Tag Archives: oscars

Indelible Notes

If I were to ask you about composers named Bernstein and what their most memorable works are, I’ll forgive you if come back at me with West Side Story, On the Town or Candide – all three truly excellent compositions.  All three composed by the legendary Leonard Bernstein, who pronounced his name burn-stine.  The composer that interests me is the “other” Bernstein – Elmer Bernstein, who as far as I know used the approved New York pronunciation – Burnsteen, like my old next door neighbors.

You may not know the name and maybe none of his works come to mind off the top of your head, but I promise you, you know his work. You probably know more of  Elmer’s works than you do of Leonard’s.  Elmer Bernstein is either the first or second most well-known composer of film scores, jockeying for the ranking with John Williams.  Even a short list of Bernstein scores is a respectable demonstration of some of Hollywood’s best known movies. (The bolded titles are Academy Award nominees.)
  • The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955
  • The Ten Commandments, 1956
  • Kings Go Forth, 1958
  • The Magnificent Seven, 1960
  • The Comancheros, 1961
  • Birdman of Alcatraz, 1962
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962
  • The Great Escape, 1963
  • Hud, 1963
  • The Sons of Katie Elder, 1965
  • Hawaii, 1966
  • Return of the Seven, 1966
  • Thoroughly Modern Millie, 1967
  • I Love You, Alice B. Toklas!, 1968
  • True Grit, 1969
  • Slap Shot, 1977
  • Animal House, 1978
  • The Blues Brothers, 1980
  • The Great Santini, 1980
  • Trading Places, 1983
  • Ghostbusters, 1984
  • My Left Foot, 1989
  • The Grifters, 1990
  • Cape Fear, 1991
  • A Rage in Harlem, 1991
  • Mad Dog and Glory, 1992
  • The Age of Innocence, 1993
  • Lost in Yonkers, 1993
  • Frankie Starlight, 1995
  • The Rainmaker, 1997
  • Wild Wild West, 1999
  • Keeping the Faith, 2000
  • Far From Heaven, 2002

From 1955 through 2002, Bernstein earned 14 Academy Award nominations for either Best Original Score or Best Song, winning once for Thoroughly Modern Millie in 1967. He also won an Emmy and two Golden Globes.  All told Elmer Bernstein wrote 151 film scores, released 265 albums, and wrote for over 150 television productions (series, specials, mini-series, pilots and documentaries,) corporate promotional works and news specials.

I haven’t seen all the pictures he’s scored, and I can’t say that he’s a criteria for my selections of what to watch, but there’s a definite pattern at work. I really enjoy the music and surprise, the credit is “Music by Elmer Bernstein“.  They aren’t just enjoyable or something that adds to the movie, they’re works that stand on their own; I go out and get the MP3s and look for the soundtracks. His work has legs, and some have become cultural testaments.  You can find them in the movies themselves, in specific soundtrack CDs, and even on Freegal. You’re probably wondering why I haven’t pasted or included an MP3 or a YouTube video, there are many available.  His works are copyrighted and I haven’t found anything that wouldn’t be stretching the bounds of responsible librarianship if I posted them here.

As for my favorites, it’s easy, but the order changes moment by moment.

  1. The Great Escape
  2. The Magnificent Seven
  3. The Sons of Katie Elder
  4. True Grit
  5. Stripes.

– Richard


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Some Favorites

Ryan Gosling didn't get an Oscar nomination for "Drive," but he still has a better jacket than you. Image from: http://www.salon.com

This year’s Oscar nominations were just announced yesterday morning; I haven’t seen most of the films on offer yet, but have enjoyed both The Artist and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (hooray for Gary Oldman! How is this his first Oscar nomination, I ask you?) Since I’m lucky enough to work with a very large film collection on a daily basis, I tend to wait until most things come out on DVD. A few favorites from this past year:

Another Year

This is a very nice movie about a lovely older couple named Tom and Gerri. It follows their lives for an entire year, as they work at their jobs, invite friends over for dinner, and work in their garden. They live modest but fulfilling lives, and they seem mostly happy and very much in love, a rarity in the movies. This probably sounds horribly boring to most people, but since Mike Leigh is the director, the film is instead a touching and realistic portrayal of love and how people spend their time together. We should all be so lucky as to live a life as charmed as the central couple in this film. (Side note: this movie technically came out at the end of 2010 in limited release, but didn’t make it to video until this past summer).

