Top 5 (Non-Disney) Animations

Posted on February 20, 2011. Filed under: Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Following on from my post about childhood Disney memories, I thought I’d draw your attention to some non-Disney animations which are just as good, if not better, than some of the Disney standards.

5. Spirit

A film about a horse, with next to no dialogue besides a voice over by Matt Damon.  Not your standard movie pitch, but this somewhat unknown film actually has some great moments.  It’s entirely made by the music; a combination of Hans Zimmer’s dramatic orchestration and original music by Bryan Adams which serve to fill in for the missing dialogue.

It would have been so easy to tell this story with talking animals, just like nearly other animated feature out there, but the  fact that they didn’t makes Spirit just that little but different.

4.El Dorado

Another one by Dreamworks; this is just plain fun.  Voiced by Kevin Kline and  Kenneth Branagh, Spanish con artists Tulio and Miguel set out in search of the lost City of Gold and then have to decide what they value more, money or friendship.  It could be an incredibly schmaltzy story, but in fact it’s packed with laughs, more often for the grown ups than the kids, and with another knockout soundtrack.  This time Zimmer is joined by John Powell and the legendary Elton John, again letting the music tell the story in a way that feels more organic than having the characters bursting into song (although they do once).  Incidentally, this is one of the many outings of Zimmer’s “pirate theme,” which turns up in nearly every movie he’s worked on.

Dreamworks seem to have cornered the market in more “grown up” animations, which is probably why they dominate this list.

3. Happy Feet

This one tends to divide people, but at risk or repeating myself, it’s the music again that makes this one for me. John Powell has written a beautiful score, and I just love the way that various classic songs get mashed together.  The interplay of Mumble’s tap dancing with the music is also a brilliant touch.

But we’re sick of me gushing about music right, so what about the story? I will admit it slows down considerably in the middle where it teeters on the edge of getting that little bit too preachy about global warming, but I’m willing to forgive that on the basis that it’s a really original idea, with some loveable characters (stand up Robin Williams’ array of Adelie penguins) and a lot of heart.  The animation is also very well done, particularly in the rare glimpses of the human world, where, if you’re paying enough attention, you can spot a few famous names who helped with the mo-cap performances.

2. The Iron Giant

When this turned up on Ross McG’s list of films he watched over Christmas it made me smile, even if he did only catch 10 minutes of it. The Iron Giant is a fantastic film which far too few people have heard of.  Directed by Brad Bird, who went on to become one of the Pixar Gods, and with voices from Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston and Harry Connick Jr, this film contains lines that I still quote on a regular basis (“Sir, you’re in the road…”).  Set in a paranoid cold war America, the animation has a period feel to it, but the script is razor sharp and the story is heartwarming without being sickly.  If there’s one film on this list that I really want you to go out and watch, this is it.

1. Shrek

I tried to think of a less obvious number one. I really did. But you just can’t beat  Shrek. When it came out, everyone’s jaws dropped in unison…and then we started laughing.  Here is a move which takes everything Disney has been doing for the last 50 years and, as I once heard poetically put in an interview, “bitch slaps it.”  The Knight in shining armour is an Ogre, his side kick is an irritating Donkey who wont stop singing. The villain is knee height and voiced by John Lithgow. Every moment of the film was built for maximum laughs and hits the mark every time.  The first time I saw Shrek inflate a frog to make a balloon I nearly choked on my popcorn.

The thing I love most about Shrek though is the fact that it refuses to conform.  While every other film about someone who doesn’t quite fit in (Disney or otherwise) ends with the lead character becoming just like everybody else, in Shrek, our Princess finishes up the movie as an Ogre living in a swamp.  And that is exactly why it is one of the best animations to come out of any studio in the last decade.

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Top 5 Original Movie Scores

Posted on September 16, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Way back when this blog was just a baby I wrote a post about the importance of movie music and how I thought we should hold the film composers up against the classical masters.

Continuing on that idea I thought I’d write a post about my 5 all time  favourite pieces of movie music.  I’m restricting myself to individual movements rather than whole scores, all of these being instrumental pieces that I think are simply fantastic.  Narrowing down to just five was very tricky, so I’ve tried to pick a variety of music and composers.  I doubt any of my choices will shock you, but I’m interested to read your comments and find out which bits of movie music do it for you.

The best way I could think of to get the music onto the blog was to provide links to the Spotify tracks, since that shouldn’t upset any copyright laws as the music is freely available.  So hit the links to have the music playing while you read.

