Oscar's Most Likely Music Scores 2010-2011
A few weeks ago, The Wrap writer David Poland disclosed the official list of 77 films that qualify to earn Oscar nominations for their music. As a reminder, Black Swan, The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right and True Grit were all disqualified.
Unlike the makeup, visual effects and original song categories, the academy does not release a shortlist of finalists for music, meaning you have to sort through the eligible 77 films yourself and use your better judgment, and I've done that, more or less (there's really no point in seriously looking into the possibility of something like The A-Team or Clash of the Titans making the cut).
Below I've listed 14 films whose scores I feel stand the best chance of earning nominations. It would be a surprise if the five recognized scores didn't come from this group. You can listen to selected pieces to the side, or you can click on the movie title hyperlink.
Alice in Wonderland / Danny Elfman
- This isn't one of Elfman's best works, but garnering nominations from venues like the the World Soundtrack Awards, the Grammys and, most recently, the Golden Globes, put this score very much in the running. Like his composition for 2005's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the album can be a little schizophrenic. Sometimes, it's pleasant. Other times, it can be a little wacky. Nevertheless, Elfman's esteemed reputation and the movie's popularity could see it end up in the final five.
The Ghost Writer / Alexandre Desplat
- 2010 should go down as being the year of Alexandre Desplat. He's got three compositions on this list, although The Ghost Writer is probably the least likely to make the cut. Still, Desplat manages to effectively capture the detective-like atmosphere of the drama, and some of his more delicate tracks (i.e. the selection to the right) help to elevate the score as a whole.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part I / Alexandre Desplat
- Of the six HP films that came prior to Deathly Hallows, only two managed to earn nominations for their scores (and both were by John Williams). For conductors Patrick Doyle and Nicholas Hooper, it was difficult for either of them to compete with a master orchestra leader like Williams. Desplat, however, managed to make his mark with some subtle, haunting tracks, showcasing why he's emerging as the best working film composer today.
How To Train Your Dragon / John Powell
- Powell's score for How To Train Your Dragon has been on the radar ever since the movie first started to surprise critics with its quality. The music nicely infuses a sort of Celtic melody into the majority of its tracks. While the composition fits well within the context of the film, there are times when it feels as if Powell is trying a little too hard to gauge audience emotions.
Inception / Hans Zimmer
- Many have placed Zimmer's score in the frontrunner's position, and it's not too hard to see why. The music is expertly crafted, occasionally bringing to mind tracks from another memorable score, Vangelis's Blade Runner. As he's done with films like The Dark Knight and The Da Vinci Code, Zimmer really knows how to get your adrenaline going. He smoothly transitions from a soft, quiet piece to something that seems to take on a chaotic life of its own.
The King's Speech / Alexandre Desplat
- Of all the choices he has for the year, The King's Speech is Desplat's best chance at earning his first Academy Award. It's a pretty simple score, and it works just fine because of that. Whereas lesser composers might try to pack too much into the tracks (and ultimately taint the music's easy-going style), Desplat lets the music play out natrually without utilizing any big, bombastic symphonies.
The Last Airbender / James Newton Howard
- It's a shame that in the M. Night Shyamalan-James Newton Howard partnership, only one of the men has been consistently good. Truthfully, ever since The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan has failed to prove himself to be more than just a one-hit wonder. Conversely, the scores for poorly-received films like Lady in the Water and The Happening were all noteworthy, but who wants to reward a bad film with a nomination? The Last Airbender is Shyamalan's worst reviewed film to date, yet Howard's music is no less impressive. In fact, he manages to compose some truly memorable tracks for an otherwise forgettable movie.
Let Me In / Michael Giacchino
- A few things work in Giacchino's favor here. He's coming off of a recent win for last year's Up, and there's no denying the quality of the music he created for the Let the Right One In remake. However, Let Me In barely made a dent at the box office, and it took relatively no time at all for it to disappear from American multiplexes. If there were no politics involved, and the best overall music was nominated every time, Giacchino's score would be a shoo-in. But that's not how the system works, and even though the music still has a shot at earning some well-deserved recognition, it isn't guaranteed anything.
Never Let Me Go / Rachel Portman
- Portman's been nominated in the past before for The Cider House Rules, Chocolat and Emma (which she won for). Her scores, even the ones I don't mind, have a tendency to be a little too bouncy. Ironically, the one composition that avoids this musical trademark has failed to garner any kind of recognition. Never Let Me Go is Portman's most mature, subdued score yet, but as was the case with Let Me In, the music may go unnoticed due to critical indifference.
The Next Three Days / Danny Elfman
- Of the 14 films on this list, The Next Three Days is probably the biggest dark horse. Critical reviews failed to suggest it was anything more than your average domestic drama, and Elfman's chances are much higher with the more popular Alice in Wonderland. But listen to the tracks I've included. Although the trailers for the film present it as a somewhat chaotic action thriller, the music is instead calm, reserved and moody. It's a pleasant surprise.
127 Hours / A.R. Rahman
- The last time Danny Boyle and A.R. Rahman teamed up, both men fared well at the Academy Awards. For the second time around, it's likely that the Oscar-winning composer will get nominated again. The music is much more atmospheric than Slumdog Millionaire, but it can still be pretty tense, particularly with a track like "Liberation." However, the buzz (for both the film and its score) has gone down considerably, and while an Oscar nod is still in the cards, a win will be a bit harder to pull off.
Robin Hood / Marc Streitenfeld
- The last time Streitenfeld had an eligible score up, he had composed the music for 2007's American Gangster. He didn't get the nomination then for a more popular, positively received film. The score for Robin Hood may actually be a better overall composition, but nobody seemed to really care for the movie, and that hurts its chances. Nonetheless, the Oscars occasionally do throw in some wild cards here for good scores that were attached to mediocre films (Defiance, The Good German, The Village), so it's got a legitimate shot.
The Social Network / Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
- Firstly, it's a bit of a surprise that the score is even eligible. After all, the academy has a tendency to immediately disqualify scores by multiple composers. But then again, few of those films have been as well-loved by critics and awards groups like The Social Network. Reznor and Ross perfectly capture the technological atmosphere, and they even make the idea of being nerd seem downright exhilarating. This isn't the kind of score that AMPAS voters usually go for, however. Yet, given The Hurt Locker's nomination in this category last year, it would be unwise to rule it out.
Tron: Legacy / Daft Punk
- If the point can be made that the music for The Social Network should be nominated because it fits so well within the context of the film, so, too, can that same argument be made in favor of Daft Punk's score for Tron: Legacy. More than any other entry on this list, this compilation of tracks is the most likely to get you revved up, particularly with melodies like "Recognizer" and "The Game Has Changed."
So given all this, my predictions for the five scores most likely to be nominated are:
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part I
- The King's Speech
- 127 Hours
- Robin Hood
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