OSCAR GUIDE: Best Music (Original Score)

Posted by · 11:26 am · February 26th, 2010

(from left) Wally Wolodarsky (voice) and George Clooney (voice) in Fantastic Mr. FoxFor years the composers of the music branch tended to be a bit insular. Impressive newcomer talent was often ignored while the usual suspects showed up year after year. Not long ago, there seemed to be a shift, yielding slates much like the one we have for 2009.

There is one first-timer, but other nominees are only enjoying their second and third nominations, while the true veterans of the category haven’t been to the dance in six and nine years respectively. Usually the Academy at large springs for a Best Picture nominee with overwhelming consistency, most often films with cultural flavor or dramatic, sometimes whimsical heft.

The nominees are:

“Avatar” (James Horner)
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” (Alexandre Desplat)
“The Hurt Locker” (Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders)
“Sherlock Holmes” (Hans Zimmer)
“Up” (Michael Giacchino)

This is one of the more unique races in that it can be viewed as wide open or a two-horse race with equal persuasion. It could also be an early indicator of Best Picture support for the two frontrunners in that field, but then again, maybe not. (We’ve also been talking to the nominees, in case you missed it.)

James Horner’s work on “Avatar” is a typical Horner score in that it’s quite derivative of his past work. Listen closely and you’ll hear “Willow” and “The Perfect Storm” all over the track, as well as a little bit of “Titanic” mixed in. Personally speaking, that always drives me insane, but those elements aside, it’s a wonderful, soaring accompaniment to a grand vision. It could also indicate what kind of support the film has early on in the evening if it wins. Horner is used to being a bridesmaid by now, but the score also has an indigenous quality, which could be a plus for members who have voted for culturally flavored scores as of late. But I have a feeling they’ll be slightly more thoughtful here and spring for something different.

Alexandre Desplat is beaming a bit of a mainstay, which he might as well, considering he’s one of the most talented and prolific composers in the industry. This year he hand an entire slate of films for voters to choose from, but they ultimately opted for the whimsical music of Wes Anderson’s “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” It’s certainly unique amongst the competition, as most titles have a great dramatic weight or are busy with multiple soloing instruments. Desplat’s work is a bit lean, which isn’t a quality that generally defines his work. It’s also married quite beautifully to Anderson’s style, which is saying something considering how diametrically opposed their sentiments seem to be simply judging from their work separately. But Desplat may have to wait a little longer for his first win.

One of the surprises in the category this year was Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders sliding in for their haunting, desolate work in “The Hurt Locker.” Beltrami has been here once before with “3:10 to Yuma,” while it will be Sanders’s first trip tot he Kodak Theatre. One of the more memorable aspects of Kathryn Bigelow’s film, for me, was actually the music, which sometimes has a feedback quality that sounds both nostalgic and somehow innovative. It does right by the narrative, serving as one more outlet into the removed, streamlined mind of Staff Sergeant William James. If the film has caught enough traction in the last few weeks to be a truly dominant force on Oscar night, this could be a clue to a sweep. But the film obviously doesn’t need a win here to take the Best Picture statuette.

The one score of the bunch that truly takes the listener on a ride is Hans Zimmer’s cimbalom- and banjo-infused score for Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes.” It would be an incredibly deserving win, but there are reasons to be given pause. How much do members really like the film? It’s an enjoyable romp, but it certainly doesn’t have the overall weight to be taken seriously as an Oscar film. Whether the singular work is award-worthy or not, that is simply how voting members think. It’s a nice consolation for Zimmer to make it here after getting the shaft, along with co-composer James Newton Howard, on Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise, and he could very well be in the conversation next year for “Inception.” In the meantime, maybe his envelope-pushing work here gets some traction.

Throughout the season, I’ve kept settling on Michael Giacchino’s heartfelt work on “Up” as the likely Oscar victor, way back when it wasn’t very popular to pick it for the Golden Globe. Not only is it worth pointing out that Giacchino also headed up scoring duties on “Star Trek” this season (which was an amazing, bombastic piece of work that didn’t get a nomination), but his score for Pixar’s latest gets a solid 10 minutes front and center at the beginning of the film, with no dialogue or other aural distractions. What more could a composer ask for? The music is both whimsical and sincere, equally adventurous and dramatic. And the film is nominated for Best Picture, which is always helpful. At the end of the day, this is where I’d place my chips, but there are certainly no safe bets in this race.

