2009 Academy Award Nominees

It’s been a long road of prognosticators and pontificating on the way to this year’s Oscar nominees, myself included. As the years pass, I become less and less interested in all the major categories (though I still talk about them endlessly throughout the course of the year). My fascination with the Oscars really remains (for obvious reasons to the readers of this blog) with the music categories, and specifically Best Original Score.

Film score fans like to dismiss the Academy Awards and, yes, I often disagree with their nominees and winner choices. But I’ll say it again, as I have on so many occasions. The Oscars are the only global event of that magnitude that honors film music. With a wide-reaching audience in the millions, no other award show or festival even comes close.

The Best Original Score category was my textbook for learning film music. I studied the scores of everyone from Max Steiner and Alfred Newman to Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams and beyond. So has 33 years of Oscar obsession given me any insight into this ever-debatable and always polarizing group? Let’s see.

Announcing this year’s music nominees for the 82nd Academy Awards:


  • “Almost There” from THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (Music and lyrics by Randy Newman)
  • “Down In New Orleans” from THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (Music and lyrics by Randy Newman)
  • “Loin de Paname” from PARIS 36 (Music by Reinhardt Wagner, lyrics by Frank Thomas)
  • “Take It All” from NINE (Music and lyrics by Maury Yeston)
  • “The Weary Kind” from CRAZY HEART (Music and lyrics by Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett)

To be nominated for Best Original Song, there are some very stringent, and bizarre, rules. Music Branch members must attend a Best Song “bakeoff” in which clips from all the nominated songs are shown. If the song is performed in the film, that’s the clip that’s shown. If it’s a song sung over the end credits, then you get to watch a bunch of names scroll by as you listen to the song. If you think that process doesn’t influence voters, consider this–most, if not every one, of this year’s nominated songs are performed within the film.

In my exhaustive (maybe exhausting is more like it) Film Score Monthly article on the 63 songs eligible for this year’s Oscar, one title that stuck out was the delightful Parisian waltz, “Loin de Paname,” from PARIS 36. As I wrote in the article, “This sweet piano and accordion waltz will have you dreaming of carefree days on the Left Bank.” I’m shocked and thrilled that it got nominated.

While far be it from me to deny Randy Newman any nominations, his songs for THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG were among his weakest. But I’m not surprised at their inclusion.

Another non-surprise is Marion Cotillard’s strip tease number, “Take It All,” from NINE. I studied with Maury Yeston when I was part of the BMI Music Theatre Workshop, and I’m a big fan of his music. But though it’s apparently well-filmed and performed by Cotillard, the song is incredibly weak. Still, it’s better than “Cinema Italiano,” which was also eligible.

Of course, none of these stand much of a chance next to Bingham and Burnett’s “The Weary Kind.” The song has taken nearly every critic award, plus the Golden Globe. I’m sure the song works well in the film and summarizes to a “T” the story of Jeff Bridges’ broken-down country singer. But I find the song, for lack of a better word, “weary.”


  • AVATAR, James Horner
  • FANTASTIC MR. FOX, Alexandre Desplat
  • THE HURT LOCKER, Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders
  • SHERLOCK HOLMES, Hans Zimmer
  • UP, Michael Giacchino

I can honestly say that this category shocked me when I read it online. It’s an odd category. Yet if you look at it objectively and from the history of the Academy, it begins to make “sense.”

AVATAR was pretty much a foregone conclusion. I’m no fan of the score and I hope the nomination is as far as it goes.

I’m always pleased to see Desplat get recognition, but FANTASTIC MR. FOX is a slight score (though thoroughly enjoyable). I would have preferred a nomination for THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON or COCO AVANT CHANEL.

While I found THE HURT LOCKER to be an interesting score, its music is mixed with the film’s sound elements and ignores any sort of traditional score as I would define it. It’s an odd choice for the Music Branch. I can’t help but think it’s riding the wave of the film’s inexplicable popularity.

It’s been nearly a decade since Hans Zimmer’s last nomination for GLADIATOR in 2000. Since then he has become the most successful and influential film composer on the planet, for better or worse. SHERLOCK HOLMES finds Zimmer going against the musical grain for this type of picture. The strong year-end box office performance certainly helped him get in the category.

