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THE TOP FORTY COUNTDOWN 2004: PART THREE

The Most In-Demand Composers in Hollywood

By Scott Bettencourt

If you really don't feel like reading Parts One and Two of this article, then here's a little list that pretty much sums them up:

21. Mark Isham
22. Gabriel Yared
23. Marco Beltrami
24. Klaus Badelt
25. Mychael Danna
26. Don Davis
27. Craig Armstrong
28. Christophe Beck
29. Philip Glass
30. Patrick Doyle
31. Edward Shearmur
32. Christopher Young
33. Trevor Rabin
34. Marc Shaiman
35. Theodore Shapiro
36. George Fenton
37. Harry Gregson-Williams
38. Trevor Jones
39. Brian Tyler
40. Stephen Warbeck


20. JOHN OTTMAN

2003 RANKING: 39
AGE: 39
REPRESENTATION: Kraft-Engel
ONGOING FILMMAKER RELATIONSHIPS: Bryan Singer, Steve Miner
BACKGROUND: USC, film editor
FAN FAVORITE: The Usual Suspects
TYPECAST IN: Thrillers
TOP GROSSING FILMS:
1. X2--214 (U.S. gross in millions)
2. The Cable Guy--60
3. Gothika--59
4. Halloween H20--55
5. Lake Placid--31
6. The Usual Suspects--23
7. Urban Legends: Final Cut--21
8. Eight Legged Freaks--17
9. Apt Pupil--8
10. Trapped--7

Though he's scored high profile films before, the grosses for X2 were only slightly less than all of Ottman's previous films combined and put him in a whole new league commercially, as well as showing that Danny Elfman isn't the only one who can score a blockbuster comic book movie. Ottman may not yet have forged as distinctive a superhero musical style as Elfman, but his score showed appealing sensitivity and variety, not succumbing to the current style of musically overemphasizing every moment. His skill as an editor undoubtedly informs his musical/dramatic sense, though it would be nice to hear him tackle another score of this scale without the distraction of having to balance his editorial duties. He also had a modest hit with Gothika, and his next project is writer Larry Cohen's attempt to milk one last dollar out of his Phone Booth concept, Cellular.

WHAT'S NEXT: Cellular


19. GRAEME REVELL

2003 RANKING: 23
AGE: 48
REP: First Artists Management
RELATIONSHIPS: Philip Noyce, David Twohy, Carl Franklin
FAN FAVORITE: Dead Calm
BACKGROUND: Trained in piano and French horn, psychiatric orderly, rock band SPK
TYPECAST IN: Thrillers, superheroes
TOP GROSSING FILMS:
1. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider--131
2. Daredevil--102
3. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle--87
4. Freddy vs. Jason--82
5. The Saint--61
6. Spawn--54
7. Blow--52
8. The Crow--50
9. The Negotiator--44
10. High Crimes--41

Apart from a rare venture outside of his usual cinematic territory like his charmingly quirky score for the Charlie Kaufman comedy Human Nature, Revell seems pretty well locked into the action-thriller genre. He received good reviews for his jazzy score for Out of Time, but his two biggest boxoffice hits of 2003 were less reputable projects -- the monsterfest Freddy vs. Jason and the comic book adventure Daredevil (Jennifer Garner's Elektra is about to get her own movie spinoff, composer unknown). Revell continues in this vein with Halle Berry's Catwoman (a new origin ish, unrelated to Batman Returns), and gets to sequel his own Pitch Black score with The Chronicles of Riddick.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Chronicles of Riddick, Catwoman


18. ROLFE KENT

2003 RANKING: 22
AGE: 40
REP: First Artists Management
RELATIONSHIPS: Alexander Payne, Mark Waters
BACKGROUND: Self-taught musician, stage composer
FAN FAVORITE: Election
TYPECAST IN: Comedy
TOP GROSSING FILMS:
1. Freaky Friday--110
2. Legally Blonde--90
3. Legally Blonde 2: Red White & Blonde--89
4. About Schmidt--64
5. Kate & Leopold--46
6. 40 Days and 40 Nights--37
7. Someone Like You--27
8. Nurse Betty--25
9. Election--14
10. Town and Country--6

