Sean Wilson assesses the veteran composer’s massively overdue Academy Awards success…
So, the Oscars are all done for another year, the speeches have been tossed into the nearest recycling bin and the red carpet has been rolled away. Truth be told, does anybody really care? The Academy Awards, as win any awards ceremony, are utterly ephemeral and fickle, in one ear and out of the other whilst very rarely acting as a guideline to what constituted the year’s best cinema. (Did Leo deserve the Oscar for The Revenant? Hardly. That should have been Michael Fassbender’s for the taking, but that’s an argument for another time.)
Even so, amidst the slightly cringey Chris Rock diversity jokes, typically preachy acceptance speeches (we’re sure the Earth is happy you’re looking out for it, Leo) and general air of sycophancy, there was one thing the Academy got absolutely right – and that was awarding veteran composer Ennio Morricone his first ever Oscar for Best Original Score for The Hateful Eight. Yes, Morricone was granted a lifetime achievement award by the Academy back in 2007 but that felt somewhat perfunctory; this year’s Oscar was awarded for the quality of the music itself, recognising Morricone’s extraordinary ability to burrow into the heart of a given movie. Here is the composer’s gracious acceptance speech.
Morricone is clearly emotional in accepting the award, and it’s not hard to see why. After a career encompassing more than 400 scores across every conceivable genre, this was the moment where he was finally been embraced by the movies’ most prestigious awards ceremony, in the twilight years of his life at the age of 87. But whilst it was tempting to read the award as a sentimental choice, this was clearly the most robust and deserved win of the evening, not awarded to someone or something that’s been aggressively promoted or trending on Twitter, but instead to genuine, raw talent.
The Academy Awards are notorious for their cynical marketing campaigns – in the end, it’s more often exposure, not merit, that helps clinch the top prize – and indeed the Best Original Score category has been ballsed up more often than most (honestly, can anyone remember Gustavo Santoalla’s wilfully overrated Babel?) This year though, an extraordinary craftsman finally got the recognition he deserved. The standing ovation from the star-studded audience was barely enough to do the momentous occasion justice; in the end, it was the gentle hug from fellow film music icon John Williams that said it all.
For over 50 years Morricone has been earworming his way into audiences’ heads, elevating cinema with his profound musical touch that, astonishingly, shows no signs of abating even now. Is The Hateful Eight one of his all-time greatest scores? Debatable, but it’s a soundtrack that demonstrates Morricone’s ability to bring soul, as well as compositional skill, to every movie that he works on. Would that the Academy Awards got it right every year.
Sean Wilson is a film reviewer, soundtrack enthusiast and avid tea drinker. If all three can be combined at the same time, all is good with the world.