Editor’s Note: The following piece is a follow-up to Luke’s rundown of the Best Original Song nominees
And now we get to the nominated scores. Unlike, say, two years ago where with one exception all the nominees were worthy entries that deserved awards of their own, this year’s nominees are a bit more traditional. There are really no iconic themes or boundary-pushers from untraditional composers to make things interesting. But the scores all serve their films, rather than distract from them, which is what any score should do.
First up, we have the latest collaboration between director Joe Wright and his composer Dario Marianelli for Anna Karenina. Having won Oscar gold in the past for their incredible score for Atonement, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The score itself fits perfectly with the film in that it is a lush, overly prosaic score that matches the theatrical aesthetic of Wright’s direction. It is interesting to note the 3/4 timing of most of the tracks that’s usually reserved for waltzes. And given the numerous high society functions and lifestyles that dominate the film, it makes total sense to do so. Some of the highlights include “Dance with Me”, the track that plays as Anna and Vronsky share their first dance together, their realization of love and the dagger-like stares that everyone else in and around the dance floor gives to Anna. “The Girl and the Birch” and “Masha’s Song” show off some beautiful Russian folk singing with the former accompanied by hand bells that give it a cool, wintery sound to the track. And “I Understood Something” is the hauntingly gorgeous track that brings the film to a close.
Next up is perennial favorite and insanely busy composer Alexandre Desplat with this score for Argo. Of the different scores nominated, this is probably the most straightforward. With its mix of Middle Eastern drums and orchestrations and the tense strings of typical Hollywood scores, the film is very much the boilerplate thriller score that one would expect from the film. One particularly egregious track on here is “The Mission” which sounds like every single clichéd swelling of the orchestra music that’s used in every trailer for an Oscar bait movie. For a film restrained in its crowd pleasing execution, this is a bad case of tipping its hand.
While it’s a bit tough to tell what’ll be the winner, the one that should win is our next nominee, Mychael Danna’s score for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. Of the five nominees, this is my favorite. It’ll be one soundtrack that I would listen to long after the Oscars are done for this year. Talk about a score that both perfectly captures the tone, atmosphere and spirit of the film it’s accompanying while also being a separate work in and of itself. Equal parts dream-like (“Piscine Molitor Patel //Sous le Ciel de Paris”), spiritual and trance-like (“Tsimtsum”, “Tiger Vision”, “I’m Ready Now”) and even adventurous at times (“Set Your House In Order”, “Flying Fish”, “Tiger Training”), this is a score that hits the right dramatic notes and elevates the material without hitting you over the head with it.
Next up, we have the umpteenth nominated score from John Williams in a Steven Spielberg film for Lincoln. And like Spielberg’s stripped down approach to the material, Williams follows suit in delivering a score that’s less bombastic and over the top than before. While Williams does indulge in his traditional woodwinds, strings and horn section (“The People’s House”, “The Peterson House and Finale”), he does mix it up once in a while with surprisingly jaunt, classic American folk song themed tracks, such as the “Getting out the Vote” track that accompanied James Spader’s comedic backdoor dealing. And “The Race to the House” has a “Turkey in the Straw” kind of vibe that’s a nice change from the usual Williams sound. Between this and last year’s jazz infused score for The Adventures of Tintin, it really shows that even in his old age, Williams is still willing to mix it up in the scoring sessions rather than just rest on his laurels.
And finally, we have returning nominee (and one of my favorite working composers today) Thomas Newman with the score for Skyfall. Personally I always found him not winning for both his scores for American Beauty and Finding Nemo to be particularly egregious. And if Skyfall will win for Best Song, then this also has a fairly good chance at winning Best Score as well. Newman definitely starts off with a bang with “Grand Bazaar, Instanbul”, the track that accompanies the films relentless opening action sequence. And from there on, the film does a deft job and incorporating the iconic Bond themes (“Brave New World”, “Bread Crumbs”) while giving them a fresh spin. “Komodo Dragon” goes further in blending both the iconic Bond theme as well as the melody from the Adele song from the credits. Not to be content with mining themes of the past, “Adrenaline” and “Shanghai Drive” also bring in a modern theme as well to bridge the gap between old and new. In conclusion, Thomas Newman more than rises to the occasion to honor the legacy of John Barry and Monty Norman and their incredible music that’s an integral piece of the Bond franchise.
And for my “unfairly snubbed’ selection in the category, while it’s tempting to cite Beasts of the Southern Wild and it’s already iconic “Once There Was a Hushpuppy” theme, I’m going to go with the score from Cloud Atlas by collaborators Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and Tom Twyker. This is a lush, jaw-droppingly gorgeous piece of work that any classical music aficionado would fall in love with right away. Since The Cloud Atlas Sextet is an integral part of the film since it echoes from the Frobisher story all the way into Neo Seoul, it has to be memorable as all Hell and the composers succeed beautifully in this task. That track alone deserves to win, but as part of a giant massive whole, the score is a miraculous achievement that deserved some Academy love.
And those were the nominated scores for this year’s Oscars. While there’s a clear and deserving winner in the Song category, for Best Original Score, this is a little trickier. While Lincoln and Argo might seem like the frontrunners (despite the latter being the clearly weakest of the nominees), I can see it either going to Life of Pi or Skyfall, as their scores are the most memorable. As for which scores I’ll be keeping after the ceremony is over, I’ll be sticking with Life of Pi and Skyfall, as well as the unfairly snubbed Cloud Atlas.