Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars Predictions 2014: 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.



1. HER





I’m pretty sure that every year, the Academy googles John Williams, and whatever pops up, is nominated. Let’s be honest: No one even saw The Book Thief (except for me, last night, and I rather enjoyed it), let alone remembers its score. Not to say it isn’t a nice one; complementing its serious subject (Nazi Germany), it has somber tones, but also a kind of playfulness befitting its girlish lead, and a classical structure that boasts a lot of lovely piano solos. But at age 81, Williams is the second-most-nominated individual in Oscar history (just behind Walt Disney — but we’ll get to him) with 5 wins and now, 49 nominations. Williams doesn’t need another Oscar — not for this — and everyone knows it.

Previously nominated for five Oscars (including Argo and The King’s Speech), it could be Alexandre Desplat’s turn. Philomena marks his fourth collaboration with director Stephen Frears and its melodies are full of whimsy and nostalgia. While there’s an overall elegance to the sound, it doesn’t quite achieve a desired depth of feeling. Instead, it too easily matches the film’s sentimentality. But the Academy loves this type of sappy family film and this category offers its only actual shot at Oscar gold.

Saving Mr. Banks has a couple things going for it. 1) This is the only nomination for a film that many thought would have a much larger awards presence and 2) This is Thomas Newman’s twelfth nomination. Most recently, he scored Skyfall, but memorable scores include Finding Nemo, American Beauty and The Shawshank Redemption. That is to say: He’s no hack. Having composed for a variety of Disney films, Newman’s got that magical, colorful quality down pat, wonderfully complementing the Shermans’ original Oscar-winning score (and song: “Chim Chim Cheree”). If there was to be a spoiler come March 2, this would be it.

Imagine that light, infinite quality of fascinating wonder you hear at Spaceship Earth at EPCOT (c’mon, you know exactly what I’m talking about) and then, slowly, begin to add layers of ominous electronic tones. It’s an endless, dark sonant journey that matches  its characters’ emotional progression as they float through space. In Gravity, the musical score almost acts as an additional character in long, dialogue-free stretches, pushing the story, often forcefully, along. It’s a phenomenal score (and is it just me, or is there a little Hans Zimmer in there?), one that has already awarded its relatively unknown composer, Steven Price, the Critics Choice Award, and its looking like Gravity will be taking home a lot come Oscar night.

But still, there’s something about Her. It’s all of a piece: its design, direction, performances — its music. Arcade Fire’s William Butler and Owen Pallett’s crafted a score that sounds as minimal as the film looks, and it just kind of shimmers over everything, even when the electronic sounds get a bit rough. It’s futuristic analog pop, and it perfectly matches the overall feel of endlessness. If the Academy gets a little crazy (think The Social Network to a lesser degree), they could go for it, but they seem to be playing it a bit more traditionally this year.


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