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Moonlight by Nicholas Britell (Review)

posted Feb 8, 2017, 12:24 PM by

The Academy Awards are around the corner and the film Moonlight appears to be one of the top contenders with a total of eight nominations including one in the Best Picture category. Judging from what I have heard so far, this film seems to be one of the very best of 2016 and it already won the Golden Globe for Best Picture. In addition to the nominations in the categories such as Best Picture and Best Director, composer Nicholas Britell has also been added to the list of nominees. As I mentioned a short while ago, awards are by no means indicative of quality and there is simply no accounting for taste. Over the years, the Best Score category has seen many surprises. Many people have debated over and over again whether certain scores actually deserved a nomination or not. In my humble opinion, many scores in this very category were not Academy Award material and several decisions that have been made were questionable at best.

Moonlight  might just be one of those scores that have been nominated since the film itself has received high praise and to be absolutely honest, I simply don't believe this is one of the best scores of the year. There have been simply too many other worthy contenders that were completely ignored. Brilliant scores written for films which did not receive mainly positive reactions by critics. Moonlight is by no means a bad score. There is some potential for sure. Yet, the music simply feels "incoherent" and "undeveloped". The album presentation as a whole is underwhelming. In total there are twenty-one tracks on this release. Seventeen pieces written by Mr. Britell and three songs plus one classical piece of music which was conducted by Britell for this picture. The score starts off with “Little's Theme” and it is basically one of the central themes written for piano and the violin. It is a very brief cue and as a matter of fact, most cues on the album are rather short. The only "big" piece is the “End Credits Suite” which reprises the principal themes.

The mood of the entire score is pretty dark and sad, with the occasional "experimental" musical approach. Like I said before, this is not a bad score. It simply feels too short. There is clearly something missing. Bottom line: the score feels rather uninteresting. Since I have not seen the film yet, I cannot judge the score's impact when it is put up against the picture. Furthermore, I cannot determine yet whether this film might have required a different musical approach. At the moment, I am simply reviewing the album.

“The Middle Of The World” is one of those cues that are very good and impactful. The violin playing is gorgeous and the motif is one of the album's very best. If only there were more pieces of this kind. This is a very effective piece of music. Some cues rely more on moody underscoring than on melody. There must of course be a reason for this approach and I am sure Mr. Britell simply did what he was asked to do and what he thought was right for the picture. Yet, when you have to review an album and the listening experience as a whole, you get to see a very different side of a score. This might be the right approach for the film and it might support the images. However, as an album I find it rather lackluster.