Will win: “Up”
Could win: “Avatar”
Should win: “Up”

Should have been here: “Bright Star”

(from left) Bob Peterson (voice), Ed Asner (voice) and Jordan Nagai (voice) in Up

What do you think deserves to win this year’s Oscar for Best Original Score? Have your say in the sidebar poll!

→ 38 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

38 responses so far

  • 1 2-26-2010 at 11:36 am

    Joey said...

    I am still bummed that A Single Man was left out of this race.

  • 2 2-26-2010 at 11:47 am

    Dean Treadway said...

    I am still surprised that Marvin Hamlisch wasn’t noted for THE INFORMANT!

  • 3 2-26-2010 at 11:48 am

    Alex S. said...

    Star Trek was so snubbed it deserved to be here and even be considered for the win. That and Up were the more memorable scores of the year. Haven’t watched Sherlock though.

  • 4 2-26-2010 at 11:57 am

    Vito said...

    It is a travesty. An absolute travesty that Abel Korzeniowski was not nominated for A Single Man. Easily, the best and most beautiful score of 2009.

  • 5 2-26-2010 at 11:57 am

    Adam Smith said...

    Maybe it was no surprise, but the huge snub here, for me, is the absence of two scores that brilliantly expand upon and elevate genre conventions: Christopher Young’s haunting work for Drag Me To Hell, and Win Butler, Regine Chassagne, and Owen Pallett’s inspired turn in The Box. Also, Marvin Hamlisch’s delightful score for The Informant! deserves a spot. Basically, aside from Up and Fantastic Mr. Fox, I’m not big on this set of nominees.

  • 6 2-26-2010 at 12:01 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    Slightly off-topic, but I would just like to say that I didn’t realize until recently just how bold Warner Bros. has been this year. True, you have some sure-fire moneymakers (Harry Potter, The Hangover) and some boring Oscar bait (The Blind Side, Invictus), but you also have some of the riskiest mainstream releases of the past year (The Box, The Informant!, Where The Wild Things Are, Observe & Report). Even if the films weren’t always great, they were certainly unique, and took brass balls to say “Fuck yes we’ll distribute it!”

  • 7 2-26-2010 at 12:12 pm

    red_wine said...

    Avatar score is like a temp track of all other Horner scores before that, so derivative that it almost should have been nominated for the now defunct Best Adapted Score.

    But. I still think its a good score and have reconciled myself to it in the past few works. If Horner has forgotten how to write original music, he has not forgotten one thing and that is what kind of music to play in what kind of scene. He has a very good sense in that regard and that was in full display in Avatar.

    I think after the special effects, Avatar’s score is 1 of the better aspects of the film. So a nomination is not out of place, especially in this weak year. And he certainly deserves his nomination more than Zimmer.

    Sherlock’s main theme is very good, memorable, racing and jaunty but there really isn’t much else in the score. When the main theme kicks in full blast, the score is nice but apart from that dull.

    Fox is a very good score, a nice effort from Desplat and an inspired nomination. On the other hand we all know that if The Hurt Locker were not the front runner, the composers would never ever consider nominating its score. Effective but with regards to writing music for film – a failure of a nomination. I mean you have such huge magnificent blockbuster scores like New moon and star Trek and Hurt locker gets nominated for score.

    And Up, well, its gonna be one of the most deserving winners this year. Instantly recognizable, there is not a single person who has failed to guess whenever I play the theme for them on piano, memorable, and brilliantly orchestrated.

    I still can’t believe he lost for his masterpiece Ratatouille, Atonement had that type-writer but it can’t even hold up a candle to Ratatouille’s score.

    And the score snub for Incredibles remains one of the worst and most inexplicable snubs this decade. He should have won. So Giacchino will only be collecting his first Oscar when he should have been collecting his third.

  • 8 2-26-2010 at 12:12 pm

    Cameron said...

    I find it rather distressing that Slumdog Millionaire -a score made up primarily of lyrical music-can waltz in and take 2 Oscars for music and Where the Wild Things Are gets disqualified for precisely the same reason. Oh, the (in)humanity of the Academy.

    However, I’m very pleased that Desplat, Giacchino, and Zimmer made it in.

  • 9 2-26-2010 at 12:14 pm

    Lucas said...

    Agreed entirely on the A Single Man snub – it’s easily the best score of the year. And while Desplat’s score for Fox was good, it definetly wasn’t my favourite of the year: I’d have gone with Coco avant Chanel or, believe it or not, his New Moon score.

  • 10 2-26-2010 at 12:16 pm

    Lucas said...

    ALSO The Informant was sooo good; Marvin Hamlisch of course being a musical genius in whatever medium he tackles! Man, the HFPA really got it so much more right this year than the AMPAS…

  • 11 2-26-2010 at 12:27 pm

    Kevin said...

