Thursday, February 19, 2015

One Category at a Time: Original Score

There's nothing more frustrating for an awards pundit than being able to narrow a category down to two realistic outcomes, but then being forced to flip a coin between them. So it is this year with Best Original Score, which is, for me, an even more hair-pulling exercise in prediction waffling than the tightly contested Best Director and Picture races.

But first, let's whittle things down with some process of elimination.

For starters, we can nix Gary Yershon's austere score from Mr. Turner, the one craft nomination this year that precisely zero people saw coming before its announcement. With the visual production having very much become the story of Mike Leigh's stoic period piece, Yershon's slow, dissonant cello compositions were the last element of the film that people would have expected the Academy to recognize. Add on top of that this is Yershon's first nomination from the notoriously insular music branch, and the whole scenario seems even more implausible, and yet there he is, happy to be nominated. Or at least he should be, because he'll not be walking away a winner. If the Academy doesn't love the film enough to award its beautiful design and photography, there's no way they'll thrill to its understated music.

We can probably also scratch off Interstellar from the list of potential winners, since this is a category that almost always goes to a Best Picture nominee (you have to stretch back 12 years to find a winner, Frida, that contradicts the trend). The industry has not wholeheartedly taken to Christopher Nolan's ambitious sci-fi, although there's clearly respect for his craftsmanship, which members will get to honour in Best Visual Effects. Nevertheless, it would be naive to assume that Hans Zimmer's robust, hair-raising pipe organ score won't accrue any voter attention.
The German composer's collaboration with Nolan has continued to yield powerful results with every new project, hitting a sort of stylistic zenith with this one.
It's arguably the most musically accomplished of the five nominees, but without that Best Picture nomination, there won't be enough support there for a win.

So now moving into the Best Picture nominated soundtracks, and things become a little harder. As always, the prolific Alexandre Desplat is in play, but for the first time in his career he has two nominated scores! With eight nominations in as many years, he's becoming a regular old John Williams, except for the fact that John Williams occasionally won from time to time. One of Desplat's shots on goal is for The Imitation Game, which has all the tinkly tropes of a typical Oscar movie score that frequently gets nominated but seldom wins (comparisons to his work on The Queen, The King's Speech and Philomena would not be unfounded).

He has a far better chance, however, with his delightfully eccentric, balalaika-
laced stylings from The Grand Budapest Hotel, which are far more musically distinctive than The Imitation Game and even managed to win Desplat a BAFTA. Wes Anderson's European-flavoured comedy is already primed to dominate the craft categories, and this could be one that gets swept along. You won't find me complaining. The last thing I want is for Desplat to become another Thomas Newman; Oft nominated but never chosen to win. A victory would be all the sweeter if it were for this, one of Desplat's best pieces in years.

But there's one contender that may end up leaving Desplat winless yet again. There's an interesting pattern that's developed over the last decade, wherein the victor of this category is often a first-time nominee. Only twice in the last ten years has it been won by a composer who's been nominated before (Babel and Up). Obviously, this stat is purely coincidental, but for the superstitious Cassandra in me, I can't help but feel that it will continue with Johann Johannsson taking the gold trophy for his prominent (and admittedly, lovely) orchestral ornamentation of The Theory of Everything. Immediately after I saw the film last fall, the first thought that popped into my head was, "this is the kind of score that wins Oscars". It features very overtly in the film -- sometimes too loudly, although that's on the mixers -- and beautifully juxtaposes sweeping strings and delicate piano melodies. With the Golden Globe already in hand, Johannsson would be wise not to lock up his trophy case just yet.

Will win: The Theory of Everything
Runner-up: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Should win: Interstellar
Should have been nominated: Gone Girl

1 comment:

  1. THANK YOU!!! I'm not surprised but no less dismayed that 'Gone Girl' wasn't included.