Monday, August 31, 2015

A Look Back at the Time Wes Craven Got Meryl Streep an Oscar Nomination

Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart
Yesterday marked the passing of legendary horror director Wes Craven. You may likely know him best as the creator of Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (which was also Johnny Depp's film debut) or for the revisionist horror franchise Scream. The man has done a lot for the genre over a career spanning 43 years. Yet there was one time in his career where he stepped away from the blood and gore and gave us something very different. In 1999, he made his sole film outside of horror called Music of the Heart. The results were a little more than astounding.

Many directors have did films outside of their genre before. Of course, these types would do a few films away from that familiar podium. A more recent example is Mad Max: Fury Road director George Miller, who has cropped up on Oscar lists thanks to the quasi-propaganda film Babe and the dancing penguin film Happy Feet. As anyone who has been to the cineplex this year, you'll likely know that Miller is a crazy man who doesn't seem capable of those other two franchises. Yet, he is versatile. Likewise, Craven never really had that break from horror. He had a solid 27-year run by the time that Music of the Heart came up. Unlike Miller, he never returned to test the waters.

So, why Music of the Heart? According to Craven, he wanted to make the film upon seeing the 1995 Oscar nominated documentary Small Wonders. It followed the life of teacher Roberta Guaspari as she moved to an inner city school in Harlem, New York. There was something there that moved him. He even claimed that he would only make Scream 3 if he was given the chance to make this film. With a cast that included Meryl Streep (as Guaspari), Gloria Estefan, and Cloris Leachman; he made the film about the power of music in a child's life. 

The film may have been worth it. While the film features a 64% on critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, it performed an even more impressive feat. It received the highest, rarest grade in Cinemascope's audience reaction grade with an "A+." Many of the actors learned to play instruments and the soundtrack was rich with popular 90's artists like Estefan, N*SYNC, Aaliyah, and Menudo. The film has since gone on to hold a reputation as one of the best inspirational teacher movies. 

In one of the strangest moves, Craven managed to make his non-horror film into an Oscar-nominated hit. The most noteworthy is that it lead Streep to her 12th Best Actress nomination. Her performance was hailed for her convincing accent and her ability to make her role surprisingly unheroic. She would lose to Hilary Swank for her role in Boys Don't Cry. The film also earned Diane Warren her fifth Best Original Song Oscar nomination for the titular song. She lost to Phil Collin's "You'll Be in My Heart" from Tarzan.

Even though Craven never returned to drama after this, it remains an interesting enigma of an alternate personality. He was assured, capturing something that spoke to audiences outside of scares. It remains even more puzzling because he was insistent to make the film, where he hasn't really had that drive for another dramatic film. Even then, it's nice to know that the man who created classic iconography also had a sensitive side to him and that he cared about stories regarding inner city youths and music. It may not immediately sound like a Craven movie, but it does prove that everyone has that one surprise in their career.

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