OSCAR GUIDE: Best Music (Original Score)

Posted by · 10:39 am · February 16th, 2011

Recently the International Film Music Critics Association were the last critics group to offer their (specialized) thoughts on the 2010 film year. The announcement made for an interesting counter to the year in score awardage. And the eventual nominees for Best Original Score reflected, if nothing else, a continued break with tradition.

The music branch has been slowly initiating new blood as of late, though it hasn’t completely relinquished its trademark consistency. A big step was made in the recognition of one of the year’s more atypical scores, though a big opportunity was lost with Daft Punk’s failure to register what could have been a truly exciting tip of the Academy’s hat.

The nominees are:

“How to Train Your Dragon” (John Powell)
“Inception” (Hans Zimmer)
“The King’s Speech” (Alexandre Desplat)
“127 Hours” (A.R. Rahman)
“The Social Network” (Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross)

One wouldn’t be out of line in thinking a potential sweep for the year’s Best Picture frontrunner will extend to this field. But it could also be an interesting place for consolation voting in a few other areas, so maybe the race is more wide open than we think.

The film most likely on the bottom of the list (though one never knows) is “How to Train Your Dragon,” which made good on positive critical opinion of its robust score by landing a first nomination for John Powell. It’s actually one of the more accomplished and technically proficient pieces of work on the list, floating from tribal rhythms to ominous percussion with ease and packing every corner of the animated hit with musical flavor. It’s possible this could be seen as a consolation vote for those who pass on the film in its only other category (Best Animated Feature Film), but it’s also up against four Best Picture nominees, all of which will be vying for similar consolation along the way. Nevertheless, it’s lovely to see it make it this far when it really is one of the deserving contenders of the year.

Hans Zimmer has been considered a formidable possibility in this category ever since “Inception” hit theaters in the summer. His work on the film — loved by some, dismissed by others — was a bombastic piece of flavor that few would argue failed to contribute to the film’s identity. He’s also seeing a slight renaissance with Academy favor as of late, nailing down his second nomination in as many years. He just competed against himself for a Grammy Award for his work on the film (the only one of the nominees eligible for Grammy consideration to be nominated this year) and his film will likely be looking to pick up consolation votes throughout the below-the-line fields. Still, all of that feels like an equation for the man and the work coming up a bridesmaid this season to me.

The likely winner, it appears, fresh off a BAFTA victory, is Alexandre Desplat for his work on the Best Picture frontrunner “The King’s Speech.” After bursting onto the domestic film scoring scene in 2003, the composer has been consistent with quality, witnessed by four Oscar nominations to date (this one being his third in a row). Few would argue that he’s one of the most prolific composers working today. It kind of just feels like it’s time to honor him with an Oscar, especially in a year that saw peripheral award-worthy work in “The Ghost Writer.” Of course, the Academy at large won’t be thinking in precisely those terms. They’ll remember the frolicking piano rhythms of their favorite film of the year and feel perfectly content to chalk up another vote for the film.

One score that is well-respected among musicians and would likely have a better shot if it were just the discipline voting is A.R. Rahman‘s inventive work on “127 Hours.” The film is a one-man show largely dependent upon its aural identity, and the musical contribution to that is considerable. Whether it be soft cues dropped in over sun-drenched Utah or manipulated string pulses over dramatic narrative beats, the score always seems to be working organically with the imagery. It’s a lovely nominee and it’ll bring in a few votes, but it’ll be tough going against Best Picture thoroughbreds and the year’s memorable blockbuster entry. Not that Rahman has much to complain about, two years removed from a pair of Oscars in a Best Picture sweeper of his own.

