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Aural Fixation: If 500,000 Units Sold Equals a Gold Record, What Equals Oscar Gold?

By  · Published on February 2nd, 2012

With the 84th Academy Award nominations announced last week (and me finally coming up for air post-Sundance), I wanted to give the five Original Score (and two Original Song) nominees a closer look. Each nominated score is full-bodied and as varied as the films they are featured in ranging from fun (John Williams for The Adventures of Tin Tin) to lush (Ludovic Bource for The Artist) to dramatic (Howard Shore for Hugo) to tense (Alberto Iglesias for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) to emotional (John Williams for War Horse) while each of the nominated songs are quirky and catchy (Bret McKenzie’s “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets and Sergio Mendes, Carlinhos Brown and Siedah Garrett’s “Real In Rio” from Rio.)

While I am not going to propose to understand why the Academy makes their choices the way they do (the lack of Drive and Shame nominations alone had me scratching my head last week) and I do not think that the scores and songs that were selected are unworthy of their nominations, I was still left with some questions when looking into who may come out on top on February 26th.

As the record holder for the most Oscar nominations, this is not Williams’ first time at the awards rodeo having won the coveted little gold man five times before (for Fiddler on the Roof, Jaws, Star Wars, E.T. and Schindler’s List) and proves he is an Academy favorite with two more nominations this time around. Shore has also won Oscar gold in the past for his scores for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King along with an Oscar for Best Original Song for “Into the West” for Return of the King. However Bource may give Williams and Shore a run for their money as he has already taken home the Golden Globe for his score for The Artist, a film that was completely dependent on music in lieu of any talking. While Iglesias has been nominated before (for The Constant Gardner and The Kite Runner) he has never won, but I would not count out his twisting score for Tinker Tailor which worked to slightly push boundaries while his fellow nominees stuck to the more traditional (albeit still impressive) route.

While some may find it surprising that last year’s winners, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, were not nominated again for their score for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (although they did get a Golden Globe nomination), but this was a decision I could stand behind seeing as I was also disappointed with the duo’s second cinematic collaboration. It seems the only other place I really agreed with the Academy was their nomination of Bource’s score for The Artist (which also made it on my 11 Best Scores of the Year list), but only came in at number eleven while some of the year’s more standout scores like Dario Marianelli’s score for Jane Eyre and The Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx scores for Hanna and Attack The Block (respectively) were overlooked. I understand scores from artists like The Chemical Brothers and Basement Jaxx probably have a while off before getting Academy recognition, but I still hold out hope after Reznor and Ross’ win last year which seemed to prove the Academy is starting to come around to more modern scoring.

Even though none of these nominations truly had me reeling, the one thing that did strike me as more than discouraging (and disappointing) was seeing the number of nominations for Best Picture rise from five to ten while the number of Original Song nominations dwindled to two. Two. And in a year when we got new music from Elton John! (See: The Lion King) Even the Golden Globes gave John (and four other songwriters) more love. With well-regarded artists like The National taking to the big screen with “Think You Can Wait” for Win Win and the breadth of new music Jónsi created for We Bought a Zoo (like “Gathering Stories”), I was honestly surprised to see such a low number of songs on this nomination list. And even more confusing, a song from the film Rio? While I have nothing against the song or the film, the choice seemed a bit random and makes a potential “Man or Muppet” win seem like a victory by default.

Despite some missed opportunities in both these categories, which of these nominations am I hoping will win in a few weeks? Considering I have made my peace with the absence of Cliff Martinez from the nomination list (even when the Academy had three strong scores from him to choose from this year), my vote lies with Shore and Hugo – a score that helped elevate the performances within the film while still able to stand strong outside of the film as well. As for the Best Original Song category, the choice seems clear with McKenzie’s “Man or Muppet” as the song combined both nostalgia and modern day song structure (with true story telling) to create a tune that had almost everyone singing (and asking) whether they were a man or a Muppet after leaving theaters back in November.

My main hope is that for the 85th Academy Awards, the Original Score category is stretched a bit more and nominates scores that do not just vary in tone, but in instrumentation and style (and succeed in doing so.) Even more so, I would like to see the parameters that have kept scores for films like Black Swan and Drive out of the running redacted, especially when the rules that define the parameters that make a score or song eligible are less than clear (as HitFix’s Kristopher Tapley pointed out back in December.) I would also like to see at least five Best Song nominations next year. (Make it a contest, not an arm wrestling match.) Plus my favorite part of the show is when these songs are performed and these abbreviated choices are simply taking that element away.

As someone who listens to (and loves) music in film, I know there is a ton of talent out there to choose from and while I realize composers and artists do not create their music for recognition and awards, if it would help to encourage creativity and get even more interesting and inventive music out there for more people to be aware of and enjoy, well that, I am all for it.

Which score and song are you hoping will take home Oscar gold? Was there a particular score or song you thought was overlooked by the Academy?

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