While currently typecast in comedy (his early credits include little seen thrillers like Oxygen, starring Maura Tierney and Adrien Brody), Kent has managed to balance his critically acclaimed work for Alexander Payne (Election and About Schmidt), where his unusually deft music is allowed to shine, with more overtly commercial comedies which may not allow him as much musical freedom but which keep him commercially viable. Last year saw his biggest hit yet, the surprisingly enjoyable remake of Freaky Friday, and coming up he reteams with its director and star for another teen girl comedy, Mean Girls (which looks like Heathers without the murders).

WHAT'S NEXT: Mean Girls, The Last Shot, Sideways


17. RACHEL PORTMAN

2003 RANKING: 20
AGE: 43
REP: Kraft-Engel
1 OSCAR, 3 NOMINATIONS
RELATIONSHIPS: Harvey Weinstein, Jonathan Demme, Doug McGrath, Wayne Wang
BACKGROUND: Oxford, British TV composer
FAN FAVORITE: The Cider House Rules
TYPECAST IN: Period comedy-drama
TOP GROSSING FILMS:
1. Chocolat--71
2. Mona Lisa Smile--63
3. The Cider House Rules--57
4. To Wong Foo--36
5. Addicted to Love--34
6. The Joy Luck Club--32
7. The Legend of Bagger Vance--30
8. Emma--22
9. Beloved--22
10. Benny & Joon--22

In 2003, Portman had two big-star, high profile projects released but neither made much of a dent on the public consciousness. Despite its Oscar bait pedigree, The Human Stain left barely a mark, and Portman's score was subdued and effective but lacked the overt emotion and memorable melodies that are her strong suit. Mona Lisa Smile showed her strengths to better advantage but the score seemed overly familiar, her main theme evoking her own Cider House Rules and Nicholas Nickleby, and it proved to be the least successful Julia Roberts commercial picture in years. Portman should break new ground with Jonathan Demme's all-star (if ill-advised) remake of The Manchurian Candidate, and will score her third film for Joy Luck Club director Wayne Wang.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Manchurian Candidate, Because of Winn-Dixie


16. JOHN POWELL

2003 RANKING: 21
AGE: Unavailable
REP: Kraft-Engel
RELATIONSHIPS: John Woo, Dreamworks, Ron Underwood, Sandra Bullock
BACKGROUND: Trinity College of Music, advertising music, Media Ventures
FAN FAVORITE: Chicken Run
TYPECAST IN: Action, animation
TOP GROSSING FILMS: 
1. Shrek--263
2. The Bourne Identity--121
3. Face/Off--112
4. Chicken Run--106
5. The Italian Job--106
6. Two Weeks Notice--93
7. Antz--90
8. Drumline--56
9. Paycheck--53
10. Forces of Nature--52

Powell didn't have any Shrek-sized hits this year, but Agent Cody Banks was modestly successful (spawning a sequel which Powell didn't score) and The Italian Job was well reviewed and managed to coast past the all-important hundred million dollar line at the boxoffice. Powell's Italian music had more charm and variety than the typical 21st century techno-action score, and his Paycheck score had lively action cues though the film made so little impact that no memory wipe was needed. One would be hard pressed to blame the disaster that was Gigli on Powell; though his pushy score didn't help, it felt mostly like a vain attempt on the director's part to revitalize a moldering corpse. Powell continues as the John Barry of the Jason Bourne franchise with The Bourne Supremacy, and returns to animation (without Harry Gregson-Williams) for Robots and Happy Feet.