For a moment there it seemed like Trent Reznor (alongside Atticus Ross) was going to add an Oscar to his long list of achievements. The Nine Inch Nails front man came aboard David Fincher’s “The Social Network” at the director’s request and tackled things from a completely unique and atypical angle, without knowing the “correct” way to go about scoring a film. It was probably for the best, as he and his partner concocted an unmistakable sonic identity for a film that is tough to imagine without it. The awards began to pour in, making the film seem like the Best Picture frontrunner, and then, a Golden Globe, a television acceptance speech…the gold guy was within reach. But the Oscar season can be cruel that way. Perhaps it’s still in the cards, but the Globes feel like ages ago now, no?

Will win: “The King’s Speech”
Could win: “The Social Network”
Should win: “The Social Network”

Should have been here: “TRON Legacy”

Check out my current rankings for this race at its dedicated Contenders page here.

What do you think deserves to win the award for Best Music (Original Score)? Have your say in today’s sidebar poll!

[Photos: DreamWorks Animation, The Weinstein Company]

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68 responses so far

  • 1 2-16-2011 at 3:11 pm

    matsunaga said...

    Should have been there: Harry Potter 7 Pt.1, Tangled, Never Let Me Go, The Ghost Writer,

  • 2 2-16-2011 at 3:15 pm

    GreenOwl said...

    I see a lot of discussions here about names. :) While we all have our preferance in one or other`s career I prefer not to look all the way back when judging a score so my pure subjective oppinion is that the score of How to Train Your Dragon was the best of them all this year because it was effective for the movie, it carried the movie in some moments and because it has a special sound that I haven`t heared till Duel of the Fates. Songs like Test Drive, Forbidden Friendship seem so far away, for me, from the other scores first because of the ensamble of instruments and because everytime I hear those songs I remember the scenes in the movie quite clearly, just like the Joker “sound” that Hans Zimmer got for TDK. That sound was so good to express what was on the screen that it gets stuck in your head, my head. That didn`t happen with any of the other scores, while beautiful and artfully made.

    I don`t care who will win, it has very little importance to me,I’ve just let the message out on who I think should “deserve” to win from my part.

  • 3 2-16-2011 at 3:18 pm

    Someone said...

    Will and should win: “The King’s Speech”

  • 4 2-16-2011 at 3:46 pm

    Rashad said...

    Should win – Inception

    Should have been there – Tron, True Grit, Let Me In

    Get rid of – TKS, 127 Hours (no clue why this is here), and HTTYD

  • 5 2-16-2011 at 4:23 pm

    DylanS said...

    Does anybody else feel that this is the strongest of the craft nomination slates. Not a single one of these nominees is without a reason to be here. While I would have prefered Desplat to get nominated for “The Ghost Writer” or even “Deathly Hallows”, he’s one of the best at what he does, and “The King’s Speech” is certainly an impressive piece of work.

    Still hoping (and even thinking) that “The Social Network” wins here. If It managed to get this far, why wouldn’t people vote for it?

  • 6 2-16-2011 at 5:31 pm

    Brad said...

    I’m pulling for John Powell

  • 7 2-16-2011 at 5:57 pm

    JJ1 said...

    It may sound sh*tty, but I’m all for Desplat winning if only because I feel like he should have won several times before and hasn’t. I liked The King’s Speech score just fine, so there ya go.

    Will – TKS
    Could – TSN
    Should – HTTYD

  • 8 2-16-2011 at 6:06 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Can’t help but feel, in spite of the sweep impulse, that Academy voters will do the cooler thing here. (BAFTA somehow didn’t even nominate The Social Network, so it wasn’t quite a head-to-head contest.)

    Will win: The Social Network
    Could win: The King’s Speech
    Should win: The Social Network

    Should have been here: White Material. (Plus: TRON Legacy, The Illusionist and Winter’s Bone.)

  • 9 2-16-2011 at 7:09 pm

    Kyle said...

    Should Win: HTTYD
    Will Win: The Social Network

    I have been a fan of Desplat since his score for The Painted Veil, and enjoy his score for The Golden Compass as well, but there’s always been a part of me that never finds the neccessary thematic cohesion in his scores to award them a Best Score Oscar.

