Best Original Score
This is not the first time it has been John Williams versus John Williams in the Best Original Score category. In fact, it’s the eleventh time the ubiquitous composer has been nominated twice in the same year. Ten out of those eleven times, he ended up losing the Oscar with the only win being in 1972 when his score for Star Wars: A New Hope took home the prize. It has actually been 18 years since Williams took home his last Oscar and he is on something of a Meryl Streep dry spell – the nominations keep coming, but the wins rarely follow. If the Academy is feeling particularly nostalgic this year (which, the other nominations indicate they are), they might give a sixth Academy Award to the composer behind some of cinema’s most iconic themes. However, the rest of the competition in this field is very strong and he certainly won’t have an easy path to victory.
Among his competitors are composers that have been nominated for a combined 7 Oscars and won 3. Not nearly the enormous amount that Williams has racked up, but impressive nonetheless. Only one of the four nominees in this category has never been nominated before and that individual just might be the one to take the prize from Williams and all of the other veterans. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and first analyze the five nominees this year:
This is John Williams’ 41st/42nd Oscar nomination for this category. Williams scores are most well-known for their dramatic use of a full orchestra to swell underneath deep, emotional scenes in adult films. He has contributed to children’s movies before like Home Alone or the Harry Potter films, but none of his scores have been as playful and light as his work for Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin. His heavy use of piano and flute nicely underscores the fluid cinematography of Tintin and aids in providing suspense without feeling intrusive. The opening credits of Tintin are among the best of the year and part of the greatness is thanks to the score from John Williams that emphasizes various instruments at different times and is just plain fun.
This is Ludovic Bource’s first Oscar nomination. The newcomer to the field had one of the most challenging jobs of the year. In a silent film it is often the music that creates the mood, describes the characters, and aids in telling the story. Not only does Bource’s score accomplish all of this, but it does so while simultaneously masterfully mimicking the types of soundtracks that came out of early silent efforts. His dominant use of the piano allows the viewer to imagine a tuxedo-clad gentleman behind the screen playing along with the picture just like in the movie houses of old. With The Artist expected to take home more than a few Academy Awards this year, expect to hear Bource’s work frequently throughout the night and to have the bouncy tune in your head for hours afterward.
This is Howard Shore’s third Oscar nomination in this category. Fans will know Howard Shore best for his fantastic work on The Lord of the Rings films. Shore’s work on Martin Scorcese’s Hugo is not quite as sweeping as his career defining work, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. Shore’s accordion dominated theme sounds very Parisian and highlights the wonder experienced by Hugo and various other characters in the film. The repetitive swelling of the orchestral instruments also makes it a very catchy score and a fun one to revisit with or without the accompaniment of the feature film. With 11 Oscar nominations for Hugo, Shore’s score just might be the potential spoiler for the category.
This is Alberto Iglesias’ third Oscar nomination in this category. In my opinion, Alberto Iglesias is one of the most overdue composers still working today and he has two scores this year that prove it. The first came from frequent collaborator Pedro Almodovar’s exquisite The Skin I Live In. The second, and the one he has a genuine shot at receiving an Oscar for, is from Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Such a subtle film deserves a subtle score and that’ exactly what Iglesias delivers. His music uses slowly swelling violin and piano to simultaneously express the suspense within the film and the cool calculation with which George Smiley makes every move. Even listening to the score on its own I find myself holding my breath, waiting for the extended musical phrases to come to an end.
This is John Williams’ 41st/42nd Oscar nomination in this category. Many jokes have been made at how War Horse seems tailored for the Academy Awards from the script to the score. Even I described Williams’ work in the film as “intrusive” in my initial review of the film. However, listening to the score on its own, I find it hard to deny the greatness of John Williams. The brilliance of Williams’ work has always been its simplicity. He creates a short musical phrase consisting of a few notes and he builds a sweeping score around them so that the music often becomes one of the easiest to remember part of the films he works on. In War Horse, that 5-note musical phrase is now instantly recognizable and will surely remain for years to follow in montages and clip reels.
Who Will Win?
Despite the love that the Academy has for the work of John Williams, I think it is telling that neither of Spielberg’s films this year received as many Oscar nominations as many were expecting. That is why I believe Ludovic Bource will take home the prize for The Artist, adding to the large tally that the film is destined to receive. The alternate is Howard Shore’s work for the equally awards-friendly Hugo.
Best Original Song
My biggest prediction for the Best Original Song category is not about who will win this year’s race, but how the category will change over the Summer. In June the Academy always rolls out the new rules for the Oscars and Best Original Song is well overdue for a revamp. The existence of only two nominees this year is laughable as the category continues to be the unwanted child of the evening. This year they have opted to not have the nominees perform during the ceremony, which is unfortunate because I would love to see Jason Segel and The Muppets doing their thing. It could very well be the high point of the ceremony.
