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Listening to the Academy Awards: Part One

Music critic Andy Trudeau
Bob Malesky/NPR News
Music critic Andy Trudeau

Music is often a critical, final factor in making a film a success. For nearly a decade, Weekend Edition Sunday listeners have turned an ear to the subtleties of Oscar-nominated movie scores with the help of Andy Trudeau, NPR's resident film music buff.

This year's nominees, in alphabetical order:

Big Fish by Danny Elfman

Cold Mountain by Gabriel Yared

Finding Nemo by Thomas Newman

House of Sand and Fog by James Horner

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King by Howard Shore

Trudeau begins this two-part series by looking at the scores of Cold Mountain, Big Fish, and House of Sand and Fog. The first two films represent established composer/director relationships: Gabriel Yared with director Anthony Minghella for Cold Mountain and Danny Elfman with Tim Burton for Big Fish, the latter team sharing a repertoire of ten films. James Horner, by contrast, is a veteran composer paired with first-time director Vadim Perelman for House of Sand and Fog.

Trudeau picks out signature musical gestures from Yared, Elfman, and Horner that characterize and individualize their works. He then traces those trademarks back through previous film scores.

Although the films are quite different, the composers of all three scores had an obligation to evoke something of a "local color" due to their nature -- southern bluegrass in Cold Mountain and Big Fish, and an Iranian flavor in House of Sand and Fog. "But instead of going for an overt statement, they really meld it in very carefully to the texture of what they're doing," says Trudeau, who shows how each score retains the distinctive style of its composer, with nods to the setting of the film.

Next week, Trudeau reviews the film scores of Finding Nemo and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and gives us his own Oscar pick.

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