WHAT'S NEXT: Stealing Sinatra, Mr. 3000, The Bourne Supremacy, Robots, Happy Feet


15. DAVID ARNOLD

2003 RANKING: 17
AGE: 41
REP: First Artists Management
RELATIONSHIPS: Scott Rudin, Eon Productions, John Singleton, Michael Apted
BACKGROUND: Pop music producer
FAN FAVORITES: Stargate, Tomorrow Never Dies
TYPECAST IN: Action
TOP GROSSING FILMS:
1. Independence Day--306
2. Die Another Day--160
3. Godzilla--136
4. 2 Fast 2 Furious--127
5. The World Is Not Enough--126
6. Tomorrow Never Dies--125
7. Stargate--71
8. Shaft--70
9. Changing Lanes--66
10. Zoolander--45

2 Fast 2 Furious may have been one of Arnold's least memorable scores, but the film was one of his biggest hits and showed that he's willing to bite the bullet (at least for a regular collaborator like John Singleton) and score a song dominated film. Harald Kloser seems to have replaced Arnold as Roland Emmerich's composer of choice, but Arnold has his own big-budget sci-fi film coming up, the all-star, comedic remake of The Stepford Wives, which promises to be like nothing the composer has scored before (with the possible exception of Zoolander).

WHAT'S NEXT: The Stepford Wives


14. CARTER BURWELL

2003 RANKING: 11
AGE: 48
REP: CAA
RELATIONSHIPS: Joel & Ethan Coen, Michael Caton-Jones, Spike Jonze, John Lee Hancock, Bill Condon
BACKGROUND: Harvard (architecture, animation), punk rock
FAN FAVORITE: Fargo
TYPECAST IN: Offbeat comedy-drama
TOP GROSSING FILMS:
1. The General's Daughter--102
2. Conspiracy Theory--75
3. The Rookie--75
4. Three Kings--60
5. A Knight's Tale--55
6. The Jackal--54
7. Doc Hollywood--54
8. Wayne's World 2--47
9. O Brother Where Art Thou--43
10. It Could Happen to You--37

Though Burwell had never scored a film on the scale of The Alamo (his closest had been the little seen post-WWII Western The Hi-Lo Country, for which he wrote one of his finest scores), the film's director John Lee Hancock, who had worked with Burwell on The Rookie, insisted on hiring him, and the film may help Burwell break out of his small-and-quirky niche. Burwell continues to work with his most famous collaborators, the Coen brothers, and while increasingly the directors use songs (usually produced by T. Bone Burnett) and other found music to carry much of the dramatic and comedic weight, Burwell's music remains as apt and distinctive as ever, as in their latest, The Ladykillers. Burwell reunites with Gods and Monsters director Bill Condon for another off-beat biopic, on the sex researcher Kinsey.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Alamo, Kinsey


13. JERRY GOLDSMITH

2003 RANKING: 10
AGE: 75
REP: Kraft-Engel
1 OSCAR, 18 NOMINATIONS
RELATIONSHIPS: Paul Verhoeven, Fred Schepisi, Joe Dante, Rick Berman, Lee Tamahori, Stuart Baird, David Anspaugh
BACKGROUND: USC (under Miklos Rozsa), radio & TV composer
FAN FAVORITES: Star Trek scores, Alien, Planet of the Apes, Chinatown
TYPECAST IN: Sci-fi, action-adventure
TOP GROSSING FILMS:
1. Air Force One--172
2. The Mummy--155
3. Gremlins--153
4. Rambo: First Blood Part II--150
5. Mulan--120
6. Total Recall--119
7. The Sum of All Fears--118
8. Basic Instinct--117
9. Sleeping With the Enemy--101
10. Star Trek: First Contact--92

It pains me no end to remove my all-time favorite composer from the top ten, but Goldsmith's recent and current projects suggest that either he isn't as much in demand as he deserves to be or else he has chosen (understandably, for a man who just turned 75) to only work with his favorite collaborators. His rousing score for Timeline was replaced by an energetic if unsubtle score by Brian Tyler, after Goldsmith reportedly balked (or merely asked for too much money) at doing yet more rescoring during the film's endless post-production period. His score for Looney Tunes: Back in Action was lively and inventive, but health issues made it necessary for John Debney to finish the score. Coming up is his third sports film for director David Anspaugh, and Fred Schepisi's cable movie Empire Falls (from the author of Nobody's Fool) featuring an absurdly impressive cast -- Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Helen Hunt, Aidan Quinn, Robin Wright Penn, and Ed Harris.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Game of Their Lives, Empire Falls (TV)


