Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Who Will Win the Oscar for Best Score?

When the Oscar nominations were announced last month, the Best Score category featured a glaring omission that people still can’t wrap their hands around. In this post, I’ll talk about the significance of the scores that actually were nominated, the surprising snubs that deserved inclusion, and who I think will ultimately win on Oscar night. (Note: This article ran as a part of the LAMB Devours the Oscar series.)

Ludwig Göransson – Black Panther
I may catch some flak for this, but in all honestly, if you played the musical score for most any Marvel film released in the past 10 years, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what movie it was from. The standard bombast, the leading strings – my ears blend them all together. Ludwig Göransson’s score for Black Panther is a welcome and rare exception, as its unique arrangements stand on their own, while still fitting into the Marvel platform. The tribal drums, the African chants – these compositions feel like they were recorded right in Wakanda. I can’t say it’s one of the top five movie scores of the year (the film’s soundtrack, curated by Kendrick Lamar, is a different story), but it’s nice that it was recognized.

Terence Blanchard – BlacKkKlansman
The score for BlacKkKlansman marks Terence Blanchard’s first Oscar nomination, and, much like the Academy giving Spike Lee his first Oscar nomination for Best Director this year, I have some mixed thoughts about it. Terence Blanchard, like Spike Lee, should’ve been nominated many times by now. It’s a shame that it took the Academy this long to recognize them both, but I am absolutely thrilled by their nominations. Hopefully this is just the beginning of the Academy finally waking the hell up and to Blanchard and Lee’s respective talents. If I voted for the Oscars, Blanchard’s score would be a very close second.

Nicholas Britell – If Beale Street Could Talk
Forgive me in advance, because I’m about to launch into full-blown hyperbole. There are a few film scores every year that I adore, but there is usually only one that I absolutely fall in love with. I play these scores while I write, while I drive, and while I wonder around a city, appreciating everything before me. And that is certainly the case for Nicholas Britell’s score for If Beale Street Could Talk. These compositions are so fluid, poetic, and singular, that I can’t help but be in awe of them, day after day. The score plays against the film seamlessly, and the songs on their own are things of magic wonder. I’m so in love with this music, and seriously hope Britell takes home the Oscar for his work.

Alexandre Desplat – Isle of Dogs
Alexandre Desplat is no stranger to Oscar attention, having been nominated 10 times for his scores, and winning twice (for The Grand Budapest Hotel, and last year’s The Shape of Water). Much like the specific cinematography and production design of Wes Anderson’s films, Desplat’s music is now a staple of Anderson’s vision. I appreciate the Oscars continuing their love for Desplat, even though he likely won’t win this year.

Marc Shaiman – Mary Poppins Returns
Shaiman’s whimsical score for Mary Poppins Returns is the kind of film music the Oscars love to highlight. The fun arrangements and easy melodies make this score a pretty standard Disney offering. Marc Shaiman has seven Oscar nominations with zero wins so far (he should’ve won Best Song for “Blame Canada” from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut), and while his Mary Poppins Returns score wouldn’t get a nomination from me, I completely understand why the Academy recognized it.

I think the most interesting thing about the Best Score race this year isn’t the nominees themselves, but the scores that were omitted. You Were Never Really Here (Jonny Greenwood), Suspiria (Thom Yorke), and Mandy (Jóhann Jóhannsson) all deserved to make the cut, but I know their unique compositions are a little too outside the box for most Academy members. Similarly, the scores for Vox Lux (Scott Walker), Hereditary (Colin Stetson), Game Night (Cliff Martinez), Annihilation (Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow), and The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs (Carter Burwell) all had something great to offer outside of standard Oscar fare.

But the glaring omission here is Justin Hurwtiz’s fantastic score for First Man, which, a few months ago, seemed to be the front-runner for the Oscar, but eventually failed to even be nominated. Justin Hurwtiz won two Oscars for La La Land (for Best Score and Best Song – “City of Stars”), so maybe the Academy was interested in spreading the love a little? Or maybe it’s the Academy’s issue with First Man in general, as the film seemed poised to land far more nominations than it actually did (seriously, where was this movie’s nomination for Best Cinematography?). Who knows, but Hurwtiz’s omission this year was baffling to me. It seemed like such a worthy, foregone conclusion.

Who Will Win
If I voted for the Best Score nominations, the only one of the nominees that would’ve made my ballot is Nicholas Britell’s score for If Beale Street Could Talk, and thankfully, I think it has a fair shot at winning. Britell’s biggest competition is Terence Blanchard, and because I’m such a life-long fan of Blanchard’s work, I won’t be complaining if he wins. But noting all that, Britell’s score is something I will listen to and love for years to come.

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  1. I've only heard 4 of the 5 films scores that are nominated and I'm with you on First Man as I liked that score a lot. I would also have a honorable mention for Michel Legrand's score for The Other Side of the Wind. Sure, it sounds similar to the score he did for F for Fake but it stood out and made the film enjoyable. Plus, it was the last score he did as he passed away recently as I can say he at least went with a winner.

    Of the nominated scores, I can understand where you're coming from with the film scores from the films of MCU!!!! They all sound similar and it's true, you can't really tell some of them apart. What Ludwig Goransson did was make a score that stood out from the rest. It had a richness but also something different with its usage of African rhythms and arrangements as I would put that score above everything else from the MCU!!!!!

    The scores that Terence Blanchard and Alexandre Desplat I definitely enjoyed as Blanchard is someone that is constantly overlooked as I'm just glad he got nominated and about fucking time. Desplat's score for Isle of Dogs is one of my favorites though it doesn't top some of the other scores he's done.

    I haven't seen Mary Poppins Returns so I won't comment on that.

    I'm with you 100% on Nicolas Britell's score for If Beale Street Could Talk. I didn't expect to be wowed by it and it had pieces that are so intoxicating. I want him to win.

    1. Haha "MCU!!!!" I really think Goransson did something special with his Black Panther score, but, yeah, all told, I'm in for If Beale Street Could Talk. That would be so damn great if he won.

  2. The other day i was wondering about that question, who will win the award for best score. So I listened every one of them, and i came to the same conclusion: I really hope that Nicolas Britell takes the Oscar this sunday, at some points it did remind me at the music of Taxi Driver, don't know why (his work for Moonlight also impressed me), but if Terence Blanchard wins, I won't complain at all.

    1. My thoughts exactly! And I love your comparison of the scores for If Beale Street Could Talk and Taxi Driver. The horns are definitely there. Ah, what a damn fine score Beale Street is. Really hoping it wins on Sunday.

  3. I'm going to finally see Beale Street on Saturday and just based of what I've listened to online, I think it will win too. I do love Black Panther's score. Wakanda and Killmonger's themes being my favorite.

    1. I'll be curious to hear your thoughts on Beale Street! I liked it way more than I thought I would, but I understand that it isn't for everyone. The score really is like its own character.

  4. Yes, Beale Street has a beautiful score and I hope it wins. Suspiria, Mandy, and Hereditary missing out in everything, including original score, tells me the Academy's bias against horror is still alive. Despite Get Out's nominations last year.

    1. Yeah, they really don't go in for horror, unless it has crossover appeal like Get Out. Comedy, too. I really wish more genuinely hilarious movies and performances were nominated.

  5. Black Panther's score is so excellent it was actually the best score moment in Infinity War when Chadwick first showed up and the theme played. I love Beale's Street score and First Man's score but the biggest snub for me was Aquaman omission. It was like Blade Runner's score at times!

    1. I need to listen to the Aquaman score. I love the comparison to Blade Runner. Really interesting. I still can't believe First Man isn't nominated in this category.

  6. Wonderful post! I'm happy to know I'm not the only one who listens to movie scores while they work and drive. lol I totally agree about Black Panther - it definitely stands out as a score for superhero movies. The Ancestral Plane track always makes me so emotional in how it connects with T'Challa seeing his father again.

    If Beale Street Could Talk's score reminds me a lot of Max Richter's On the Nature of Daylight (from Shutter Island/Arrival). It's strangely heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time.

    The Landing is a quintessential 'space' score. It's like if someone said 'create a song that mixes NASA's quest to go to the moon and Neil traversing the over the craters', and you'd get what Justine created. lol

    For snubs, I'd also suggest James Newton Howard for Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald. The Harry Potter series has a lot of genuinely great scores, but this one was a mix of pure adventure for Newt and haunting elements of Grindelwald. I felt like both of them combined really stands out in the franchise.