Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Birthday Take: Thomas Newman in "Saving Mr. Banks" (2013)

Scene from Saving Mr. Banks
Welcome to The Birthday Take, a column dedicated to celebrating Oscar nominees and winners' birthdays by paying tribute to the work that got them noticed. This isn't meant to be an exhaustive retrospective, but more of a highlight of one nominated work that makes them noteworthy. The column will run whenever there is a birthday and will hopefully give a dense exploration of the finest performances and techniques applied to film. So please join me as we blow out the candles and dig into the delicious substance.

The Facts

Recipient: Thomas Newman
Born: October 13, 1955 (60 years old)
Nomination: Best Original Score (nominated) for Saving Mr. Banks

The Take

I am sure that there's a whole bunch of people who have irrational peeves. For me, there's a lot of politics that goes into the Best Original Score category that has made it a very personal study every year. I will start with the irrational part that is actually no fault of his own. I sort of loathe modern-day Thomas Newman because he managed to get Best Original Score nominations two years in a row for scores that incorporated previously existing motifs. Now, this isn't technically wrong for a soundtrack. In fact, Newman's work compliments Saving Mr. Banks is just fine. It's more the concept behind the nominations that bother me and unfortunately drag down my opinions of Thomas Newman, even as he does phenomenal work in Bridge of Spies.

Here's the story that I've told a few times. In 2007, There Will Be Blood was one of the two films to beat. It was a phenomenal achievement that is still being talked about to this day. From Daniel Day-Lewis' performance down to the direction, it is a masterful film. The score is itself jarring upon first listen, but slowly becomes an integral fabric to the experience. Jonny Greenwood's score was rejected. It wasn't because there were five better scores (which would have been more plausible). It was because Greenwood's score incorporated music that previously existed, thus sabotaging the idea of the original score. I personally disagreed with the remarks, but it seemed like an applicable excuse at the time - even as the film racked up Oscar wins and added to one of the Best Picture's best overall years.

Then it became personal. It didn't become clear immediately, but as Greenwood was again rejected for The Master, certain things came to the forefront. This time in the mold of Thomas Newman's Skyfall score. Again, I understand that a James Bond film deserves to have James Bond motifs. I am not arguing that. I am more arguing that it qualifies as Best Original Score when it has music that itself was nominated for Best Original Score decades earlier in Marvin Hamlisch's work on The Spy Who Loved Me. It seems greatly unfair that one composer will be penalized while the other is praised. I understand that 2013 was a big year for James Bond, especially with it being the 50th anniversary. However, I think breaking the rules is highly egregious. The following year saw Saving Mr. Banks incorporate motifs from Mary Poppins. Again, not problematic. Just annoying from a nominations standpoint.

This isn't just a notice for There Will Be Blood being snubbed. This is a general problem that I remain passionate about. When The Godfather received its many nominations, its Best Original Score nomination was revoked for having previously existing music. Oddly enough, The Godfather: Part II won that category. I respect Newman as an artist and think that he's more than deserving of his legacy. I'm just annoyed that the legalities that is the Best Original Score category has caused me to be more apprehensive about this. Again, it's an irrational thing that I doubt makes sense to everyone. It's just something that seems wrong that as rules become stricter everywhere else, paying tribute to scores with more familiar motifs is just wrong.

I know that it seems unfair to cry foul of Newman on Birthday Take, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to acknowledge something that has bothered me. With that said, I want to just say that he has had an impressive legacy outside of this particular snafu. For instance, his work in American Beauty is really good and it's a shame that he didn't win for that. He's a lively, experimental composer that does the trick perfectly. I hope that one day, he will get the win that he deserves much like how Alexandre Desplat won last year - thankfully for a great score. I am just hoping that Newman wins for something that's actually original and more indicative of his talents and not just my frustrations with the Best Original Score category.


  1. "Again, I understand that a James Bond film deserves to have James Bond motifs. I am not arguing that. I am more arguing that it qualifies as Best Original Score when it has music that itself won Best Original Score decades earlier in Marvin Hamlisch's work on The Spy Who Loved Me."


    Hamlisch and The Spy Who Loved Me didn't win any Oscars that year, especially since John Williams was nominated for his score for a certain space opera. Though I do wish "Nobody Does It Better" had won Best Original Song over "You Light Up My Life".

    1. I will fix that immediately. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.