OSCAR COUNTDOWN 2015: Original Score & Song

Today we end our sizing up of the craft categories on a refreshingly lighter note. Whereas production, costumes, editing, sound and cinematography feel rigorously technical at times, there’s something elegantly free-flowing about the musical categories. It makes them easier and more expressive to unpack and predict, regardless of who we expect to win. And again, what should I care when I can continue with my openly self-indulgent, but sanity-maintaining trend of dream ballots?

InterstellarBest Original Score

Alexandre Desplat has become the Roger Deakins of the Original Score race. He’s been nominated six times before, and this year he’s nominated twice. What’s more, there’s a significant chance he won’t win for either of them this year. The problem with double nominations is the threat of vote-splitting. Just ask Leonardo DiCaprio, whose main struggle during awards seasons is being caught between two nomination-potential performance.

I’d say Desplat’s two nominated scores of 2014 couldn’t be further apart, but they honestly could have been if the Academy opted to nominate him for Godzilla. He’s still working in two markedly different registers, with The Imitation Game pointed closer to swooning melodrama, with some admittedly impressive technical intent in his use of piano arpeggios to mirror the way Turing’s mind works. As with everything else in the film, though, the heart’s left undernourished.

Many believe Desplat will have a better shot for The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is quickly emerging as a bigger threat in the Best Picture race, and a markedly less baity one. Desplat’s score is light as a doily and with a similar tonal quality, at times representing a fairy tale version of a darker European war score – which Desplat has likely also worked on once in his already varied career. Vote-splitting is a risk, but I imagine more will jump directly into Grand Budapest‘s exciting hymns than will to Imitation‘s repetitive ones.

The Theory of EverythingTrue enough, other nominees don’t face the same uphill battle as he, though some should be happy just for their inclusion. Gary Yershon’s Mr. Turner score is a beneficially non-melodic one, its eerie string themes immediately bringing to mind the haunted discord at the film’s heart. The score wants only for variety, which Johann Johannson’s The Theory of Everything score ostensibly has. It’s conventional inspirational biopic stuff, with many light, but plucky piano themes to gloss the film over with a dewy-eyed quality that dilutes some of the harder truths the film approaches. Broader Academy members won’t mind, making this Desplat’s most likely challenger.

The only score here that truly heightens the film surrounding it, Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar score has been too weakened by the film’s tabling in the major races to surprise. It is, nonetheless, the most emotionally and intellectually dexterous of the nominees, perfectly nailing the themes of seeking the future while looking traditionally further back that the film narratively struggles with. Nolan might’ve benefited from keeping the film buckled down to its sensory impact, as Zimmer’s grandiose orchestral work here does.

Will Win: Alexandre Desplat, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Should Win: Hans Zimmer, Interstellar

Original ScoreDream Oscar Ballot

  • Alexandre Desplat, Godzilla
  • Hans Zimmer, Interstellar
  • James Newton Howard, Nightcrawler
  • David Kesler, The Strange Little Cat
  • Mica Levi, Under the Skin

Runners-Up: Cold in July, The DoubleGone Girl, Palo Alto, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

I’m taken aback by how much of this list submits to bombast, that supposed taboo for delicate, subtle score composure. Don’t accuse Hans Zimmer’s Interstellar score of being heavy-handed, though, as it’s working in the most implicit, enthralling and enchanting register of the film. Desplat may seize the monster movie bigness of Godzilla without hesitation, but it’s thumping build-ups and raucous wails aid as much to the spectacle as its other elements. More surprise colors my face in seeing James Newton Howard here. I’ve long struggled with the hap-hazard flourishes of his work, but with Nightcrawler his aspirational melodies hit an electric chord of twisted determination. More effortlessly entrancing and unsettling is Mica Levi’s tensely coiling score for Under the Skin, a wild, experimental, but emotionally raw work. All these may have more score than The Strange Little Cat, but David Kesler’s main theme works in much the same way as Mihaly Vig’s Turin Horse score, building a contained, warmly unpredictable atmosphere in what little time it has.

SelmaBest Original Song

This category… it’s not the most consequential of the night. You could argue it doesn’t have a place among the other more significantly recognizable categories.  Its existence largely is just to lend musical numbers to be interspersed throughout the evening. And, at times, it doesn’t manage to find the most entertaining selection of songs. This year is a mixed bag, to say the least, and who will win won’t be determined by how well the songs work in the context of their films.

