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Oscar Nominees 2014 – Original Score

January 16, 2014

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced their nominations for the 86th “Oscars”. Synchrotones offers its brief commentary of the 5 nominated scores.

Article by Pete Simons

AMPAS have announced the nominations for their 86th Academy Awards. The nominees in the Original Score category are:

“The Book Thief” (John Williams)
“Gravity” (Steve Price)
“Her” (William Butler, Owen Pallett)
“Philomena” (Alexandre Desplat)
“Saving Mr Banks” (Thomas Newman)

The Book Thief (John Williams) – This is a lovely, timeless score. Quintessential Williams. You can’t really go wrong with it; which is probably why it got nominated. It slots in nicely with “Angela’s Ashes”, “Seven Years in Tibet” and the like. Whilst Hollywood scoring in general is ever-changing to keep up with the latest musical trends, Williams seems to be a beacon of familiarity. He doesn’t change, he doesn’t follow trends. He doesn’t have to. “The Book Thief” thrives on nostalgia in more ways than one. Having said all that, it’s overly familiar and offers nothing new, let alone anything remotely groundbreaking. I can’t help but think that it got nominator solely because it’s written by John Williams and that if someone else had composed this exact score, it would not have been. This being the film’s only nomination, it’s clearly a nod to Williams and Williams alone. I’d think its chances of winning are slim.

Gravity (Steve Price) – My personal pick for winner. A stellar job by Steven Price turning sound design into a musical composition. Composing melodies is one thing; and a relatively easy thing. Once you have a melody, you can add chords and you can start to orchestrate it. There are rules and conventions around notes and harmonies. That doesn’t mean it’ll instantly be any good, but it does mean you have a way into the music. When working with non-harmonic sounds you haven’t got those rules. It’s incredibly hard to do anything interesting with them. And yet here Price manages to create a mesmerising soundscape that tells a story; and tells it very well. The clear musical (harmonious) elements are extremely gratifying. What might stand in the way of a win (other than “Her”) is the fact that voters might not realise the effort that Price has gone to. They might not realise this is actually a musical score. They may think it’s all very clever sound design and subsequently vote for it in the Sound Editing category (which probably deserves a win in its own right; but not when confused with Price’s score).

Her (William Butler, Owen Pallett) – I have not heard this one, but I’m very eager to. William Butler is from Arcade Fire, whom I love. Even without  having heard it, I imagine this score to be a strong contender. This cross-over, pop musicians coming into filmmusic, has been popular with the Academy for some time now; most notably when Trent Reznor won an Oscar for his work on “The Social Network”.

Philomena (Alexandre Desplat) – I have to admit that this one has completely slipped off my radar. The score is very well written, as you’d expect from Desplat, but its style and instrumentation doesn’t appeal to me. I won’t and can’t say anything negative about it; it simply isn’t my cup of tea. I think its chances of winning are slim, unless the Academy want to award it a ‘consolation’ price. It is nominated for Best Film, but is even less likely to win that category.

Saving Mr Banks (Thomas Newman) – Another nomination for Newman, but likely another miss. I love this score. It’s got some wonderful themes and playful orchestrations. One of my favorites from last year, but I personally don’t think it’s a winner. Lots of fans (and peers, I carefully assume) want Newman to have an Oscar. I want him to have one to. But… I’m sure many will agree that we want him to have an Oscar for “The Shawshank Redemption” or “Little Women”. A score should win (and be worthy) on its own merits, regardless of the composer. There shouldn’t be such a thing as “he is due one”. Thomas Newman absolutely deserves an Oscar…but maybe not for “Saving Mr Banks”.

In conclusion, I would expect it to be a race between “Gravity” and “Her”, with “Philomena” on their heels (though at a comfortable distance). Congratulations and good luck to all nominees!

(c) 2014 Synchrotones

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