**I’m trying not to put spoilers in this, but it’s hard, so if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want to know then maybe skip that section.**

5. Father Kolbe’s Preaching-Burkhard Dallwitz-The Truman Show

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I’ll forgive you for not having heard of this guy, ‘cos even I hadn’t.  This particular piece of music plays right at the end of the film and is a perfect fit to what is happening on screen.  The simple piano and strings are tragic but at the same time seem to have a kind of optimism and the slow processing rhythm is a great match for the semi-biblical dialogue going on between Truman and Kolbe.

4. Star Wars theme-John Williams-Star Wars

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This man is the God of movie music.  I have no idea how he does it. Everything he writes is an iconic masterpiece, but I think if I had to pick just one track to sum up the genius that is John Williams it would have to be the Star Wars theme.  Every time that first brass note leaps from the screen I jump, even though I’ve seen Star Wars more times than I can count.  It’s such a triumphant march, giving way to the more fluid strings of Han and Leia’s theme, which take on a fantastically ethereal quality as the flutes echo the main theme in the background.  There are so many layers in that one piece of music it’s incredible.  And I dare you to find me a single person on the planet who can’t hum it.

3. He’s a Pirate-Klaus Badelt-Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

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I’ve never wanted to stand up and cheer at the end of a movie more, (in fact, me and my friends did the second time) and a big part of that is this awesome piece of music.  It just has pirate stamped all over it.  It works better when played through from the previous piece (One Last Shot) as the sudden drums and pace are an impressive contrast to the sweeping strings from before.  It’s a great example of a piece of music being custom-made to fit a scene.  In my head, the music always starts with the words, “Drink up me hearties Yo HO!”

2. Freedom/The Execution/Bannockburn-James Horner-Braveheart

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I know I’ve been on about this piece of music a lot recently but it really is magical.  The deep drum beat is symbolistic of death, and the strings are quintessentially tragic, but interweaved with the celtic pipes (I think it’s a chanter, it’s definitely not full bagpipes) we have a score which is both moving and able to transport you to a time and place in order to make the film seem more real.  The fact that one movement takes us through three key moments in the films finale shows how each event influenced the next, and the tone of the music adapts accordingly.  I particularly love the solo flute towards the end, and how it dissolves into what is essentially a roaring cheer in instrumental form.

One of only two pieces of music that will make me stop what I’m doing and just listen if it happens to come up on shuffle.  The other is my next choice.

1. The Breaking of The Fellowship-Howard Shore-The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.

Infuriatingly the real version of this isn’t on Spotify so I’m forced to use a YouTube link.

I know nobody is shocked by this choice but this was the moment I fell in love with LOTR.  I absolutely love this score.  Howard Shore has this amazing ability to tell a story with music, which in a film like this is so important.  You can listen to the score and know what’s going on without needing to see the images that go with.

For me, this is the perfect orchestral capturing of Hope.  James Galway’s flute (I am a sucker for those things) is gorgeous and the understated horns are a great backdrop for the sadness after the loss of Boromir, but at the same time support the dialogue between the remaining Fellowhip members as they promise to stay true to eachother.

The piece moves from an achingly beautiful solo string to the dramatic revival of the Fellowship theme and then back to the restrained strings and flute as we watch the two hobbits picking their way across Emyn Muil.  Ben Del Maestro’s vocal kicks in just as the credits begin to roll, using lyrics from Tolkien’s own hand.  It’s both an ending and a beginning as we know that there is a whole lot more to come for the characters we have just been introduced to.

Honorable Mentions:

Here are some of the pieces that didn’t quite make it to the top 5, but I strongly suggest you check out.

Craig Armstrong: Love Actually

Alan Silvestri: Forrest Gump

Hans Zimmer: Gladiator

Gustavo Santaolalla: Brokeback Mountain

Stephen Warbeck: Shakespeare in Love

OK, I’m done with being artsy now. Your turn.

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Top 5 Tear-jerkers

Posted on August 1, 2010. Filed under: Ramblings, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Carrying on with my Top 5 posts (an idea not even slightly nicked from Ross vs Ross) let’s look at those lump-in-the-throat moments we for some reason can’t get enough of.

I am absolutely useless when it comes to crying at movies.  In the right (wrong?) mood I will end up crying at the most pathetically not sad things.  Despite this distressingly girly quality it is ironically quite often boyish movies that get me going.  So without further ado, here are my Top 5 tear-jerker moments. *Sniff*

**Beware Spoilers and thanks again to all the YouTubers**

5. Mufasa dies

I think everyone of my generation has this scene burned into their consciousness.  It was our “Bambi’s Mum,” except this time, and for the first time in Disney history, there was a dead body on screen.  Scary stuff for little kids.  Add to that Hans Zimmer’s score and you have a really moving scene.  Don’t worry though kids, he’s up in the clouds keeping an eye on things.

