Editor’s Note: Oscar countdown reaches Original score where one of the nominees has more nominations than Oscar categories….
Bridge of Spies (Thomas Newman)
Carol (Carter Burwell)
The Hateful Eight (Ennio Morricone)
Sicario (Jóhann Jóhannson)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (John Williams)
In a perfect world, Thomas Newman would win an Oscar this year just for being on nomination #13 and it being time to stop the wait. Except, of all the fine work he’s done over the year his work on Bridge of Spies easily ranks as lower Newman. It’s a shame, really. Newman’s music for Spielberg’s Cold War themed film is never a liability, but it is also never quite as memorable as one would hope. Always serviceable but little else, and in a group of nominees with strong calling cards, that lack of memorability becomes an issue.
Sicario’s nomination was the true outlier, albeit a well-deserved one. The excellent Sicario depends on creating dread and unease and typical of Jóhannson’s work (think Prisoners), the music here unsettles mixing so beautifully with the overall sound-design that you’re never quite certain who to hold accountable for your nervousness. It’s why the nomination is such a surprise considering how little it draws attention to itself.
John Williams’ celebrating nomination #50 is working off the well-known Star Wars theme here, and considering how odd the category tends to be with what music is ineligible or derivative the question of how this is not derivative is a whole other issue. It’s hard to argue against Williams’ work as a composer, but the world was never really hurting for another John Williams’ citation, were we?
It’s hard not to feel like these three are all runners up to the two more likely winners – Carol vs The Hateful Eight.
Morricone’s Hateful Eight score is a play on his iconic western scores (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon A Time in the West) and Burwell’s Carol score seems a play on another literary, lesbian drama The Hours. They’re both fine works, and Morricone seems the front runner heading in although it’s a race that doesn’t seem as clear-cut.
In 2007 Morricone became only the second musician to win an Honorary Oscar (in its 80+ year history), voters surely must have felt his Oscar vying days are over. Had that Honorary Oscar not happened he’d seem like an easy win but I’m less certain. He has won both the Golden Globe and BAFTA award but surely there will be a surge to give some love to Carol in at least one category? And why not for its music?
Outside the actual nominees, the only other music from 2015 begging for a nomination was one not under consideration. Considering the huge haul that The Revenant managed it’s a bit sad that its atmospheric score was judged inadmissible by the Academy’s often confusing rules in this category. According to Academy rules the score was too derivative to be judged as eligible. In its absence, it looks like a battle between Tarantino’s West Coast and Haynes’ East Coast.