Road-To-Perdition-2

Thomas Newman’s Latest 10 Movies vs. Greatest 10 Movies

Thomas Newman
Latest vs. Greatest looks at directors, actors, actresses, screenwriters and composers to assess the state of their career as it stands.  We’ll look back at the latest 10 movies the artist has done, rate them and then average them out to see where they stand today.  We’ll also rank their 10 greatest movies and give them the same treatment to compare what they have been doing to their very best work.  (A quick side-note: if an artist is/has been a regular on a TV show we’ll also grade the seasons individually; artists need 10 projects to qualify).

The Shawshank Redemption, Tim Robbins

Thomas Newman is the second composer we’ve looked at in this column and he has the “honor” of following John Williams who scored a perfect career 10.00.  This is no knock on Newman.  He has a style of his own and has been scoring some of the cinema’s most memorable films for the last thirty years.

Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino, Chris O'Donnell

Unlike Williams, Newman has a very distinctive style to most of his work.  Not being a music professional, don’t kill me if I’m not describing it correctly, but he uses staccato string work to distinctive effect in his best scores: Finding Nemo, WALL-E, Road to Perdition, Saving Mr. Banks, etc.  It’s a signature style.  He may be the only composer I can recognize within ten seconds of screen time as the movie’s scorer.

Finding Nemo, Dory, Marlin, Albert Brooks, Ellen Degeneres

The danger with having that kind of signature style is repetition and self-plagiarism.  James Horner had a signature style and he’s been self-plagiarizing his old work for most of the last fifteen years.  Newman, though, seems to relish in opportunities to experiment and expand his chosen path and since he just picked up a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Saving Mr. Banks, I would say it is an experiment that is still working very well.

Wall-E

In talking about John Williams, we talked about composers being attached to particular directors, much as the classical composers had patrons for which they did their work.  Newman is most tightly associated with Frank Darabont, Andrew Stanton and Sam Mendes.  His work on Mendes films has such an effect on the films that I cannot imagine Road to Perdition without his haunting  and beautiful music underscoring scenes of horror in falling rain.

Tom Hanks, Michael Sullivan, Road to Perdition

Behind Hans Zimmer and the MAESTRO (John Williams official KT honorific), Newman is my favorite contemporary composer (when Howard Shore is not making a Middle-earth film).  Let’s look at the last ten films he’s scored.
NEWMAN’S LATEST TEN:
1. Saving Mr. Banks (2013)…………………..9.00
2. Side Effects (2013)……………………………..5.50
3. Skyfall (2012)……………………………………….9.50
4. The Iron Lady (2011)………………………….6.75
5. Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)..7.25
6. The Help (2011)……………………………………7.50
7. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)……….9.25
8. The Debt (2010)……………………………………8.00
9. Brothers (2009)…………………………………….6.00
10. WALL-E (2008)………………………………….10.00
NEWMAN’S CURRENT AVERAGE: 7.875

Tom Hanks, Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks

A very solid current score (higher, actually, than John Williams).  Any Newman score these days is likely to net you almost an eight and that’s consistent quality.  The highlights of his current work are Saving Mr. Banks, The Adjustment Bureau and – nearly – the best score of his career in WALL-E.  Let’s tally the ten best of that career.  A quick note, composer scores are unique to the score not the movie.  Many a great score has been in a crap movie and vice versa, so these scores are based on the quality of the music:

NEWMAN’S GREATEST TEN
1. Road to Perdition (2002)…………………….10.00
2. WALL-E (2008)……………………………………….10.00
3. Finding Nemo (2003)…………………………….  9.75
4. Cinderella Man (2005)…………………………  9.50
5. Skyfall (2012)………………………………………….  9.50
6. The Adjustment Bureau (2011)…………  9.25
7. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)…  9.25
8. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of
Unfortunate Events (2004)……………………….9.25
9. Saving Mr. Banks (2013)………………………. 9.00
10. Scent of a Woman (1992) ………………….. 8.75
NEWMAN’S GREATEST AVERAGE: 9.425

skyfall01

You can’t do much better than that.  If he wasn’t following Williams’ 10, that would be a daunting number for any composer to beat.  Williams is the best composer of the 20th Century, so this is an outstanding number and one a lot of the actors and directors we’ve examined would be jealous of having.  In fact, it’s the third-highest number we’ve had across any discipline. 

