Oscar Winning Women: Film Composers (Part 2 of 3)

By Brian Skutle

One of the reasons I wanted to do this series was to give these scores an opportunity to engage me in a fresh way, with not just a fresh rewatch of the film, but listening to them again as I wrote these pieces. None was more anticipated in that respect was the second one in this series, Anne Dudley’s score for “The Full Monty” (1997).

The Composer: Anne Dudley

Prior to looking her up for this piece, I did not realize Dudley had been around so long. While I had seen some of her credits prior to “The Full Monty,” the music did not really land with me. But the English composer, whom founded the band Art of Noise in the 1980s- and helped usher in the concept of sampling in music- has credits including “Buster” (1988), “Knight Movies” (1992) and “The Crying Game” (1992) prior to “The Full Monty.” (As a pop producer, she even produced one of the iconic songs from this film, “You Can Leave Your Hat On.”) Post her Oscar win, her credits run the gamut of genres, including “American History X” (1998), “Pushing Tin” (1999), “Monkeybone” (2001), and “Tristan & Isolde” (2006), and she brings something to the film every time. Her most notable collaborations, however, are with Paul Verhoeven, for whom she’s written the music for “Black Book” (2006), “Elle” (2016) and most recently, “Benadetta” (2020).

The Film: “The Full Monty” (1997)

While I appreciate that the expanded Best Picture category has allowed for more variety in the types of films that get nominated, one of the things that I enjoyed about it being five was when a seeming outlier would get nominated. In the year of “Titanic” (1997), Peter Cattaneo’s comedy about six out of work steelworkers who turn to stripping to try and make money was the ultimate outlier. It was never going to win the big prize, but I remember when I watched this with my mother in 1997, it won over audiences hard. Upon rewatch, this remains one of the most utterly charming films to just sit back and enjoy. At a brisk 91 minutes, the cast- including Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy and Tom Wilkinson– keeps us fully engaged while Simon Beaufoy’s screenplay wrestles with masculinity in ways that resonate with any man whom has either had to find ways to keep their family afloat financially, or have had to wrestle with their physical appearance, and how desirable they might be to women. I honestly loved every minute of this rewatch.

Gerald (Tom Wilkinson), Gaz (Robert Carlyle), Lomper (Steve Huison), Guy (Hugo Speer), Horse (Paul Barber) and Dave (Mark Addy) rehearse while Nathan (William Snape) looks on in Peter Cattaneo’s “The Full Monty.”

The Category: Best Original Score, Comedy and Musical (1998)

The groundwork for splitting the Original Score category between 1996-1999 was laid out in Part One of this series, as was Miramax’s dominance of the categories as a studio. This was the one year that Miramax did not have a film win in either Original Score category. For Dramatic Score, nothing was going to stop James Horner and “Titanic.” For Comedy and Musical Score, the race was more wide open, but that didn’t make it any less surprising to see Dudley win for “The Full Monty.”

Anne Dudley with her Oscar for Best Original Comedy or Musical Score.

Here are the films “The Full Monty” was up against at the 70th Academy Awards for Best Original Comedy or Musical Score:

“Anastasia” (1997), Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens and David Newman

“As Good as It Gets” (1997), Hans Zimmer

“Men in Black” (1997), Danny Elfman

“My Best Friend’s Wedding” (1997), James Newton Howard

One look at that list of names, you can be forgiven for feeling like Dudley was the underdog going into Oscar night, even though she was one of two composers in the category whom had scored a Best Picture nominee. (The other one was Zimmer for “As Good as It Gets.”) It’s been a good 25 years since I’ve seen both “Anastasia” and “As Good as It Gets,” though this Hans Zimmer fan owns the soundtrack album for the latter, and it is a charming score, to be sure. This was one of two nominations for Elfman this year (he was also a Dramatic Score nominee for “Good Will Hunting” (1997)), although I’ve always loved his score for “Men in Black.” As for Newton Howard and “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” his score certainly supports the film, but his film is one of two in this particular category where the songs- and in particular, “I Say a Little Prayer”- are the standout musical element. The other movie? “The Full Monty.” That was what made Dudley’s win so surprising- no one thought about the score coming out of that film, but the soundtrack that included memorable uses of “Hot Stuff,” the aforementioned “You Can Leave Your Hat On” and “You Sexy Thing.” But rewatching the film, I came to appreciate the charm of Dudley’s score. Using a more contemporary instrumentation, though strings are certainly incorporated, the use of horns, syncopated rhythms, winds- especially saxophone- and strummed guitars capture the modern setting of this film, but also the emotional aspects it is asked to underline.

Gaz (Robert Carlyle), Lomber (Steve Huison), Guy (Hugo Speer) and Gerald (Tom Wilkinson) on stage in “The Full Monty.”

Back in 1998, I was all-in on Elfman winning for “Men in Black,” and- even in re-listening to Dudley’s score- I still am; I adore Elfman’s quirky style, and Sonnenfeld’s film is a great fit for it. But as someone who feels like, when certain song soundtracks are brought up, the score is too easily dismissed, I will admit that I did that when it comes to Dudley’s score for “The Full Monty.” The reasons it won no doubt go beyond its worthiness as a score- since “As Good as It Gets” was a probable Oscar winner elsewhere, and “The Full Monty” wasn’t, the Academy probably felt like it needed to throw a category to its fifth Best Picture nominee- but 25 years later, I have a greater appreciation for it as recognition for a score that is truly supporting its film.

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