4. Billy gets into Ballet School

Even though you can sort of guess where it’s heading, the tension is so high by this point that when that letter appears on the table we are right there with his family waiting to hear what happened.  There is almost no dialogue and a very sparse piano accompaniment to go with some great acting from the young Jamie Bell.  This scene is also the first time we see Billy’s family really getting behind him, as they all are obviously desperate for him to succeed.  The fact that Jackie’s joy is so short lived brings us smack back down to Earth, emphasising what Billy is escaping, and how lucky he is to get out.

(It’s the first 5 minutes you want.)

3. Armageddon Goodbye

I think this might have been the first film to really make me cry.  I know that it tops the list of films tha make most men cry too, and I bet I don’t even have to tell you what scene I’m talking about.

I can flick to this film while I’m watching anything else on TV and the effect will be almost instant.  From here to the end of the movie is a cry fest for me.  I’ve only managed to get through it dry eyed once, thanks to two friends (you know who you are) continually checking to see if I was crying yet.

I always think Ben Affleck has had a bit of a rough deal when it comes to criticism, but he’s pretty good in this movie.

2. “You died on a Saturday morning.”

Everything that happens in Forrest Gump is about him trying to get back to Jenny, which makes the ending all the more heartbreaking.  Tom Hanks is fantastic as ever, and the dialogue is simple but effective.  I love the final scene where he sits on the stump watching the school bus leave, because we know he is probably going to sit there all day waiting for Little Forrest to come back home.

(Start from 2:15)

1. “They fought like Scotsmen, and won their freedom.”

As I’ve said before, I can honestly only watch Braveheart once a year.  I know that there are huge embellishments in this movie, but it is still essentially a true story.  I’ve been to Bannockburn and I’ve been to the Wallace memorial; they are both incredible places.  The part of this scene that always gets me is Robert the Bruce’s voiceover telling what happened to Wallace’s body, because that part at least is true, and shows just how ruthless the monarchy used to be when it came to so-called traitors.

Despite being hugely outnumbered, with no resources and having just watched their leader being brutally tortured, the remains of his army still stood against the English.  God I wish I was Scottish!  James Horner’s score is absolutely magical.  It holds all of the power of this scene.

Hope I didn’t depress you all! I promise my next post will be more upbeat.  Meanwhile if you want to share you’re favourite weepies please do.

Interestingly, 3 of these movies made it into my Desert Island Discs picks.  Guess we all need a good cry to keep us going.

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A few quick words on Sherlock Holmes

Posted on February 18, 2010. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews, Trivia | Tags: , , , , |

I don’t really have time to write a full on review so instead I’m giving you a couple of paragraphs based on some stuff I scribbled down last night. Note: I’ve really tried to tone down use of the word “awesome.”

Sherlock Holmes is awesome. It is definitely one of the best films I’ve seen in a while. The chemistry between Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr is spot on, creating a brilliant brotherly relationship with all the awkward macho-ness of Victorian gentlemen added on.  Of course this kind of fast talking quick witted dialogue is the reason Downey Jr was invented-which is why the role suits him so well, but Law plays a brilliant striaght man, with a great dry sarcasm and complete lack of surprise at Holmes erratic behaviour.

OK so this version probably doesn’t live up to the books I haven’t read, but to be honest, who cares? I like this kind of action hero come detective character who has a few issues with drinking eye medicine. (For those who like trivia, that reference in the film is a nod to Holmes cocaine addiction.)  Normally when a film is obvioulsy setting up for a franchise I start to become wary of obvious sequel lead ins, but with Holmes I was already couting the days to the next movie before the credits had even rolled.  This is definitely a double act that could endure for a while yet, with almost limitless plot possibilities!

While we’re talking about plot, some have criticised the black magic story in the film saying it’s too supernatiral for Holmes, but I disagree. The fact that everything came down to it’s logical Scientific explanation suitted Holmes perfectly, while the character of Blackwood tapped into the culture of superstition at the time.

A few other quick thoughts. Hans Zimmer’s score is (as usual) brilliant and despite sounding like the wrong man for the job Guy Richie’s direction works well. There are a few of his trademarks there (I’m pretty sure slow-mo bare knuckle boxing was his idea) but in the context of the film nothing sticks out.  A lot of effort went into recreating Victorian London as well, and the costume design is really good. Speaking of, one final bit of trivia for you: the costume designer obviously has a sense of humour-pay attention to where she has her name in the credits/picture montage.  I’m pretty sure she didn’t have much work to do in that scene 😉

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