    The fact that Slumdog Millionaire won this category last year is indicative of how idiotic this branch can be. To disqualify such masterworks of film scoring like There Will Be Blood and The Dark Knight, whilst giving the award to Slumdog Millionaire pop-soundtrack “score” is pretty insane if you ask me. The race is merely a popularity contest based on which movie they liked best, and if they didn’t respond the to the movie, they don’t vote for it, no matter how deserving it is in certain fields, (Transformers losing Visual Effects to The Golden Compass, etc). The tech and artistic categories are some of the most frustrating, even more so than Best Picture, IMO.

    However, it’s nice to see Zimmer here for the first time in nine years (which is downright inexcusable IMO). Why he is so underrated is mind-boggling to me. I’d rather see Zimmer win, but I’d honestly be ok with any of the victors myself.

  • 12 2-26-2010 at 12:27 pm

    Leighton said...

    This year has been such a strong year for musical scores. I was sad not to A Single Man’s and The Informant’s scores, both giving weight and whimsy to their respective films. Where the Wild Things Are is one of the most ingenious musical applications in recent memory and it’s disqualification is saddening. And, as Bright Star was my favorite film of last year, hated to see it’s beautiful score left out here as well.

    Of the 5, I can’t help but feel Giacchino’s work here is the best. Desplat’s Coco before Chanel score was better than Fox’s, and you’re right, Horner’s Avatar while fitting and rapturous, feels like he’s mining the depths of past work. I think Zimmer’s catches your ear the most, and is the most fun, but I think Giacchino is the best, and will win.

  • 13 2-26-2010 at 12:31 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Should have been here: A SINGLE MAN. Illogical and inexcusable h0w it was left out, especially in favor of non-existent music in “The Hurt Locker” that even the film’s greatest fans can’t defend. What a mockery.

  • 14 2-26-2010 at 12:38 pm

    Bryan said...

    For my money, the best score of 2009 was The Brothers Bloom by Nathan Johnson.

    In this category, the academy either goes along with a sweep, or awards a Best Picture nominee that didn’t get a lot of love otherwise.

    So that’s Avatar, The Hurt Locker, and Up.

    Of those, Avatar and the Hurt Locker will both win a good amount of awards, but will doubtfully pull a Slumdog or Lord of the Rings. And Up, while it will win best Animated Film, is probably like well enough by a lot of people who won’t vote for it in Picture just because it’s animated, so a best Score could be a mea culpa for their cowardice.

  • 15 2-26-2010 at 12:42 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    red: Apparently you think a blockbuster score is the only kind of score that deserves a nomination? That’s what I glean from your THL comments. I thought it was effective and rather brilliant in some ways.

  • 16 2-26-2010 at 12:43 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Kevin: Don’t blame it on the branch. It’s the Academy at large that votes on winners. The branch has plenty of idiocy to chastise, mind you, but that’s not included.

  • 17 2-26-2010 at 12:53 pm

    red_wine said...

    Kris: The Hurt Locker is one of favorite movies of the decade and by far my favorite (English language) film of 2009. But even I can’t defend its score nomination. Music should not be necessarily melodic (case in point There Will Be Blood), it can be atonal, but something so sparse and uninspired as The Hurt locker’s ‘score’, it doesn’t really shine a light on the art of film composing, does it. I saw an interview with them and even they sounded somewhat apologetic and perplexed about their nomination.

    And even you know if The Hurt Locker were not as big as it is, it would not receive a score nomination.

    And about big blustery scores, Up’s score is fairly quiet for most of the movie, so its not like I only like big scores, hell 35 shots of rum’s very quiet score would have been a worthy nominee.

  • 18 2-26-2010 at 1:29 pm

    Liz said...

    I liked the actual score for “A Single Man,” but was anybody else bothered by the fact that was so overbearing? If they had dialed it back just a few notches, I would have completely been on board, but I just got tired of it after a while.

  • 19 2-26-2010 at 2:26 pm

    MovieMan said...

    Will win: “Up”
    Could win: “Sherlock Holmes”
    Should win: “The Hurt Locker”
    Should have been here: “Drag Me to Hell,” “A Single Man,” “Where the Wild Things Are”

    Commentary: I think the score for “The Hurt Locker” was one of the strongest aspects about the film, which I thought was thin as hell. I liked the movie fine, but the score was haunting. Giacchino should’ve been nominated twice this year, but his work in “Up” is indeed wonderful and surefire to win. Desplat, Horner, and Zimmer are all excellent composers, but none of them should’ve been nominated this year. The “Fantastic Mr. Fox” score was just as arrogantly quirky as the film. The “Avatar” score was just as bombastic as the film. The “Sherlock Holmes” score was better than the film (not saying much, though…), but still over done to the point of absurdity.

