What is a great score? Since 1985, the academy honors only original scores written for the movie by a composer. Most of us have watched films scored by Jerry Goldsmith, Bernard Herrman, or John Williams. Even without powerhouses like these, a great score forever reminds you of the film it came from. Alas, this was not a year for legendary tunes. But let’s see what we have to work with.

And the nominees are…

oscar-score01.jpgDario Marianelli – Atonement

Why is it nominated?: Dario Marianelli’s swirling piano and strings perfectly follows the brief joy and the years of regret and despair felt by the characters. It’s the most traditional of the nominees with a big orchestral sound. To lift the score up, Marianelli adds the sound of someone typing on a typewriter to tie all the events to the Briony character.

Why it might win?: The academy eats up period romances like Atonement. Past winners have won or been nominated for Best Picture. The melodrama of the moment, Atonement won Best Original Score at the Golden Globes and is high on critics’ top ten lists.

Why it might not win?: It has many nominations but few wins. Out of the last five years, three winners have had ethnic or non-classical scores

oscar-score02.jpgAlberto Iglesias, The Kite Runner

Why is it nominated?: The Kite Runner’s daring score matches an equally controversial film. Iglesias mixes Classical, Middle Eastern, and Spanish musical styles. He takes a bigger chance by going electronic in the Taliban scenes giving them a horror film mood.

Why it might win?: Despite heavy publicity, this is its only nomination so the academy may award Best Original Score to The Kite Runner. Ethnic music is popular with Babel’s score winning last year. This is the most ethnic score in the category.

Why it might not win?: The Kite Runner is not on many critics’ top ten lists in spite of good reviews. Likewise, it’s been a major bust in the guild/critics awards. It lost to Atonement for Best Score at the Golden Globes.

oscar-score03.jpgJames Newton Howard, Michael Clayton

Why is it nominated?: For Social Problem Movie 2007, George Clooney hired 20 year veteran James Newton Howard. His modern approach conjures up a fog of mystery and tension.

Why it might win?: Michael Clayton faces stiff competition for Best Picture. Runners-up for top Oscar often get Best Original Score. Call me a cynic, but a Clooney pic on a resume can equal more work for lots of people. An award-winning Clooney pic will set you for life.

Why it might not win?: Howard doesn’t give Michael Clayton its own voice. Rather than sound inspired, he chooses to combine CSI’s quieter moments with The Parallax View and other 70’s conspiracy thrillers. The resemblance is eerie. Composer Howard has low chances since he’s been nominated too many times. Muckraking films generally bombed in 2007.

oscar-score04.jpgMichael Giacchino, Ratatouille

Why is it nominated?: Last Summer Pixar pulled off another crossover hit with kids and adults. For Ratatouille, Michael Giacchino wrote a Jazz and salsa inspired score with a French twist. Animated films usually hire superb musicians who can play fast enough to keep up with the action sequences.

Why it might win?: Ratatouille won Best Animated Film at the Golden Globes. It’s won a couple of awards for its music already, including a Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack Album and an Annie for Best Music in an Animated Feature Production.

Why it might not win?: Animated films have a shaky relationship with the Oscars. Pocahontas was the last in 1995. Orchestral or musical sounding scores tend to win. Is the score good enough to break the mold?

oscar-score05.jpgMarco Beltrami, 3:10 to Yuma

Why was it nominated?: This remake is arguably better than the original. Its score is unlike typical Westerns. Rather than emphasize epic themes that echo off the landscape, Beltrami relies on percussive driving rhythms that still sound like a Western.

Why it might win?: This is Beltrami’s first nomination which bodes well for composers. Reviewers liked 3:10 To Yuma. The Western is a classic Hollywood genre which may give it some weight.

Why it might not win?: The Western is a dead genre commercially. Since they used to be mainstream they’ve historically had a low Oscar win record. Except for the smaller art department categories, 3:10 To Yuma rolls past the industry unnoticed.

Who will win?

Dario Marianelli, Atonement

Who should win?

Dario Marianelli, Atonement

Honestly, none of these scores truly bond with their movies. The Atonement score is close to being memorable. Dario Marianelli is the best of the group at following the overall story musically. The other composers are talented and wrote entertaining tracks, Michael Giacchino’s especially. But I want more than effective scores which play along to individual scenes. I have a hard time guessing what movie they came from.

Who got overlooked?

Jonny Greenwood, There Will Be Blood

Sounding like a psychotic string section in search of an orchestra, Jonny Greenwood’s score is unmistakably connected with There Will Be Blood. However, the academy snubbed it because it contained too much previously released music. That’s still bizarre since reviewers spent more than a sentence describing the score. There Will Be Blood has claimed three Best Score statuettes at other awards shows. The hole in the academy nominees list smells like commercialism. This score isn’t going to sell a ton of records. Ah, yes, what would a Film School Rejects article be without complaining about the academy’s choices?


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