Composer Christopher Willis has been presented with the International Film Music Critics Association Award for Best Original Score for a Comedy by IFMCA members Jon Broxton and Kaya Savas, for his work on the film The Death of Stalin. This is Willis’s first win, and came from one of his first two nominations.
The other nominees in the Comedy category were Rolfe Kent for Downsizing, Cyrille Aufort for Knock, Dario Marianelli for Paddington 2, and Rachel Portman for Their Finest. Willis was also nominated for Breakthrough Composer of the Year in 2017, along with Michael Abels, Anne-Kathrin Dern, and Alejandro Vivas, but lost that award to George Kallis.
Willis was born in Brighton, England, in 1978. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, and is a musicologist specializing in eighteenth-century music, especially that of Domenico Scarlatti. Throughout his academic career Willis was always a composer too, and he began his film music career in 2006 working with fellow Englishman Rupert Gregson-Williams on scores such as Over the Hedge, Click, and Bee Movie; he later went on to write additional music for a number of major blockbuster features including The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian with Harry Gregson-Williams in 2008, X-Men: Origins – Wolverine with HGW again in 2009, X-Men: First Class with Henry Jackman in 2011, and Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part II with Carter Burwell in 2012. In recent years Willis has scored several animated television projects for Disney, receiving an Emmy nomination in 2017 for an original song he wrote one of the new Mickey Mouse shorts, and has also worked as an additional composer on the hit HBO comedy series Veep.
The Death of Stalin is Willis’s debut as the lead composer of a theatrical film; it is a satirical comedy written and directed by Armando Iannucci, which takes a farcical look at the machinations and power games played by members of the Soviet leadership in the aftermath of Stalin’s death in 1953. The film stars Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, and Rupert Friend. For the score, Willis channeled the music of great Soviet-era composers like Dimitri Shostakovich and Sergei Prokofiev, creating an intentional tonal disconnect between the grandeur of the music and the comedy of the screenplay. IFMCA member Jon Broxton described the score as “martial, dramatic, and full of pomp and pageantry, which adds a sense of scope and drama to the shenanigans unfolding inside the Kremlin … filled to the brim with all the grandiose orchestral textures, richly detailed arrangements, and grand Soviet-era propaganda that people love in Prokofiev and Shostakovich to this day.”
See below for the acceptance speech and video interview conducted by Broxton and Savas:
Click on the thumbnails for larger photo images: