Best Original Score
Dario Marianelli, Anna Karenina
Alexandre Desplat, Argo
Mychael Danna, Life of Pi
John Williams, Lincoln
Thomas Newman, Skyfall
The Original Score category, and in fact the craft in general, is often less prone to recognizable melodic tunes as it is to gimmickry, a term I use here in the most respectful manner. Most wouldn’t consider it such a terrible thing to find a film’s musical rhythm and then keep on returning to that consistent beat. That does not mean returning to a specific musical theme, such as the bellowing and honestly irritating theme for superhero blockbuster The Avengers. The nominees here scarcely touch on their most common themes, most surprisingly in the case of the often boisterous John Williams, as constant a presence in this category as he is in any given year.
Perhaps Williams’ comparatively subtle work on Lincoln is what most cling to about it, though it doesn’t much help his chances at winning if we scarcely notice the music whilst watching. The score is a much more constant presence in the other films nominated, particularly in Best Picture frontrunner Argo. Though Alexandre Desplat worked on two films set in the middle east this year, his work on Zero Dark Thirty had an eerier and more pulsating quality to it, whilst his nominated score for Argo hits a different emotional chord. Rather than America’s obsessive losing battle against Al Qaeda, Argo isn’t about nations antagonizing one another. The music respects the middle eastern territory of Ben Affleck’s film, and furthermore goes for an optimistic mood climaxing in a resounding note of pure joy at the film’s climax. If the Academy deeply responds to the film, Desplat may at last take home his first award.
Dario Marianelli is at something of a disadvantage since his last nomination amounted to his first win, also at Joe Wright’s side with Atonement. As that film worked off the plucky sounds of a typewriter to transition into an entertainingly active score, Marianelli’s instruments find themselves occasionally worked into the diegesis of Anna Karenina‘s stage universe. Sexuality his externalized aptly whether it’s merely playful of deceitfully passionate, and if the Academy is feeling especially generous it may top Joe Wright’s under-nominated film with a clean sweep of its nominated categories.
The biggest surprise inclusion of this category was without a doubt Thomas Newman’s score for spy thriller Skyfall, though the film’s five nominations nonetheless granted it none above the line. That makes Newman’s expansive work on the James Bond franchise, neither overindulging on the series’ main theme or Adele Adkins’ title song, more of an appeasement offer to the fans. Aside all these past nominees of the category, it’ll likely be first time nominee Mychael Danna who takes the award for his ethereal, Indian chant heavy score for longtime collaborator Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. The nomination is well overdue, given undervalued work on The Ice Storm, Little Miss Sunshine, and most recently Moneyball. Perhaps the Academy is awarding him for his most obvious work in knowledge of how unlikely it is he’ll have another chance to win this category, given his past history.
Predicted Winner: Mychael Danna, Life of Pi
Preferred Winner: Alexandre Desplat, Argo
Write-In Vote: Alexandre Desplat, Zero Dark Thirty
“Before My Time” from Chasing Ice
“Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from Ted
“Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi
“Skyfall” from Skyfall
“Suddenly” from Les Miserables
We learned something gratifying about this race, and about the season in general, from the Golden Globe awards nearly a month ago. I predicted, as many others did, that Les Miserables‘ musical background would prey on sentimental viewers’ heartstrings, perhaps more than it deserved. As the season’s progressed, though, we’ve been seeing the film diminish gradually in influence. What seems to stick with this category, in opposition to Original Score, is the resistance of a memorable theme. “Suddenly” simply isn’t as addictive a tune as the ones originally composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg, though I do worry it’ll worm its way into future stage adaptations now.
There’s a temptation to side with “Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi, since it’s almost imperceptibly of a piece with the original score of the film. I’d argue there’s more favor going that way than for Les Miserables. Certainly the least likely to steal this award is “Before My Time” from Chasing Ice, possibly one of the loveliest tunes nominated, though the odds are against the documentary pulling an upset. If there’s an upset to the agreed favorite, I’d posit odds in the way of Seth MacFarlane’s jingly theme to Ted, “Everybody Needs a Best Friend”. It’s an unabashed crowdpleaser, but who are we even kidding? This award is going to Adele for passionate spy ballad “Skyfall”, and deservedly so.
Predicted and Preferred Winner: “Skyfall” from Skyfall
Write-In Vote: “The Enemy” from Wuthering Heights