Tuesday, February 14, 2017

One Category at a Time: Best Original Score

Oscar watchers rejoiced this year when we saw a Best Original Score lineup populated almost entirely with first-time nominees. Usually the music branch has proved the most insular one in the Academy, only reserving one or two slots for fresh talent every year. Perhaps recent diversification initiatives are starting to take effect, though the branch clearly still has its favourites.
Thomas Newman is one of them, enjoying his 14th nomination for Passengers. Although "enjoying" may not be the best word. How much can you enjoy a nomination when you've had so many with no win in sight? And his first is unlikely to come for this critically demolished sci-fi adventure, which sounds like his unused material from WALL-E. Look, I love the guy's work and his distinctive sound, but this particular score is derivative even by his standards.

Of the four newbies (actually five), the one seemingly locked in for the win is Justin Hurwitz for La La Land's soaring romantic themes. The music is so much of what makes the movie what it is, it seems unthinkable that the Academy will go another way. In all likelihood, getting the nomination was a bigger hurdle than getting the win. This will be the first musical to take this category since the mid-90s when the music branch temporarily split it in two (Drama Score and Musical/Comedy Score) because they were sick of Disney musicals dancing away with it every year. They've been resistant to nominating musicals since then, but this Best Picture behemoth would have been a conspicuous snub.
Assigning theoretical runner-up status may be a toss up between fellow Best Picture nominees Moonlight and Lion. Nicholas Britell's classically flavoured compositions for the former are effective but subtle, so the emotional pull of Dustin O'Halloran and Hauschka's tracks for the latter are probably the next highest vote-getter. If there's a spoiler, it could be Mica Levi's sinewy strings in Jackie. The soundtrack is definitely distinctive, and sticking out from the pack for any reason is often a boon in this category. But the film as a whole has not been widely embraced, and for a non-Best-Picture-nominee to win here is rare. To happen two-years in a row (after Ennio's win in 2016) is near unthinkable.

Will win: La La Land
Could win: Lion

Should win: Lion
Should be nominated: Arrival


  1. Ennio Morricone won for the year 2015.

    1. Which is why I wrote "Ennio's win IN 2016" as opposed to "FOR 2016".