The annual announcement of the Best Original Score nominations at the Academy Awards aren’t without controversy. Some films are unfairly overlooked, some are puzzling by their inclusion. With room for only five we’ll always be disappointed, but could I argue that there’s a weak link in this year’s nominations? Running the gamut from Zimmeresque bombast to brooding electronica, it’s a fine selection to which I’ve added an arbitrary numerical rating. I’ve also mentioned some scores which didn’t make the cut.
Retaining the services of the enormously talented A.R. Rahman from his previous film Slumdog Millionaire was a huge coup for Danny Boyle. In a film of daring ambition like 127 Hours, Rahman’s score shines; a downtempo affair which moves with precision and confidence. A great complement to Boyle’s direction, Rahman’s score is nearly flawless; hazy, magical and surprising. The only bum note is If I Rise, led by the vocals of Dido and a trying-very-hard children’s choir. Oh well. (8)
Standout track: Liberation in a Dream, which builds to a great climax after three and a half minutes trying a bit of everything. Much like myself.
From Hollywood veteran John Powell, who is something of a favourite among the producers of children’s animations; from Antz in 1998, he’s scored Chicken Run, The Road to El Dorado, Shrek, Robots, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Happy Feet, Kung Fu Panda, Bolt and more to come. I confess I haven’t seen Dragon – despite unreserved praise from adult fans, who seem to have forgotten that Dreamworks animation is the enemy. The score is terrific though: exciting, tense and fun, so it’s easy to see how this could have been nominated. The influence of folk music and sea shanties is plain to see – it’s even got bagpipes! Could be a surprise winner on the night. (8)
Standout track: Opener This is Berk takes a kitchen sink approach to scoring what I can only assume is a fantastic action scene. Worthy of John Williams.
For a composer so often dismissed for leaning on a winning formula, Hans Zimmer can go the distance for at least one frequent collaborator: Christopher Nolan. Building a theme for the Joker built around two notes and a Kraftwerk influence – sure. Incorporating a nod to a pivotal plot element from the latter half of Inception into the score, so subtly and cleverly that most people don’t notice? Check. A perfect complement to Nolan’s best blockbuster, Zimmer’s score is a proud testament to how much sheer thought the man can give to his work. My ideal winner, but we’ll see if Oscar feels the same. (9)
Standout track: Dream is Collapsing. Wendy Carlos synths give way to a mass assault of strings and Zimmer’s trademark brass section… and then it gets even better.
A fitting addition to Desplat’s catalogue of soundtracks, The King’s Speech is a reverent and melodic score which doesn’t take too many risks. Granted, the film is the kind of narrative which doesn’t require histrionics and flash-bang to make a point, and neither does Desplat’s score. Desplat is a fine composer who has been deservedly recognised in the past by the Golden Globes for his work, though I don’t think that the 27th will be his night. (6)
Do I think it’s odd that this score, despite borrowing heavily from Reznor and Ross’ Ghosts I-IV, received a nomination? Or am I just bitter that Black Swan missed out, despite featuring only a little more plagiarism than The Social Network? Perhaps the latter, but the score is far from the most exceptional thing about David Fincher’s film. Creating a mostly consisent atmosphere of paranoia and creeping dread, it’s a good aural interpretation of Fincher’s vision of a world spinning out of control. It’s the only film of the five to not have been nominated in the equivalent BAFTA category – that spot goes to Alice in Wonderland, somehow. (6)
Standout track: In Motion, a thumping tune which calls for only the best headphones.
The best of the rest: Black Swan, a lavish reinterpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. True Grit, a reliably brilliant piece of art from the Coen Brothers’ cohort Carter Burwell. Rachel Portman’s swooning score for Oscar also-ran Never Let Me Go. David Buckley and Harry Gregson-Williams’ vital contributions to The Town.