Best Original Score

Film scores can be considered a dime a dozen – a bunch of orchestration that certainly needs to be there, but plays to the background and is rarely ever noticeable. And while that can be true, the last few years have introduced new composers and new ways of creating music into the world of film composing, electrifying and shaking up the “boring ol’ orchestration” into something undeniably new and exciting. And attention should be paid.

The nominees in the Best Original Score category this year may not be new to the game or beat on the side of a car for a new look at percussion, but these scores come from a variety of films that needed very specific tones to be conveyed through their respective sounds. From the scandalous period piece Anna Karenina to the visually stunning journey of Life of Pi to a new adventure with a well-known secret agent in Skyfall to two historic films from two very different time periods, each attempting to overcome adversity with Argo and Lincoln.

While most of the nominees have been up to bat in this category before, there is a newcomer among their ranks and it may be this fresh voice that bests them all (my prediction of his win noted in red.) Read on as we take a closer look this year’s five Best Original Score nominees and see who may end up being the best of the best come Oscar night…

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Anna Karenina, Dario Marianelli

Why It Was Nominated:

Dramatic, romantic, and epic, Marianelli helped to bring the pages of Anna Karenina to the big screen in an inventive and ambitious adaptation from director Joe Wright. Marianelli’s score is beautifully layered and works to embody the intertwined lives of the bold characters that inhabit Anna Karenina’s world, successfully creating music that would fit right into nineteenth century Russia while still sounding fresh.

Why It Might Win:

A score for a film like Anna Karenina is practically catnip for Academy voters – rich, layered, and full of sweeping romantic moments. Marianelli also has history on his side having won the other two times he has been nominated and those wins were also for period films based on novels (Pride and Prejudice and Atonement) making it seem as though the Academy may be poised to award him a third time for his work for Anna Karenina.

Why It Might Not Win:

Rich and layered can also be seen as overwrought and with Marianelli already having won for his scores for similar films, the Academy may look to recognize a new voice this year.

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Argo, Alexandre Desplat

Why It Was Nominated:

Argo has been getting a ton of award attention the past few months and it is no surprise why – this moving story is not only true, the film captures the anxiety and uncertainty that surrounded it and conveys those emotions directly on viewers, even when they know how things will end. Desplat’s score not only embraces where the film takes place, it keeps that anxious feeling ever present to keep audiences on the edge of their seats from the start of the film until the very end.

Why It Might Win:

Desplat has succeeded in creating a score that consistently keeps the pressure on, but also brings to life the different emotions felt throughout this unbelievable journey. An Academy favorite, Desplat has been nominated four times before, but has never won, which might make his score for Argo lucky number five.

Why It Might Not Win:

On the other hand, if the past is any indication of the future, Desplat is good at grabbing the Academy’s attention and getting nominated, but has yet to score a win, a trend that could continue this year for a film that is getting more notice in the other categories it is nominated for.

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Life of Pi, Mychael Danna

Why It Was Nominated:

Danna dives right in to Pi’s world, creating a score that is both imaginative and all encompassing. Life of Pi’s score is grand enough to keep up with the visuals on screen while also giving an added depth and majesty to the story it tells. Working with artists like Bombay Jayashri and Pandit Jasraj helped give the score an authentic Indian influence that sets it apart from the other orchestrations.

Why It Might Win:

This is Danna’s first nomination and the Academy has a history of awarding first-timers. The fact that “Pi’s Lullaby” was also nominated Best Original Song indicates that voters liked what they heard, on both an individual level and as a whole when it came to the film’s music. Plus the winner of the Golden Globe for Best Original Score is usually a good indicator of who will win here (and Danna has already taken home that win.)

Why It Might Not Win:

The Academy may opt to award one of its more veteran nominees, especially ones who have been previously nominated and have never won, rather than give it to someone new to the nomination race.

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Lincoln, John Williams

Why It Was Nominated:

The score painting this poignant time in America’s history could have come across as cheesy, but at Williams’ masterful hand it is instead inspiring and grand, but never pompous. Williams’ score for Lincoln takes audiences into this charged moment and fills it with all the emotions it elicited from anger to frustration to hope. Taking on the challenge of re-creating this particular piece of history is no easy feat, but it is one Williams aptly rose to.

Why It Might Win:

Lincoln marks Williams forty-third nomination (including five wins) proving his work gets both noticed and rewarded when it comes to the race for Oscar gold. Lincoln is a powerful and moving film that got its impact from the outstanding performances, direction, and design that helped create it, but Williams’ score is the thread that tied all these elements together and made the idea of bringing history pages to life an exciting and emotional one.

Why It Might Not Win:

While Williams has certainly been nominated his fair share of times, he has not won since 1993 (with Schindler’s List.) Williams returns to that winning combination with Schindler’s List director Steven Spielberg, who directed Lincoln, but working with Spielberg is not necessarily a guaranteed win seeing as Williams’ score for Spielberg’s War Horse last year did not get him the gold.

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Skyfall, Thomas Newman

Why It Was Nominated:

Bond films are a wonderful mix of adventure, romance, and intrigue and Newman created a thrilling score that took these various ideas and weaved them together while also pulling in touches of the many locations Bond travels (and escapes) to. The Bond brand is well known and the theme that has always permeated each new adventure is well represented here – never at the forefront, but bubbling up in the background as a welcome wink and a clear indication that Skyfall is officially a part of this franchise’s vast history.

Why It Might Win:

While the other nominees certainly excelled at creating dramatic, grand or pensive scores for their respective films, Newman’s score successfully transforms from being pulse-pounding to romantic to emotional, making it one of the more dynamic and interesting compilations. Newman is not new to the Oscar race (with eleven past nominations under his belt), but Skyfall would mark his first ever win.

Why It Might Not Win:

Encapsulating so many different genres and emotions within a single score is certainly a feat, but it could also be seen as being too all over the map. The Academy tends to award scores with a singular tone, which may cause Skyfall to become Newman’s twelfth nomination without a win.

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Read more about The Oscars


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