Let’s just say if Giacchino doesn’t continue his run of awards for UP, I’m going to be mighty upset. With the number of awards he’s received already, he is firmly the front runner.

Missing from this list is Marvin Hamlisch’s delightful score for THE INFORMANT! (shame!), Abel Korzeniowski’s beautiful A SINGLE MAN, a better score by Desplat, and countless others that would have been worthier nominees. Still, this year’s Oscars nominees are what they are.

I’ve certainly seen worse.

  1. yes but we have certainly seen much better. As usual, I agree with all you have said. I think nominating The Hurt Locker for this category was just to balance the amount of nominiations against Avatar which the academy has no forcefully made into a “race”… if you ask me, both of them shouldve not been in this category… I was surprised that Marvin Hamlisch got snubbed and it wouldve been awesome to see Christopher Young in there for Drag me to Hell, but I guess we knew that was a long shot…

    1. Because of the new preferential voting that they’re instituting for Best Picture this year, it could conceivably go to a different film other than those two. I can’t imagine that a lot of people are going to give HURT LOCKER or even AVATAR the top slot on their ballots. But maybe I’m wrong. I still that it’s probably between one of those two films, neither of which I’m crazy about winning.

      Hamlisch’s snub is just wrong. Young’s day will come if he just gets some higher profile films. DRAG ME TO HELL didn’t stand a chance, no matter how good the score is.

      Ah well, so long as Giacchino wins, I’ll be happy. :)

  2. I haven’t seen “The Hurt Locker” (the Australian distributor, in all their wisdom, has decided to make us wait until 25th February to see it), but from what you and others have said, Jim, it’s obvious that the score only got nominated because of the film. Much like what happened with “Michael Clayton” last year (and maybe even “Babel” the year before that, but I’m absolutely NOT going there! :D ).

    In any event, I really can’t complain about any of the nominees. Sure, there are alternatives I would have nominated (especially the Hamlisch and Korzeniowski scores you’ve mentioned), but overall I’m happy. I still think that “Up” will win, but it’s rare for my preference to prevail, so it probably won’t. :-P

    1. I must say, and this isn’t to shoot you down, that I feel much differently about the HURT LOCKER score nomination than I did about MICHAEL CLAYTON. The HL score is effective in the film and interesting to listen to in a cerebral way (though it will be just noise to most non-film score people, I think). And even though I totally think it swept in on the wave of popularity for the film, I think it’s an oddly brave choice for the Music Branch, though I doubt that’s how they thought during the process.

      The MICHAEL CLAYTON nomination was I’m sure the same case of riding the coat tails of the again inexplicable support behind that film. But that score was simply boring and ineffective. At least I get what Beltrami and Sanders were trying to do with HL. I’m not sure what James Newton Howard was doing with MC.

      As for BABEL (yes, I’ll go there! LOL), I think Santaolalla’s score isn’t bad. I doubt it won for his music though. Since the film had so many pre-existing songs and the highly effective piano tune by Ryuichi Sakamoto at the end, I doubt most Oscar voters listened to the “For Your Consideration” promo CD. But I think Santaolalla’s guitar-driven, Middle Eastern-flavored score works well to set the mood in the film. A winner? Probably not. My choice would have been Thomas Newman for THE GOOD GERMAN or Javier Navarrete’s PAN’S LABYRINTH. I think the reason it won is because voters tend to feel they have to award something to the five Best Picture nominees. I wonder if they’ll continue that practice with 10 nominees? Oy!

      It’s rare for my preference to prevail as well, but I’m hoping that year, for both our sakes, the Oscar gods cut us some slack. :)

  3. “I think the reason it won is because voters tend to feel they have to award something to the five Best Picture nominees.”– very very true. always about the politics- but yet last year Frost/Nixon went home completely empy handed- that damn slumdog millionair train just ran everything over.

    1. I thought SLUMDOG was a well-directed, well-edited film (2 Oscars it definitely deserved) but not much more than that. I didn’t think it was bad, but I also didn’t find it particularly fresh. I did think that with FROST/NIXON, Ron Howard took a mediocre stage play and greatly improved upon it. But nobody cared about the subject matter. Ah well.

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