This year’s crop of Original Score nominees hits all the markers that we’ve come to expect. And though none of the entries are fundamentally undeserving, their collective safeness succinctly outlines the dull uniformity for which the Academy is routinely and rightly criticized. Off the bat, we can rule out perennial nominees John Williams (The Book Thief) and Thomas Newman (Saving Mr. Banks). Each of their scores boasts impressive technical chops and lavish orchestration, but the films themselves are on the far fringe of the awards circuit and lack novelty to stand out. Joining them, though perhaps with slightly better odds, is Alexandre Desplat, whose musical tendencies and Oscar track record of late are beginning to resemble a post-Schindler’s List Williams, which would otherwise be a compliment outside the context of Williams’s two-decade-long victory drought. The simple thematic elegance Desplat brings to Philomena may leave an impression with some voters, but when we consider that the composer has done similar work for recent, higher profiles films like The King’s Speech, and hasn’t won, there’s no reason to expect his winless streak to end this year.
That leaves Gravity and Her. It’s worth noting here that, in the last decade, this category has produced an increasing number of winners relying on less traditional orchestral approaches. (Another strike against the previously mentioned nominees.) Thus, the more exotically charged (Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi), minimalist (Babel, Brokeback Mountain), or ambient (The Social Network) the score, the better its shot for victory. This would appear to benefit Owen Pallett and Arcade Fire member William Butler, whose subtle electronic soundscape for Spike Jonze’s Her is beautifully matched to the film’s visual and thematic dimensions. However, the key word in that description is “subtle,” a rare quality of Academy Award-winning films. By default, that makes Steven Price’s blaring work for Gravity the favorite. Doing his best Hans Zimmer impression, Price saddles his music with extra-baity elements (including a female voice soloist). That the score also doubles as the film’s surrogate sound effects only adds to its pedigree.
Will Win: Gravity
Could Win: Her
Should Win: Her