Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars 2011: Best Original Score

Last minute change (2/27/11, 3:56 pm EST):

My prediction  is that
The King’s Speech will be the winner.

Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners will be in orange.


1. The Social Network
Trent Reznor + Atticus Ross

2. 127 Hours
A.R. Rahman

3. The King’s Speech
Alexandre Desplat

4. Inception
Hans Zimmer

5. How to Train Your Dragon
John Powell

Missing: Black Swan (Clint Mansell)

A.R. Rahman is newly anointed Academy favorite with his perfectly scored Slumdog Millionaire, and he’s got a great shot at taking home another Oscar this year for the unique musical backdrop he dreamt up for 127 Hours. But “backdrop” isn’t the right word for Rahman’s work , as his music never takes a back seat to any film — and luckily in his case, that isn’t nearly a bad thing. You always know immediately when you’re watching a Rahman-scored work: his musicalization of emotion is so keen, it’s like having another character constantly present, as he weaves seamlessly in and out of each scene. Like the best of sidekicks, he  punches up the intensity, interjecting palpably hot tension one moment, and calming, cooling tones the next. His is one of our most unique and fascinating voices in film scoring, and he’s sure to take home the statue for his uncanny ability to take us into the depths of desperation and then soar above it all in 127 Hours.

But Rahman had better watch his back, because Alexandre Desplat’s work is haunting, gorgeous and befitting of its lush and royal subjects, and truly one of the most accomplished aspects of The King’s Speech. It has more than a decent shot of winning this thing — especially since this is Desplat’s fourth nomination and he hasn’t taken home a gold guy yet. Zimmer, as always, provides his usual strong (and a dark, pounding intensity with his epic) work in Inception, but while he’s been nominated numerous times, he’s only won once (The Lion King), and it doesn’t look like his work here will win him his second statue. Powell’s score for How to Train Your Dragon, while nice, is a bit too animated-feature-generic to garner much attention.

But what if — WHAT IF —  the dark horse, The Social Network, took home the Oscar? How utterly fabulous would that be? The score is mesmerizing (could I use any more italics?), least of all because it’s composed by Nine Inch Nails’s Trent Reznor (with Atticus Ross’s help). Let’s get this man to compose a musical (seriously), because his ability to underscore seemingly innocuous, even gently comforting motifs with dark, dark undercurrents of swiftly-building and frightening tension that is at first barely there, but then engulfs not only your ears but your entire being, perfectly parallels the the idea of connection and all its hidden depths of deception. The score  is brilliant. We all over-and-misuse that word, but in this case, I’m not. The Social Network‘s score  is astonishing in its accomplishment.

[The fact that Black Swan was determined ineligible because it wasn’t “original enough” is just plain petty. If Mansell hadn’t adapted  as much of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake as he did, the film would be the lesser for it — not nearly as tense, uncomfortable, overwhelming, crazy, beautiful, paranoid…. as it is, and as it should be. Shame on you, Academy. Shame.]


4 comments on “Oscars 2011: Best Original Score

  1. Aaron
    February 8, 2011

    I think I am sort of on the Academy’s side with the Black Swan call. This is a rather standard rule — recall Master and Commander being disqualified, and There Will Be Blood and The Aviator. (Most of Scorsese’s movies, actually.) I think it’s because the pieces that we really remember from the score are the famous ones — because we recognize them. So when a movie depends for its emotional impact on music not specifically written from the film, it makes sense to not give out an Oscar for that. They actually used to have a second category — Best Adaptation Score. So that when Fiddler on the Roof and Oliver! etc. came out they had a category to win in. But that, of course, was when the studios made ten or twelve movie musicals a year. Those days are sure over. While we’re on Adaptations of scores. The music for I Am Love, which is all by John Adams, is amazing, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the film. None of it is original.

    As for Rahman and his third Oscar, I don’t see it happening. I expect Desplat to take home his first as part of the juggernaut that will be The King’s Speech on the 27th. Not that he doesn’t deserve it. He’s been doing good work for years. Did you ever hear his score for Birth? I love it.


    • Julie
      February 8, 2011

      I know, I know, I understand your whole argument against Black Swan — but what other score could have had the same effect? I have this same journey with the Tonys (Mary Poppins, for example, had many brilliant new songs, but was disqualified for the same reason, even though the new songs were written by different folks from the original score and desrved recognition for their ability to seamlessly integrate their work). It’s just frustrating.

      You’re probably right about King’s Speech here, but I think it’s actually a closer call between it and 127 Hours than you may think.

      I haven’t heard/seen Birth OR I Am Love (yet), but will let you know what I think!


  2. Bah
    February 17, 2011

    HTTYD was definately not generic…
    it happened to be one of the most and moving scores in a long time. And just because it’s animated, it shouldn’t be thought of as “lower” so to speak.


    • Julie
      February 17, 2011

      Thanks for your comment. I didn’t mean to imply that it was generic because it was animated. But it does sound like it could fit a myriad of generic animated films (which we seem to have in abundance lately), and so that particular statement speaks more to the quality of those films. Powell’s score doesn’t transcend the predictability of the film, however. It alternately rouses and soars when it needs to, but it never surprises and it never really enthralls (this listener). Even now, listening to excerpts from each of the nominees, it still ranks at the bottom of my list, and it has nothing to do with animation and everything to do with inventiveness and engagement.


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This entry was posted on February 8, 2011 by in Award Predictions, Film Scores, Oscar-Nominated.



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