Keeping Score on Movie Scores

by on February 27, 2014

Posted in: Music, Other

Tom Hanks battled pirates. Sandra Bullock battled space. Joaquin Phoenix battled himself. Yet the real fight this year will take place this Sunday, when 5 composers/collaborators will compete for the honor of the Academy Award for Best Original Score. While the “big 6” (Best Picture, Acting, Director) tend to generate most of the interest in the notorious Academy Awards hype, this award has been receiving more attention in recent years. This shift has been not only due to composers continually improving their repertoire to match that of the rapidly expanding film industry, but they have also increased their breadth of music and willingness to take risks. This year is no exception to that recent trend. Personally, there were so many powerful scores this year that it feels as if there were more snubs than there was room for nominees. Thus, trying to predict the winner of the award this year feels like a daunting task….but why not try?

The case for each nominee:

The Book Thief (John Williams) – With 5 Academy Awards already under his belt and 49 overall nominations in his résumé, it’s hard to argue against John Williams – especially when he churns out as mysterious and cinematic of a score as that in The Book Thief. At 81 years old, John Williams may win over the hearts of voters who fear the dwindling number of scores that Williams may have left to offer.

Gravity (Steven Price) – How do you score a movie that highlights both the serenity and fragility of space while also preserving the high-intensity and anxiety inducing tone of Cuaron’s seminal film? Well, I don’t know – but apparently Steven Price does. From the slow, melodious pianos of “Airlock” to the Avatar-esque orchestral singing of “Gravity”, Price paves an emotional arc that beautifully mimics that of Bullock’s lead character.

Her (William Butler & Andy Koyama) – Barring my personal bias towards Her, Arcade Fire’s William Butler and Andy Koyoma provide a tough score to beat in this smart, sci-fi, romantic dramedy. Much like it’s hard to characterize a genre for Her, the score proves to be the exact same way – however not because it lacks a defining character, but rather due to its seeming ability to mold perfectly into the scene or genre that its complementing at any particular moment in the film.

Philomena (Alexander Desplat) – Although it melds well into the background and preserves the character of Philomena’s story, I personally think that this score is one that could have been left off of the list in favor of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom or All is Lost. That being said, this score should certainly not be disregarded as a contender, especially since Desplat has received 6 nominations in the past 8 years without yet taking home the gold.

Saving Mr. Banks (Thomas Newman) – Charming, delicate, and playing to the hearts of film producers/execs across the country….are we talking about the movie or the score here? Thomas Newman does such a flawless job, per usual, of perfectly complementing the tone and atmosphere of his source material that it’s often hard to tell – Saving Mr. Banks is no exception.

 

 

Prediction: Although each of these scores is fantastic in its own right and the Academy has time and time again shown its support to Mr. Williams, I anticipate that Her (William Butler & Andy Koyama) will take home the award. Not only does it deserve this merit from a pure musical and cinematographic standpoint, but the academy has also shown an increasing proclivity in recent years towards musicians (Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross for “The Social Network” & A.R. Rahman for “Slumdog Millionaire”) as opposed to pure composers.

Runner-Up/Dark Horse: Gravity (Steven Price)

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