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Breaking Down the Best Original Score Nominees

By David Goe

 

For some reason, I’ve really been into film scores this year (probably because pop music has been soooo boring).

Naturally, I’m getting pumped up for the Academy Awards and this year I’m really cued into the Best Original Score category.

Up for the big award are Thomas Newman for “Bridge of Spies,” Carter Burwell for “Carol,” Ennio Morricone for “The Hateful Eight,” Johann Johannsson for “Sicario” and John Williams for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

I’ve listened to all the scores, watched some of the films, and here is my breakdown of what to expect come award night.

 


“Bridge of Spies”

You could say music runs in the Newman family. The son of legendary Hollywood composer Alfred Newman and cousin to multiple Oscar winner Randy Newman, Thomas more than holds his own.

Newman has been nominated for 13 Academy Awards, including original scores for “Skyfall” (2012), “American Beauty” (1999) and “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994).

Despite working on some of the best films in recent memory, Newman has never won an Academy Award.

Newman’s score for “Bridge of Spies” does a good job capturing the suspense and spirit of the Cold War by mixing both classic American and Russian orchestral themes, resulting in genuine tension that is carried through the entire score.

“Bridge of Spies” is a fine score, but it never seems to reach the emotional heights of “Carol,” nor is it as memorable as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

I’m afraid it’s another fruitless nomination for Newman.

 

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

John Williams is the man. Nominated for 50 Academy Awards and with five wins to his name, Williams literally has nothing to prove.

Williams’ credits go on and on: “E.T.” (1982), “Jaws” (1975), “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” (1977), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1982), “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001) and “Home Alone” (1990).

Oh, yeah ... he also did the music for a little film called “Star Wars” (1977).

Listen, the new “Star Wars” is great. I loved it and, let’s face it, Williams’ score helps elevate the movie, but he already won for basically the same score back in 1977.

There are better scores this year, not as legendary as “Star Wars,” but better.

 

“Sicario”

Relative newcomer to the scene is Johann Johannsson, previously nominated for his brilliant work on “The Theory of Everything” — the Icelandic man is so nice, they named him twice — gets his second nomination for “Sicario.”

Now, let’s get this out of the way: Johannsson has no chance of winning. His score for “Sicario,” however, is straight up terrifying. Without knowing anything about the movie one might guess this is the score to a Stanley Kubrick-esque horror film.

Johannsson riffs off the inherently violent nature of the film, scoring tracks that march purposefully to a dreadful resolution.

The entire score is wicked and relentless, and while this is not his year, I suspect Johannsson will be a regular at future award ceremonies.

 

“Carol”

Few films have headed into the Academy Awards with more buzz and acclaim than “Carol,” the story of two women romantically attracted to each other in 1950s America.

Composer and first-time nominee Carter Burwell crafted an elegant and touching score of original work and jazz standards from the era.

The result is a work that, as Burwell says, gives Carol and Therese (played brilliantly by Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara) “the ability to express and relieve emotional tensions that can’t be put into words.”

The main theme of Burwell’s score is both romantic and tragic. It’s optimistic but holds a tinge of sadness. Burwell has portrayed the emotions of forbidden love into a winning score.

Of the nominees, this is the score that works perfectly with the film and as a stand-alone composition. However, it is not the winner.

 



“The Hateful Eight”

If indeed Ennio Morricone wins, and I suspect he will, this will be an apology of sorts by the Academy for largely ignoring a prolific body of work that reaches back to the 1960s.

Morricone is legend who scored “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” (1966), “Once Upon A Time in the West” (1968), “The Untouchables” (1986) and “Bugsy” (1991).

Ironically, the score for “The Hateful Eight” doesn’t quite live up to his past masterpieces, but it does have its moments.

Similar to “Sicario,” the score for “The Hateful Eight” is a foreboding climb, this time to yet another bloody crescendo orchestrated by Quentin Tarantino.

If anything, “The Hateful Eight” again highlights Morricone’s mastery as a minimalist. With just a few notes he is able to capture moods that other composers could only dream of.

The added bonus of a Morricone win is the unpredictable nature of Tarantino. He most definitely will do something crazy. Guaranteed.   

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