2012 Oscar Nominations for Music

The Oscars are arguably the most derided award in film music. Why? Because it has the farthest reach and the biggest impact on the general public at large. Film music fans get all bent out of shape when a particular score is not nominated (me included) and will bitch and moan on message boards about how little the Oscars matter. In the great scheme of life, perhaps that is true. But their ability to shine the spotlight on film music for even a few minutes should be applauded, no matter the outcome. For those of us who care, we’ll find out the winners on February 24.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Thanks to a change in the rules earlier this year, the Music Branch has seemingly fixed the travesty of the last few years in which eligible songs were graded and only those with a total of 8.25 points or higher were nominated. After last year’s embarrassing result of two nominees, the rules were changed so that voters simply chose their top five choices, like in almost every other category. The result? Five nominees that I don’t necessarily agree with but that should embarrass no one.

Right off the bat, there’s a winner. “Before My Time,” the haunting ballad from the global warming documentary CHASING ICE, is performed by Scarlett Johansson (I didn’t even know she could sing!) with composer J. Ralph on the piano and superstar classical violinist Joshua Bell. Few people saw the film and it didn’t make the cut for Documentary Feature, so its odds at a win in this category are slight. But no song out of the five moves me more.

Walter Murphy, the disco king of “Fifth of Beethoven” from SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, has found steady work for years as one of the principal composers (along with Ron Jones) on FAMILY GUY. For FG creator Seth McFarlane’s feature debut, TED, Murphy composed a slick piece of big band froth, sung by Norah Jones. The song’s melody is woven throughout the score, giving it more impact throughout the film than some of the other choices on this list.

Mychael Danna makes a welcome entrance with the sweet “Pi’s Lullaby”. Sung in Indian, the exotic instrumentations are the perfect complement to the film’s colorful main title sequence. Danna utilizes the melody in the score as well, though seldom in its pure song form at the beginning.

James Bond songs have not fared well with the Academy. None of John Barry’s classic tunes were nominated and the last Bond song to cop a nomination was “For Your Eyes Only” back in 1982. That “Skyfall” received a nomination after a 30-year hiatus shows the power of the film’s worldwide box office and especially Adele. The song is a return to the classic Bond sound and while the lyrics aren’t anything special, it’s a strong contender.

LES MISÉRABLES made the transition from stage to screen with seemingly every note intact…and then some. To make things even longer, director Tom Hooper tried to fill in a small but unnoticed gap in the relationship between Jean Valjean and young Cosette. The ballad is a waste of time and adds nothing to the film. Yet, given that it’s the only song sung directly onscreen, it’s the probable winner.

Prediction: “Suddenly”
Choice: “Before My Time”

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

  • ANNA KARENINA—Dario Marianelli
  • ARGO—Alexandre Desplat
  • LIFE OF PI—Mychael Danna
  • LINCOLN—John Williams
  • SKYFALL—Thomas Newman

You can’t quibble with the five nominated composers this year. I’d perhaps switch some things around and substitute a different score for a particular composer, but this is a strong category, if in name only, with no real clear cut winner at this point.

Bravo to the Music Branch for recognizing Dario Marianelli’s essential contribution to ANNA KARENINA. The music works like a fourth character in the tragic love triangle and you can’t get the full impact of the music on CD. It’s a score that is integral to director Joe Wright’s unique theatrical vision of the story.

It’s good to see Alexandre Desplat back in the category after being shut out last year. Of the three big year-end releases of his (which included ZERO DARK THIRTY and RISE OF THE GUARDIANS), I think ARGO is the weakest. The score makes little impact in the film, outside of the emotional finale. That’s no fault of Desplat. The best cuts on the CD are nowhere to be found in the film, or at least I missed them. Still, ARGO had the biggest push going into the Oscars so the nomination is no surprise.

Mychael Danna becomes a rare double nominee his first time at bat. The music for LIFE OF PI is exotic and certainly adds to the fantastical tale, though I wanted a bit more consistency in the score overall. Voters love exoticism and since they like to give all the Best Picture nominees something, this is one of the few categories in which it stands a chance.

John Williams’s understated score for LINCOLN gave film music fans and audiences exactly what we expect from Civil War period pieces. It’s lovely work that underscores the tension and emotion of this talky film. Never discount Williams when he’s in the category. LINCOLN received the most nominations out of any film (12) and that usually signals the Best Picture winner. That’s not a given this year, but if it is, it just might sweep Williams in with his sixth win.

James Bond scores have fared even worse than the songs with the Academy. Only one score in Bond’s 50-year history has ever received a nomination—Marvin Hamlisch’s disco-flavored THE SPY WHO LOVED ME in 1977. That Thomas Newman has copped his 11th nomination for a Bond score, where so many others could not, is a testament not only to the film’s popularity but to the power of Newman’s name within the Music Branch. Newman is ridiculously overdue for an Oscar but I don’t think this is his year. Still, the film has the highest box office of any of the five nominees and that just might be enough to sway the general Academy voting membership.

Prediction: LIFE OF PI
Choice: ANNA KARENINA

What do you think? What are the highlights and snubs of this year’s music nominees?

4 comments

  1. From my perspective, there are two standout film score from the list of nominations: John Williams’ score for Lincoln and Thomas Newman’s score for Skyfall. Both are great scores. Although the list includes scores from five “A” list composers, these two scores are more than just underscores to the films.

  2. I haven’t heard any of the nominees, beside Skyfall, which I find a little mediocre.
    Looking over the past year, only 2 scores come to mind, that I would have nominated.

    The first one is John Carter by Michael Giacchino, a fantastic, colorful and lush composition. One of Giacchino’s best works and my personal favorite of the year. It sounds like an old classic, evoking a sense of adventure and excitement. Unfortunately the film bombed at the BO and therefor it’s score had been completely forgotten by the AMPAS.

    The other one would be The Hobbit, obviously. Though it’s nowhere near the same level as the Lord of the Rings, there lies a deep history underneath it’s surface and after numerous listens, I can see or hear more and more how well-thought-out it is. And it’s way more ambitious than Skyfall.

    Prediction: Anna Karenina
    Choice: Lincoln (JW is the man!)

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