This year marks a special anniversary for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, as they celebrate their 85th year with their annual awards ceremony on Sunday, February 24. Oscars will be awarded in 24 categories, and after downplaying the role of music in films last year, producers have promised a renewed interest in music, song, and musicals. The telecast will include a tribute to musicals of the past decade, featuring Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Russell Crowe. Jennifer Hudson, Adele, Barbara Streisand, and Catherine Zeta-Jones have also been tapped to appear. The show also will reportedly close out with a big production number that will include the show’s host, Seth MacFarlane, paired with Broadway’s Kristin Chenoweth.
Despite all that, the chances of a full symphonic treatment of the Best Original Score nominees are still slim, so Texas Public Radio’s Nathan Cone and John Clare sat down recently to listen to all five nominees and offer their take on the chances of each. Listen to their conversation in the linked audio above, and hear musical examples through the Spotify playlist at the bottom of the page.
Dario Marianelli’s score for “Anna Karenina” makes use of old Russian folksongs, cleverly arranged in very dance-like rhythms reminiscent of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Jazz Suites.” It’s both John and Nathan’s favorite of this year’s scores to simply sit back and listen to, full of rich flavor, “the best of Shostakovich or Prokofiev,” as John says, “without being too imitative. It captures that period [of the late 19th century] and at the same time, our own 21st century sensibilities.”
For “Argo,” chameleon composer Alexandre Desplat draws heavily on traditional Middle Eastern sounds, from drones and percussion to the unique timbre of the stringed oud. There’s also a stirring American melody that is nicely capped by Middle Eastern flute, combining the two sounds. But the film “Argo” also features a lot of pop and rock music of the 1970s. Will the heavy use of source music in the film overpower Desplat’s chances at finally earning Oscar gold?
THE LIFE OF PI
“There’s some [awards] momentum behind this score,” Nathan says, pointing out Mychael Danna’s Golden Globes win for “The Life of Pi,” a kind of magical, mystical East-Meets-West score full of sitars, gamelans, sarangi, and an orchestra augmented with mandolin and guitar. The soundtrack album also includes the beautiful “Pi’s Lullaby,” nominated for Best Original Song.
Last year, John Williams channeled Ralph Vaughan-Williams for his Oscar-nominated pastoral score for the film “War Horse.” This year, it’s Aaron Copland that gets the nod, as echoes of the “Lincoln Portrait” and other American folk-inspired orchestral works come to mind when hearing the score, a very “emotional” score, as John Clare says. It’s typically beautiful John Williams music, but is it enough of a standout to win? John Clare says yes, although Nathan isn’t so sure.
A good action score that incorporates a few typically James Bond-ian chords, John Clare is a big fan of Thomas Newman’s “Skyfall” soundtrack. Nathan Cone agrees that it’s good, but thinks Thomas Newman’s earlier film and television work for “American Beauty” and “Six Feet Under” was better, with their quirky use of bells and percussion. That sound would be wholly inappropriate for a Bond film—but still. If we were ranking these five very good nominees, “Skyfall” would probably come in fifth.
John Clare’s prediction: John Williams, for “Lincoln.”
Nathan Cone’s prediction: Mychael Danna, for “The Life of Pi.”