Let’s get this over with and take a look at this year’s Oscar nominees:
Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords is the brilliant mind behind this hilarious song. “Man or Muppet” was one of my favorite parts of the already very funny film The Muppets. By juxtaposing the identity crisis of the human Gary and the Muppet Walter, the film hilariously portrays the very same crisis that every young adult goes through as they are forced to choose between the carelessness of youth and the responsibilities of adulthood. We go through many identities during our lifetime – child, student, friend, husband, father, Muppet – and “Man or Muppet” synthesizes that difficult transition from one identity to another into a hilarious two and a half minutes. The root of our identities lie in where we find importance and subsequently love. For Gary, that is with his adoring fiance Mary; for Walter, it is with people who are like him and can share his experience of existence. Their brief journey through the song shows two important identity milestones.
Music for “Real in Rio” is by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown and lyrics are by Siedah Garrett. I have not yet seen Rio, so my only knowledge of the song comes from looking it up on YouTube. My immediate reaction is that it has such a large number of voices and is so playfully upbeat that it would be really fun to see a live performance of the song at the Oscars. Since that has already been nixed, I will have to resort to eventually seeing the movie to find out if the song is employed in the film as well as it is in my imagination. I get the sense that the song is trying to reference, or at least pay homage to, Alan Menken’s great work in the Disney musicals of the 1990s. It is not as infectiously catchy as Menken’s work, but it is an enjoyable listen nonetheless.
Who Will Win?
This category is always tough to call, but with a 50/50 shot I am going to choose The Muppets. I know there will be an uproar among the legions of Muppet fans if the film loses in the one category that it is most deserving of a win, so I hope the Academy acts accordingly. The alternate is…well…duh.
Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing
I am admittedly under qualified to discuss the best sound work in film. I am less aurally aware of the work being done in a movie and I tend to pay more attention to the visual storytelling. The relatively new website SoundWorks Collection has helped me learn more about the art of Sound Editing and Mixing, but I am still an amateur in the field. I barely even know the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing except that Sound Mixing usually deals with elements that already exist (dialogue, music, etc.) and Sound Editing deals with creating and adding sound effects.
I have a feeling that the Academy does not have a firm grasp of the difference either, because we frequently see the same films nominated in both categories. In fact, the two categories are so similar this year that I have decided to combine my predictions and analysis for both categories. Here are the nominees:
Drive – Editing Only
Out of all of the categories for which Drive deserved to be nominated, who knew that it would only achieve success for Best Sound Editing? Especially since this category typically recognizes action-packed films and Drive is relatively light on action (compared to previous nominees). However, the music in Drive is fantastic and it magnificently rises and subsides throughout the film to create a terrific retro mood.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Editing and Mixing
Last year David Fincher’s The Social Network earned a nomination for Best Sound Mixing, but not editing. This year’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo brought together mostly the same sound team, but added a much needed level of action, gunfire, etc. to earn recognition in more than one sound category.
Hugo – Editing and Mixing
The big question mark that surrounds Hugo is whether or not it’s impressive number of nominations in the technical categories will translate into wins. It seems that they might pull off wins in the visual categories, but wins for sound might be more of a stretch. For one thing, Scorcese’s films have never had much luck in either of these categories. For another thing, Hugo‘s ambition lies in its appreciation for visual storytelling.
Moneyball – Mixing Only
The fact that Moneyball was a nominee for Best Sound Mixing further convinces me that I know absolutely nothing about this category. I do not understand what makes the levels of sound in Moneyball better mixed than those in Rango or Footloose, for instance. I would think that both animated movies and musicals have a higher degree of difficulty, but what do I know?
Transformers: Dark of the Moon – Editing and Mixing
I did not see the third Transformers movie because I am not a sadist, but I did see the second installment with a lot of the same sound team. If there is one compliment I can give to the Transformers movies (and I think that there might in fact be only one compliment it deserves), it is that the sound work is superb. From the newly crafted transforming noises to the massive action scenes, the sound work is the one thing that makes the movies watchable.
War Horse – Editing and Mixing
War movies seem to have a natural advantage in these categories and that is partially because the sound work is more obvious. Heavy artillery and the machinery of war have distinct sounds and the orchestral score that often accompanies these sounds are easy to pick out. The sound team on War Horse also gets to show their stuff by creating and editing sound for numerous distinct locales.
Who Will Win?
I would say that it is between Hugo and War Horse for both categories. Hugo won the Cinema Audio Society award for Best Sound Mixing last week and War Horse won the Motion Picture Sound Editors award over the weekend. They could split the two awards, or one of those two films could take both prizes. My out on a limb prediction is that War Horse will win both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.
Stay tuned for the writing categories to be broken down next.
What do you think of this year’s sound nominations? Which do you think will win?