Typically, there’s at least one Oscar-nominated score that stands out as unique, with memorable flourishes that push it ahead as the frontrunner (think Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s tech-heavy Social Network compositions, and Dario Marianelli’s typewriter-clicky work for Atonement—two scores that sent their makers home with naked gold men). This year, though, there’s no real shortlisted soundtrack that lingers firmly in the ear, give or take the occasional segment that bolsters a pivotal scene. Marianelli is back in the ring for his score for Anna Karenina, another Joe Wright confection that employs the composer’s baroque talents. Matching Wright’s stagey conceit with an almost circus-like aural melodrama, Marianelli is responsible for a good chunk of the film’s intoxicating powers. But far more noteworthy are the lush costumes, sets, and lensing—arenas in which this remix of the Tolstoy classic are bound to fare better.
In addition to Marianelli, one can safely scratch off John Williams, a near-perennial Oscar fixture who, like Steven Spielberg, shows the utmost restraint in his work on Lincoln. The beautiful nuances of Williams’s feather-light blend of strings and piano keys, and his use of evocative, Americana sounds that in no way feel caricaturish, are reflective of just some of the things that make Lincoln great. But as the crippling opinion that the film is “boring” continues to go viral, Williams is certain to find himself among the casualties, having already entered the race an unlikely victor. Beside him in the loser’s circle will probably be the brilliant Thomas Newman, whose work on Skyfall may be rousing, but will lose originality points for lifting bits of classic Bond themes.
Thus, it looks like the showdown is between Alexandre Desplat’s pulse-pumping contribution to Argo, and Mychael Danna’s woodwind-tinged, amply exotic score for Life of Pi. For reasons we can’t quite place, the Academy seems to have it in for Desplat, who’s been nominated four times in only the last six years, and repeatedly gone home empty-handed. Our thought is, if he can’t ride on the coattails of trophy-hogging heavyweight The King’s Speech, he’s even less likely to find success with the game-changing underdog. So grab those ballots and pencil in a win for Danna, who boasts the bonus of having co-penned the nominated original song “Pi’s Lullaby.” Sure, it all sounds a bit like Gladiator and Slumdog Millionaire hopped aboard the Titanic, but, hey, Oscar loved the hell out of those scores too.
Will win: Life of Pi
Could win: Argo
Should win: Skyfall