Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars 2013: Best Original Score

Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

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1. LINCOLN

2. LIFE OF PI

3. ARGO

4. SKYFALL

5. ANNA KARENINA


Missing
: Beasts of the Southern Wild

There aren’t really an obvious trends for winners of the Best Original Score category. Sometimes the winner is contemporary/untraditional (The Social Network), world music (Slumdog Millionaire), period (Shakespeare in Love), animated (Pocahontas), sci-fi/fantasy (Lord of the Rings)… really, it’s all over the board.

Dario Marianelli has scored four of Joe Wright’s five films, winning an Oscar for his work on Atonement. That looks to remain his only win as his bombastic orchestrations here are as overly-stylized — if as pretty and polished — as Anna Karenina is herself.

This year’s contemporary selection is represented by Thomas Newman for Skyfall. Because so much of the film is driven by action (and therefore by lively music, rather than dialogue), Newman’s work is ubiquitous. The result is a high-energy dramatic score, driven less by horns and techno (though it’s got those too) than by intense percussion. Newman has been nominated ten times before for such well-crafted scores as Finding Nemo, American Beauty, Shawshank Redemption, which positions him as the perfect spoiler, it’s unlikely this’ll be the film that earns him that little gold guy. 

The least melodic of the nominees, Alexandre Desplat’s work on Argo has all the exotic flairs you’ve come to expect from a score aiming for Middle Eastern authenticity (including what sounds to be a wailing woman). Despite these predictabilities, Desplat’s use of intense percussion to quickly an compellingly build tension is surprising in the best way. But it won’t win him his first Oscar (I actually liked his nominated score for The King’s Speech, believe it or not). 

It’s Canadian composer Mychael Danna’s first time at the party, and it looks like he’s gonna be the star. What is it with Ang Lee films? I had the same experience with Life of Pi as I had with Brokeback Mountain: immediately cognizant of the score and its encapsulation of the emotional and atmospheric tone of the narrative, I would slowly get lost in the story, only to hazily realize, with emotional shifts, how well the aural complimented the visual. That’s Danna’s score for me: a drifting dreamscape of flutes and meditative vocals that amidst a never-ending horizon of sea and sun, gently crafts a whimsical kind of intimacy. It really is delightful.

Despite my love of Pi (get it, pi? pie?? ok, sorry), I’m pulling for Lincoln. I don’t know who’s going to score all the films ever made when John Williams’s no longer around — this is his 48th nomination for crying out loud — but  I do know Spielberg’s gonna be super-sadpants. After last year‘s collaborative debacle (War Horse) and underrated playfulness (Tintin), I’m happy to report John and Stevie are together again in top form. I love everything about this score (ok, so I complained about it a tiny bit in my review, but that’s all but forgotten now). It has all the orchestral grandeur you’d expect and want with an epic period piece, but it’s also peppered with a ton of Americana: folksy bits of fiddle and banjo, jaunty Civil War-era jigs, and yes, even Lincoln’s actual campaign song! (Gotta love that historical authenticity): movingly, “Battle Cry of Freedom” accompanies the passage of the 13th amendment in the film. The score is lyrical and heartfelt in the best kind of way (matching Steve’s surprisingly reigned-in use of sentiment), and if the Academy loves it as much as I do, there’s a good chance they’ll hand over a sixth Oscar to Mr. Williams.

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