Attack the Block

This might be the movie that Super 8 wanted (but failed) to become. Set on a council estate in South London, the film follows a group of teenagers who have to defend themselves and their neighbors from hostile alien invaders. I almost watched this one twice-in-a-row, because even though all the young, unknown actors are really great, their accents are rather heavy and I know I missed a few jokes the first time around. Next time I might turn the English subtitles on. Also of note: if you get a kick out of seeing how movies are made, there are lengthy (and highly entertaining) bonus features included, illuminating all the hard work that went into making this low-budget horror gem.


This is another nice movie about very nice people. It focuses primarily on father and son Hal (Christopher Plummer) and Oliver (Ewan McGregor), who both have recently begun new lives of sorts. After the death of his wife, Hal decides to come out of the closet at the ripe age of 75 and live his life to the absolute fullest. Meanwhile, Oliver realizes that he too has put his romantic life on hold for far too long, and decides to cautiously try his hand at love once more with the agreeable Anna (Mélanie Laurent). This is a lovely film about family and memory, as well as attempting to make more room in life for happiness. It also has an adorable dog that talks in subtitles, which is not nearly as obnoxious as it sounds, and Christopher Plummer just received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his supporting role.


This seedy little movie is all about a jacket–namely, a stained white bomber jacket with a yellow scorpion embroidered on the back. The jacket is worn by The Driver (we never learn his name), a wheelman for hire who works as a stunt driver for movie productions by day, and steers a getaway vehicle for armed heists by night. The Driver is played by the not-terrible-looking Ryan Gosling, who portrays him as a loner who speaks little and always carries a toothpick (and sometimes a hammer). Some things happen, the driver gets involved in a bad heist, and lots of nifty electronic pop music plays on the soundtrack.

Meek’s Cutoff

I have honestly never said to myself, “Boy, I sure wish someone would make a movie about pilgrims traveling the Oregon Trail.” I grew up in Oregon, and in school we had all that Oregon Trail whatnot shoved down our throats, and had to take boring field trips to see pilgrims’ graves…which means we would ride in a bus for 90 minutes so we could look at a large pile of rocks. I think this was supposed to make history more “real” for us, but hopefully in the future they’ll just show kids this movie instead. It’s good, and really does give one a sense of what it might have been like to cross the United States at the pace of an ox — scary, lonely, dirty and discouraging.

Midnight in Paris

Are you a Woody Allen fan? I’m honestly not sure if I am. I’ve liked some of his movies (Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters) and have been slightly unimpressed by others, but overall I feel like I haven’t seen enough of his films to decide whether Midnight in Paris is a typical Woody Allen film or not. What I do know is that I enjoyed it, and related to the central character Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) who travels to Paris with his fiancé, and winds up magically being transported to 1920s Paris each night at midnight. Gil’s time traveling allows for great artists and writers of the 1920s to make appearances in the film, including Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and the Fitzgeralds. The more Gil parties like it’s 1920, the harder he finds it to return to the Paris of 2011, as he remains firmly convinced that things really were better in the old days.

Sadly, I came to the realization while making this list that I didn’t watch many new documentaries this year—although I did take in a few wonderful older ones. Rest assured, I intend to rectify this situation in 2012 and will be checking out these films as soon as I’m able: Bill Cunningham New York, The Interrupters, Into the Abyss, The Last Mountain, Pina, Project Nim, and Resurrect Dead.

What about you? What were your favorite films this year? Am I missing anything good?



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