As awards seasons gets into full swing—the Oscar Nominations were announced on Thursday—it’s a time to reflect on what a great season it’s been for classical music fans.
Not only were there great scores by contemporary composers (Jonny Greenwood’s "The Master," Alexander Desplat’s "Zero Dark Thirty" and John Williams’ stirring music for "Lincoln" are favorites to be nominated), but several films borrowed from the concert hall and opera house to provide movie-theater entertainment. Here are our top five classically-inspired films of the past year.
1. Moonrise Kingdom
A pair of pre-teens on the lam in 1960s New England doesn’t seem to have much connection to the symphonic form, but Wes Anderson’s "Moonrise Kingdom" uses Benjamin Britten’s A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra to frame the entire movie. In Cannes, the director elaborated that the movie is “sort of set to it.” Britten’s work plays from the opening credits to the closing ones; and in between, Anderson even stages a church production of Britten children’s opera Noye’s Fludde during the climatic thunderstorm.
2. A Late Quartet
In Yaron Zilberman’s "A Late Quartet," an Upper West Side-based string quartet must confront an uncertain future as its eldest and most even keeled member decides to retire. The group’s dynamics descend into chaos, as it prepares to play Beethoven’s notoriously difficult, but glorious, String Quartet No. 14, Op. 131. A cameo from the mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter will also delight opera fans.
Continuing the theme of musical foursomes, Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, "Quartet" (which opens this Friday), is inspired by that perennial opera highlight from the final act of Verdi’s Rigoletto. The famous piece is the selected number that a group from an aging residents of a house for down-on-their-luck singers will perform for the year’s fundraiser. But not even Verdi can compete with the drama created within the ensemble, which includes a former prima donna (played by Maggie Smith), a pair of ex-spouses and a rivalry between Smith’s character and one played by the former opera star Gwyneth Jones.
Like Quartet, the much-acclaimed French film Amour follows aging musicians, in this case a married pair of music instructors, as their health and lives deteriorate. Much of their shared joy comes around the piano: The two delight in the rising career of their young pupil, played by the upcoming musician Alexandre Tharaud, who invites the couple to his concert and later gives them a private performance of a Beethoven bagatelle at their apartment.
5. Django Unchained
With his love for epic stories that weave their own mythologies, as well as films that test the movie-going audience’s attention span, Quentin Tarantino might owe a bit of his craft to Richard Wagner. Perhaps the auteur acknowledged this when he named the enslaved heroine of his latest film, "Django Unchained," Brünnhilde (Americanized to Broomhilda) and included a cursory recounting of Siegfried’s quest to win the Valkyrie. Though the similarities between the blood-soaked spaghetti western and The Ring end there, Django does walk through fire (and much more) to win back his Hilda.