John Williams, Arcade Fire and Hans Zimmer (x2) duke it out for Best Original Score
Earlier today the list of eligible original score Oscar contenders was revealed by the Academy, so consider it great timing as we focus on the category today in our final craft category analysis of the season.
Best Original Score is one of the best known crafts categories, and for good reason. When done well, film music can become iconic, transcendent, even. Such scores are frequently rewarded in this category, in fact. Having memorable themes, lots of instrumentation and being, for lack of a better term, noticeable in the feature are all characteristics of work that is often recognized by the branch.
The composers do tend to give a good number of nominations to Best Picture contenders, but there are typically films nominated – frequently of the action or animated sort – that get in despite coming nowhere near a nomination in the top category. Films with ethnic-influenced music also tend to do disproportionately well here.
But perhaps the most notable aspect of this branch is its insularity. I want to be very clear about the spirit in which I make this observation. First, once new composers are nominated, they frequently get nominated again and again. More than half of the new composers nominated over the past decade have received multiple nominations since. Second, once new composers are nominated, they very often win. However, the fact of the matter is that only 16 new composers have earned a nod here in the past 14 years. In only one year was a majority of the nominated composers first-time nominees. There is usually only one first-timer, two maximum.
Having said that, I have a suspicion we are headed for two first-time nominees this year.
We may have received some clarification on the state of the race earlier this morning with the announcement of the Golden Globe nominees, but who knows? While there are usually at least three crossovers, there are often only two, and sometimes only one. But I actually think the HFPA was likely pretty spot-on this year.
Leading the way, in my view, is Steven Price for "Gravity." Though never nominated before (and hence not a "lock" in my view), everyone agreed that this music was integral in complementing what was seen on screen. I could not imagine the film without it. The Globes have agreed, and the film is probably heading to nominations across the board. I would say Price is looking very good indeed for his first nomination, and assuming nominated, he’s in outstanding position for the win.
His biggest competition for that win, and even more assured for a nomination, in my view, is Hans Zimmer for "12 Years a Slave." This score was haunting, and after a spell between 2001 and 2008 where he had seemingly fallen out of favor with the branch, Zimmer earned nominations in 2009 and 2010. It’s remarkable to think that this great composer has not won since "The Lion King." He could end up back on stage again this year, though it's worth noting that the work has been criticized for being heavily reminiscent of the composer's work on films like "The Thin Red Line" and "Inception."
But this is not Zimmer’s only chance at a nomination this year. He also composed the music for Ron Howard’s "Rush." This soaring work could score with the branch, but I still have a feeling the McQueen film is his better chance. And while the SAG and HFPA have breathed new life into "Rush," I remain reluctant to start predicting it in too many categories.