    I think that he is an exceptional “intellectual” composer, meaning he often uses methods of composition that work above and beyond the level of understanding of the casual listener, but his individual works never truly feel as if they fully serve the emotional journey of the characters. I don’t neccessarily need (or want)every score to be a ‘Williams’ score and tie everything together through leitmotifs etc, but I do want musical closure and I think TKS definitely lacks that.

    With Never Let Me Go out of contention (which is arguably the most emotional score of the year), I think that Powell deserves recognition for his excellent work. The track “Coming Back Around” alone deserves SOME sort of award!

  • 10 2-16-2011 at 7:13 pm

    Kyle said...


    I watched Winter’s Bone for the second time today and on second viewing really noticed how the score ties all of the elements together to really create the neccessary mood. Minimalist for sure, but much like TSN, it’s almost impossible to imagine any other score that would achieve the same thing.

  • 11 2-16-2011 at 7:24 pm

    red_wine said...

    Will win: no idea

    Could win: All Apart from Dragon & 127 Hours

    Should win: “How To Train Your Dragon” though “The King’s Speech” will make a very fine winner

    Shave have no business being here: “The Social Network”, “Inception”, “127 Hours”

    (Social Network being the most beloved **score** of the year remains one of the mysteries of this Oscar season)

    Should have been here: “TRON Legacy” & “The Ghost Writer” & “Alice In Wonderland”

  • 12 2-16-2011 at 7:30 pm

    red_wine said...

    * Should have

  • 13 2-16-2011 at 8:27 pm

    Maxim said...


    “We apparently don’t do a good job of understanding each other, Maxim.”

    ~Insert a Cool Hand Luke reference here~ :) .

    @Graysmith, you know Hook is actually a pretty great score (and you can hear something similar to its first few bars in the Alice soundtrack.)

    I think that the question of whether or not a win comes for a lesser work (Oscars are a relative award after all, since every year is different) is less important as whether the work was “good enough”. I also think that there’s a good chance the Social Network will win Best Score after all.

  • 14 2-16-2011 at 8:27 pm

    Hans said...

    Honest, no-flame-intended question for red_wine:

    Was there ANYTHING about Inception you liked?

  • 15 2-16-2011 at 9:24 pm

    Paul said...

    If soundtrack critics were picking the winner, HTTYD would probably win. And it would be the correct pick, in my opinion. But we all know that’s not how it works.

    Will it win the Oscar? No. John Powell is not as famous as the other composers. His movie is not a best picture nominee. And it has been a while since HTTYD was released. All the odds are against him. I think the fact that he still managed to grab a nomination speaks to the quality of his work. He got nominated because he deserves to be nominated.

    But I think Powell deserves more than just a nomination; he absolutely deserves to win. Those who have heard and studied the HTTYD soundtrack would know that he has produced one of the most majestic, memorable, and well-constructed scores in a very long time. Yet, he hasn’t won any major awards for his score. I’d be absolutely frustrated if I were John Powell.

    I hope he wins the Oscar. If he does, I would be as happy as I was when Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova won an Oscar for Best Song in 2007.

  • 16 2-16-2011 at 9:36 pm

    red_wine said...

    @Paul, I completely agree with you. Simply as a piece of music composition, HTTYD beats all other scores this year.

    @Hans, I loved the Visual Effects. I think they were spectacular and I think it should win for that. The editing was good too. And lest you think I hate Inception, I still think its a decent little movie just not something I would count in the Top 30 or so of a given year, much less this year.

  • 17 2-17-2011 at 12:21 am

    Anna said...

    No one here was criticizing The King’s Speech as a movie for the Beethoven scene, so why bring it up? It’s just that some feel the score is not that special because the most memorable part was not original or written by Desplat. They are two completely different arguments.

  • 18 2-17-2011 at 1:34 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I think it was going that direction Anna. They are two different arguments…until they’re not.