Though he’s been scoring since the 1980’s, Newman’s skill and prominence have never been higher.  He’s doing the best work of his career, and I can’t wait to hear what he has in store for us over the next few years.  He’s officially attached to two future projects: the troubled Pixar film The Good Dinosaur and a unannounced Disney project releasing in 2018.  Newman seems to becoming Disney’s composer of choice.  Not bad work if you can get it.
newman-thomas-good_dinosaur

11 thoughts on “Thomas Newman’s Latest 10 Movies vs. Greatest 10 Movies”

  1. You should absolutely do Danny Elfman as your next composer. There was a time when I walked out of every single movie he scored humming the theme music. Not so anymore, but his older scores for Tim Burton are every bit as iconic as John Willaims’ work with Speilberg and Bernard Hermann’s work with Hitchcock. In fact, I would venture that The Nightmare Before Christmas is an Elfman movie just as much as a Burton one. He and Burton belong together.
    I admire the work of Thomas Newman. After four movies scored by a different Newman altogether, Pixar turned to a truly inspired composer to shake things up with Finding Nemo. Nemo was the first Pixar film that made me sit up and take notice, and it was also the first time I really noticed Thomas Newman as a composer. I had heard most of his other scores, but there was something special about such sophisticated music being paired with a cartoon. It spoke to me.
    I always find it amazing that any film music at all can be enjoyed on its own, given the way it’s designed to synch up with images that the composer has no control over. But ever since my first purchase of a Willaims soundtrack at the age of six (it was Close Encounters) I have been a film music aficionado. I owned the soundtrack to Jaws long before my parents would let me watch the movie; when I finally did see the film, it was a fascinating experience to discover what the music had been designed to accompany.

    1. With composers, it’s really a matter of how quickly I can catch up to them since some do five or six films a year. Elfman is definitely on the list. When I first started listening to scores, he was one of the ‘big three’ with John Williams and James Horner, but I can’t think of an indelible score of his since Big Fish, which is sad because in his prime he was astounding.

      1. Big Fish is the one Burton movie that does not scream “I am a Tim Burton movie,” and the real-life scenes are unlike anything else he has directed. And the wonderful thing about Elfman’s score is that he goes with it. The score is so amazing yet so subtle and unobtrusive.
        Elfman is not just a great composer, he is a genuine creative genius. Yeah, he’s no longer in his prime, but all artists have their window. For a while there, he was going crazy, producing one hyper-offbeat, ultra-memorable score after another. If Willaims produced the soundtrack to my childhood, Elfman produced the soundtrack to my adolescence.

      2. What a well-turned last sentence, there. Big Fish will always have a special place in my heart as it is the first movie I took my now-wife to in the theater. It is my favorite Burton film and one of my favorite films of all-time. Elfman completely reached and turned in a fantastic score that totally fit the film and sounded nothing like any of his previous work.

  2. It occurs to me that you should do Carer Burwell. I actually look forward to his Coen scores. The films of the Coen Brothers are usually so difficult to pigeonhole… is Miller’s Crossing a pitch-black spoof of the gangster genre, a dead-serious homage, or (and here comes the paradox), both? IMO Burwell’s scores ground the Coens’ work; his music has a somber, haunting, constant quality that helps ensure that the films don’t get pulled apart in a tonal, stylistic tug of war.

    1. Burwell’s score to Fargo is definitely my favorite of his. The great thing about the Latest/Greatest column is that I’m never ever going to run out of subjects. I need to get another actress and director to try to spread the categories around, but sometimes it just works out to whomever I’ve finished their latest films. Tom Hanks and Rachel Weisz are close to being ready.

  3. I was humming Burwell’s Fargo theme for weeks. Great theme music really contributes to keeping a film in the forefront of people’s minds; if the music gets stuck in your head, the movie does, too.
    You mentioned Chariots of Fire as an example of film that did not deserve to win the Academy Award. Well, what I’m about to suggest might seem ridiculously simplistic, but don’t you think its indelible theme music is a big factor in it’s status as a classic? I would posit the same exact thing about Doctor Zhivago; it’s a good movie, but that theme music really insinuates itself into your heart and your memory.

    1. Oh there’s no doubt that the theme to Chariots is in large part why it’s remembered, because it is not the classic on par with the films against it was nominated. I completely agree. Music has that power and that theme and the beach running scene are what 99% of people associate with that film and probably all the can remember of it.

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