.T. John William's also wrote the two-note Jaws, as well as music for Fiddler on the Roof, winning Oscars for all three.

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Shey is an experienced blogger, social media expert and traveler. She studied journalism at Oklahoma State University before working as a full-time reporter for Houston Community Newspapers in 2005. She lived in South Korea for three years, where she worked as a freelancer.
Contact: Brittanie Shey