We here at Rust Is Just Right have other passions besides music, though because of the nature of this site it makes sense that we rarely discuss them; we assume that our regular visitors are not particularly interested in our prediction of how the 2016 campaign will shake out or why we believe this is the year that the Trail Blazers will win the Western Conference, so we do you the favor of not mentioning them. Instead, for this brief detour, we will discuss a subject that is more universally beloved: movies.
We enjoy many things about the movies, from the simple act of going out to the theater with friends to spending countless hours discussing various theories of film and film criticism. This past year was a bit of disappointment, with a lot of solid films but few great ones, but in our eyes one of the bright spots was Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman (even if we were hoping for a biopic of either the Cash Money impresario or the enigmatic NBA player). While the film’s ambition exceeded its grasp on occasion and often seemed to be in search of a thesis, one had to admire the brilliant acting performances, the whirlwind cinematography, and its overall kinetic energy which kept the audience consistently engaged and on the edge of their seats. The element that was most responsible for that last quality was the film’s brilliant and innovative score, which was dominated by Antonio Sanchez’s fantastic improvised jazz drumming.
It is rare for a film score to rely so much on a single instrument, much less rely solely on percussion. It’s certainly a risk to anchor a film with an instrument that to the untrained ear seems to lack the capability of melody, but it’s Sanchez’s ability to work through these potential constraints that makes his score so brilliant. Sanchez is able to mine different sounds by using every part of his drum kit, and in the process creates melodies that, while not traditional, augment what is happening on screen. The viewer feels the full range of emotions of the characters onscreen through Sanchez’s employment of different textures and rhythms. Most notably, the frenetic, jittery drum flourishes perfectly captured the intense personal anxiety of Michael Keaton’s Riggan, as he grappled with both the internal struggle of finding artistic meaning as well as the external difficulties as his production was collapsing all around him. The drum score is such an important component on the film that when one sees a drummer on-screen acting out the score, it elicits shock and delight from the audience. These particular scenes are not merely showy gestures, but are significant examples of one of the main themes of the film, that of exploring the line between the stage and reality and how the difference between the two can blur on occasion. The score left such a mark on me that my first comments to my friends and the theater manager afterwards were raves about the drumming.
But because the Academy is often a ridiculous organization, it has decided that Sanchez’s score is ineligible for the Oscars. The official reason is that the Academy believed that there was not enough original music and that it was augmented by classical selections, but this ignores basic math and the fact that no one was raving about the incidental use of Tchaikovsky or Mahler. Of course, this the same Academy that gave an award to The Artist despite its generous use of the theme from Vertigo, finding that appropriation original enough, while on the other hand denying a nomination to Jonny Greenwood for his captivating work on There Will Be Blood because he had the audacity to include a composition that he had written and had performed only once.
Hopefully, enough people will be outraged by this idiotic ruling that the Academy will be pressured into reversing course and restoring the Sanchez score to its rightful place on the list for potential nominees. However, if that fails to occur, let us hope that the controversy at least gets people to hear Sanchez’s fantastic work and that he earns some new fans as a result.
*Normally we don’t like to use such a clickbait-y headline for our pieces, but the simple direct approach worked best with this particular subject. We loved the score that Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross wrote for Gone Girl, but this was truly the best film score of the year and one that will undoubtedly leave its mark for years to come. It’s ridiculous that an idiotic interpretation of the rules will prevent it from possibly receiving the recognition it deserves.