  • 20 2-26-2010 at 2:44 pm

    McAllister said...

    Desplat’s score for “Fox” was my favorite, since he looked to older Morricone for most of it. But I would hate to see him win when they haven’t ever awarded Morricone for anything. I know I’m always harping on that.

  • 21 2-26-2010 at 3:01 pm

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    I agree with the A Single Man sentiments. Absolutely haunting and beautiful score. Should have been there.

    Up will win for sure.

  • 22 2-26-2010 at 3:28 pm

    SHAAAARK said...

    This category really only has two nominees that actually had any business being nominated; coincidentally, both of those scores are for animated films. Giacchino should have been double-nominated for Up and Star Trek. And then there’s A Single Man, Coraline, Drag Me to Hell, Ponyo, The Informant!, A Serious Man, and Moon.
    Ugh, the music branch sucks.

  • 23 2-26-2010 at 3:33 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Those saying The Hurt Locker’s score nomination is indefensible might want to check out the last chapter of The Film Experience’s Oscar Symposium today. There will be defence. And not just from me.

    For my money, it easily gets my vote in this field.

  • 24 2-26-2010 at 3:37 pm

    Jessica said...

    I don’t think I noticed The Hurt Locker even having a score when I watched it. Although, I think that is a characteristic of a good score, blending so seamlessly that you don’t even know it’s there.

    I really, REALLY want Up to win score. I thought Thomas Newman would have been a lock last year for WALL•E given his previous nominations and how integral score was to the film, but, no, they gave it to Slumdog.

  • 25 2-26-2010 at 3:39 pm

    Speaking English said...

    The bandwagon riding has gotten far out of hand, which is what led to that befuddling and atrocious “Hurt Locker” score nomination. You can’t deny that. There’s no way that ambient noise comes even close to being one of the best musical achievements of the year. That is kidding yourself.

  • 26 2-26-2010 at 3:44 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’m starting to think Speaking English doesn’t like The Hurt Locker.

  • 27 2-26-2010 at 3:58 pm

    Brian said...

    I hate that Avatar made it and Star Trek didn’t.

  • 28 2-26-2010 at 4:05 pm

    Will said...

    its kind of funny but i thought the score for Star Trek to be kind of average it really was the only thing i didn’t like in the film

  • 29 2-26-2010 at 4:27 pm

    p said...

    Agree with Red and Speaking English. That Hurt Locker nomination is one of the absolute worst score nominations of the entire decade. I would have probably settled on Babel for that (dis)honor but THL seems to have even less going for it in that department than Babel did.

  • 30 2-26-2010 at 7:39 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ^^^ You speak the truth.

    And Guy, I do dislike “The Hurt Locker,” but even if I didn’t I couldn’t in a million years justify that “score” nomination. Just crap. No credible score/music lover could tell you that was worthy.

  • 31 2-26-2010 at 8:10 pm

    Chase K. said...

    James Horner’s white-bread score is the perfect compliment to that white-bread film.

  • 32 2-26-2010 at 11:08 pm

    Movie_Dearest said...

    Giacchino should win for the “Married Life” segment alone.

  • 33 2-27-2010 at 2:13 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Stop being a douche and calling credibility into it, English. We get it. You hate the fucking movie. But stop projecting so God damn much.

  • 34 2-27-2010 at 3:35 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Oh I don’t know about that, Kris. I actually think it’s kind of funny the way he just can’t stop bitching about this one movie.

  • 35 2-27-2010 at 8:53 am

    Big Braveheart said...

    If Zimmer was nominated for Sherlock Holmes this year how could they not nominate the amazing score he did with James Newton-Howard for The Dark Knight? I know about the academy rules but that needs changing as TDK’s score was one of the best of the last decade!

  • 36 2-27-2010 at 9:28 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    The Dark Knight’s score was eventually deemed eligible, actually.

  • 37 2-27-2010 at 6:04 pm

    Kevin said...

    I quite liked the Hurt Locker (not a favourite, but good), but moody diatonics do not a masterful score make. It should have been Abel Korzeniowski here.

  • 38 3-06-2010 at 5:03 pm

    Allan said...

    My favorite score of the year was Carter Burwell’s for Where the Wild Things Are.