12. DAVID NEWMAN

2003 RANKING: 12
AGE: 50
REP: First Artists Management
1 OSCAR NOMINATION
RELATIONSHIPS: Brian Levant, Danny DeVito, Stephen Herek, Raja Gosnell, Steve Carr
BACKGROUND: Son of Alfred Newman, studio musician, low-budget films
FAN FAVORITE: Galaxy Quest
TYPECAST IN: Comedy
TOP GROSSING FILMS:
1. Ice Age--176
2. Scooby-Doo--153
3. The Flintstones--130
4. The Nutty Professor--128
5. Nutty Professor II: The Klumps--123
6. Dr. Dolittle 2--112
7. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days--105
8. Daddy Day Care--104
9. The Cat in the Hat--100
10. The War of the Roses--86

In the early years of his scoring career, this talented son of the great Alfred Newman was employed on a wide variety of genres -- family drama (Paradise), low-budget horror (The Runsetone, The Kindred), dark comedy (Heathers, The War of the Roses) and even Oscar bait (Hoffa). Alas, these days Newman is apparently only considered suitable for family friendly comedy, but at least he's managed to become one of the top composers in the field with an impressive streak of boxoffice hits. But one can still wish that things were different, that Stephen Herek had used him on The Three Musketeers and Mr. Holland's Opus, or that Danny DeVito would direct something besides failed black comedy.


11. ELLIOT GOLDENTHAL

2003 RANKING: 13
AGE: 49
REP: Gorfaine/Schwartz
1 OSCAR, 4 NOMINATIONS
RELATIONSHIPS: Neil Jordan, Julie Taymor
BACKGROUND: Manhattan School of Music (under Aaron Copland & John Corigliano), concert and stage composer
FAN FAVORITE: Interview With the Vampire
TYPECAST IN: Sci-fi adventure
TOP GROSSING FILMS:
1. Batman Forever--184
2. SWAT--116
3. A Time to Kill--108
4. Batman and Robin--107
5. Interview With the Vampire--105
6. Heat--67
7. Demolition Man--58
8. Pet Sematary--57
9. Alien 3--54
10. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within--32

Just when it seemed like he might be permanently pegged as an arthouse composer, his days of Joel Schumacher summer blockbusters far behind him, Goldenthal managed an unexpected one-two punch. First, his Frida score won him the Oscar, an honor which has eluded such composers as Morricone, Howard, Kamen, Silvestri, Burwell, Poledouris and the brothers Newman. Then he followed up Frida with SWAT, which may not be the most artistically ambitious film Goldenthal ever scored, but it proved to be one of his highest grossers and his edgy score suited the action expertly while remaining distinctively Goldenthal-esque.


CORRECTION: In Part One of this series, I listed Shade as one of Christopher Young's upcoming projects. Shade is getting a belated theatrical release beginning tomorrow, and the film's composer is now James Johnzen (I haven't heard of him either). Young receives an "additional music by" credit, while his scoring crew and musicians are fully credited onscreen.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the number of entertaining and satisfying films released in the first few months of 2004, during what is usually the worst time of year for movies -- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Spartan, The Return, Shaolin Soccer, Hidalgo, Dawn of the Dead, Eurotrip, Miracle. However, Shade is a sobering reminder that this is also the time of the year where the crap comes out.

Throwing out most of a Christopher Young score is only the latest of many bad decisions made on Shade, commencing with the decision to write that particular script -- a card shark/con men thriller designed apparently only for people who've never seen a film in that genre before. The film is inordinately and inexplicably pleased with itself, and what's especially amazing is all the name actors who signed on -- everyone from Sylvester Stallone and Melanie Griffith to Michael Dorn.

The film was apparently shot in Hi-Def video and has an ugly, flat look. Digital projection might have helped, though I'd have recommended a bulk eraser. I should have realized we weren't in for a truly hip, cutting edge crime film when the credit "Produced by Merv Griffin" came on screen.


NEXT WEEK: God's composer joins the Top Ten.


I would like to thank Jonathan Broxton and his website Movie Music UK, whose composer bios have proven an invaluable resource for the "Background" section of this series.

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