OSCAR COUNTDOWN: Original Score and Original Song

We’ve only got three weeks left until Oscar night, so prepare for these to go by at a clip. We’re counting down to the awards with our predictions in each category, today covering the races of the music branch, Original Score and Original Song. These categories have certainly had their identity crises in the past, but this year that failure to be properly informed about what they are has become a central point of conversation. Best to look at the nominees one by one to figure out what’s likely to win, what probably should win, and maybe give Academy voters some pointers on how to better nominate films in the future.

GravityBest Original Score

  • John Williams, The Book Thief
  • Steven Price, Gravity
  • William Butler and Owen Pallett, Her
  • Alexandre Desplat, Philomena
  • Thomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks

Usually I’m quite well acquainted with the original score contenders, even when they’re as lazy best picture imitators as last year. This time there may be just as many Best Picture contenders in the nominees as last year, but they largely feel even less noteworthy than that bunch. While easily orchestrated and not particularly memorable, Anna Karenina, Argo and Skyfall had some spark to them. I can’t say the same for Philomena, with regular composer Alexandre Desplat reprising the same cute niceties as he’s done for Stephen Frears’ past work. It’s rather unappetizing and irritating work, but it indulges the film’s crowdpleasing elements and brings back a familiar composer… who’ll lose yet again.

PhilomenaAnother constant bridesmaid of the category, Thomas Newman, whose work on Saving Mr. Banks is arguably even lazier, if not quite as annoying. Apparently the Academy’s past discrimination against scores with adapted content, like Carter Burwell’s work on True Grit, doesn’t extend to classic cinema. Which isn’t to say Newman’s work is just a hollow riff on Mary Poppins, but the showboating Disney-ness of it hardly feels inspired, particularly as it sounds unmistakably like his work on Finding Nemo.

Last of the three holdover composers from last year is Academy regular John Williams, whose work seems to get nominated for anything remotely better than Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. I mean, don’t get me wrong. The man’s gifted, but nominating him for everything he does not only depletes his own currency (*cough* STREEEEEEEP! *cough*), but boxes out any emerging talent. I hadn’t even The Book Thief‘s score before tackling these nominees, and while it’s agreeable stuff, it’s not remotely as invigorating as his best work, or even some of his lesser work.

HerBy contrast Steven Price’s score for Gravity, which our staff was enamored with enough to honor it with Best Original Score, is rather exciting, transporting stuff. It’s bombastic and jarring when it needs to be, but also by turns delicate and soaring with its emotional beats. Even the thought of hearing the film’s climactic theme whenever it wins an award raises hairs on my neck. I’m confident that emotional spirit, far more empowering than any of its competition, will translate most clearly to Academy voters.

If I can imagine a spoiler in this category, it’s Her, which has been emerging as a surprisingly strong contender in the latter end of the season. While not much threat in the Best Picture race – its absence in the often fortifying acting races hurts its chances – it stands a significant chance in some below-the-line fields. I expect it to surprise in at least one race, which of course implies my predictions will probably be wrong on at least one count (and probably more). This could very well be it, its score not only eliciting strong emotions and endless tears, but integrating impressively into the diegesis of the film. For being the only score whose significance is overtly explained in the film, it may end up the surprise winner.

Predicted Winner: Gravity
Preferred Winner: Her
Write-In Vote: This Is Martin Bonner

FrozenBest Original Song

  • “Happy” from Despicable Me 2
  • “Let It Go” from Frozen
  • “The Moon Song” from Her
  • “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk of Freedom
  • *revoked* “Alone Yet Not Alone” from Alone Yet Not Alone

Well now Academy, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the song. The Original Song race, Academy. What happened is, former music branch chief Bruce Broughton had a thought of… well, he went a little funny in the head. Just a little funny, and he went and did a silly thing. He asked the members of the music branch… to attack your country to nominate a song nobody’s ever heard of.

Okay, all jokery aside, the Alone Yet Not Alone debacle has certainly debilitated the already publicly nonsensical Original Song category’s credibility. It’s made it so that whatever 6th place song probably should’ve made it now must go anonymous, and it’s left plenty jaded in its wake. Revoking its nomination was meant to appease us, but only ends up as the Academy saving face, not righting their wrong. While the rest of the nominees are certainly better, they’re not of the caliber we should usually hope for.

HerI hardly remember where in Despicable Me 2 “Happy” played, but I remember the energetic earworm nature of the song. It’s peppy enough, but also somewhat one-note, having little other infectious qualities other than the chorus. It’s still a fair share less irritating than “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, the Golden Globe winner I’ve feared season-long would win the Oscar on the sympathy earned from Nelson Mandela’s death. It doesn’t help, though, that the song has nothing to do with Mandela himself, coming across as little more than a romantic love jam.

Which leaves the last two songs, both of which are integrated reasonably well into their films’ narratives. “The Moon Song” is a sweet, lovely little faux-improvised melody, and it’s what immediately charmed people into seeing Her based on its use in the trailer. It’s be a nice nod if it wins, but the most likely winner is probably “Let It Go”. It’s the most emotionally empowering song of the group, it’s inspiring an endless array of YouTube covers, and the awards campaign is simply top-notch. This compilation of the song being sung in all languages is a truly inspired move on Disney’s part, unifying all nations under a song whose meaning is crucially universal.

Predicted Winner: “Let It Go” from FrozenPreferred Winner: “The Moon Song” from Her
Write-In Vote: “So You Know What It’s Like” from Short Term 12

What are you predicting for Best Original Score and Best Original Song? Join the conversation and let us know!

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