To that end, there are at least three closing credits tunes nominated here, which isn’t the best way of integrating a song into your film. This year’s likely winner, “Glory”, was added to Selma very late on, and sadly looks like it’ll be that film’s lone consolation prize of the evening. At times the song buys to much into the idea of martyrdom, which, in the film, is held up as one of the significant grey areas Martin Luther King is dabbling in. The mention of Ferguson, too, pushes topicality a bit unnecessarily, in a film whose social significance is made clear without making that corollary so overtly. This category was practically won by #OscarsSoWhite, but I’m already sensing dismaying reluctance in that choice.

One film that has no need of an original closing credits tune is Beyond the Lights, which has by that point amassed a number of more emotionally resonant/provocative songs tied deeply into its narrative. Admittedly “Masterpiece” is a satire of crass sexualized pop music, so it may strain the Academy’s desire for good taste. But Diane Warren’s polite, swooning, slightly irksome “Grateful” comes immediately following Noni’s big life-affirming showstopper, “Blackbird”, in tribute to the same-named song by Nina Simone that opens the film. The film deserves all the extra attention it can get after being shooed out of theater unceremoniously, but it could’ve gotten better exposure.

Beyond the LightsOf course “Everything is Awesome!!!” is only technically a closing credits theme for The LEGO Movie. Bustling, ear-wormy, ironic and side-splittingly funny, it’s the most purely delightful song nominated this year, and it has a smart reason for existing in the film. When Tegan & Sara and Lonely Island take the stage on Sunday to perform it, expect to be overjoyed.

I can’t attest to how Glen Campbell’s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” works in the context of his film, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me, but it’s a warm, kind-hearted love song… ish. I admit, the lyrics have me turning over in my head whether it’s meant to be appreciative or condemning of whatever love story he’s telling, but its emotion doesn’t come across as cloying.

Nor does the emotion in “Lost Stars”, whose presence fulfills the same favor for Begin Again as “Grateful” did for Beyond the Lights. The only difference is that “Lost Stars” plays multiple times throughout Begin Again, each in a completely new, heartbreaking register, different from how it was heard before. It captures all the desires and woes of a popular music career, and it’s already pegged to be one of the most emotional moments of the night, presuming they don’t botch the song’s momentum like they did “Let It Go” last year.

Will Win: “Glory” from Selma
Should Win: “Lost Stars” from Begin Again

Original SongDream Oscar Ballot

  • “Like a Fool” from Begin Again
  • “Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home” from Begin Again
  • “Land Ho!” from Land Ho!
  • “Everything Is Awesome!!!” from The LEGO Movie
  • “Hatta Sport” from We Are the Best!

Runners-Up: “Lost Stars” and “A Step You Can’t Take Back” from Begin Again, “Masterpiece” from Beyond the Lights, “I Love You All” from Frank, “I’ll Get You What You Want” from Muppets Most Wanted

It’d be bordering excessive to have every song from Begin Again in here, and the one nominated this year isn’t the best, though it’s the most prevalent. “Like a Fool” was my #3 favorite movie music moment of 2014, just edging out the reconciliatory jam session of “Tell Me If You Wanna Go Home”. Both moments were out-scaled by “Hatta Sport” from We Are the Best!, an admittedly scattershot song whose energy and cobbled-together lyrics speak for the anarchy-for-beginners feeling of the film. If I weren’t restricting myself to just two Begin Again tunes, it might’ve squeezed out the aforementioned infectious LEGO Movie earworm. The only song whose presence here is almost solely based on it being a wonderful, film-encapsulating tune, the title track from Land Ho! is built on the retro bliss of Keegan Dewitt’s score and the desire for new horizons fueling this lovably dopey road trip.

What are your dream nominees, and who do you hope/think will win?

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  • In the score: we share the same should win. TGBH may win but I am predicting Theory of Everything. Two of my most personal favorite scores Under the Skin and Princess Kaguya weren’t nominated and that makes me sad.

    In the song, “Glory” from Selma is my favorite among the nominees and it will win. I would have loved to see “Hal” from Only Lovers Left Alive making the list. Also “I Love You All” from Frank which wasn’t eligible.

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