That John Williams is nominated this year presumably for re-interpolating his striking themes from the original Star Wars franchise, and not so much whatever new material he brought to the table, only stresses the extent to which respect for longstanding reputations is running through the minds of the music branch. (Oh please, fanboys. If you can correctly identify and hum from memory one single leitmotif that doesn’t belong to Han Solo, Princess Leia, or Chewy, we’ll willingly clear our throats on Adam Driver’s lightsaber.) In fact, the only score that doesn’t fit within this year’s pattern of rewarding longevity is young buck Jóhann Jóhannsson’s work on Sicario, a brutal and audacious series of industrial horror cues that couldn’t be further from the lilting delicacies of his The Theory of Everything score, and the nomination for which in part excuses the Academy’s predictable cold shoulder toward Disasterpiece’s monstrously effective compositions for It Follows.
Overdue as Williams might currently be (his win-to-nomination ratio is only 1:10, and he’s been cooling his heels as a bridesmaid since winning in 1993 for Schindler’s List), it would take a threat from yet another Death Star to force a plurality into giving the Oscar to a score so clearly driven by preexisting elements. Old-school workhorses Thomas Newman and Carter Burwell both stand a better shot, the former for moving one nod closer to tying Alex North’s record for most nominations (14) without a competitive win via Bridge of Spies, and the latter for suffering the embarrassment of one of this category’s all-time tardiest first invitations. Burwell, the composer behind Fargo, Gods and Monsters, Being John Malkovich, No Country for Old Men, and Where the Wild Things Are, finally managed to thaw the hearts of the notoriously insular music branch with his characteristically depressive lamentations throughout the Christmas downer Carol, but this particular nomination is likely to stand as a promise of greater affairs to come.
Newman, on the other hand, is getting the sort of “he’s still waiting” perennial nominations that ought to be extra conspicuous in this year of our lord Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, he has the rotten luck of standing on the wrong side of the bridge opposite Ennio Morricone, who never earned a nomination during the period that made him a legend to Sergio Leone-worshipping IMDb voters, but from the late 1970s on lost to some of the finest interlopers to crash the world of film scoring (Giorgio Moroder for Midnight Express, Herbie Hancock for ’Round Midnight, and Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Byrne for The Last Emperor). Morricone’s score for The Hateful Eight, composed almost entirely in C minor, may not sound remotely reminiscent of the spaghetti westerns that wouldn’t be respected as classics were it not for his contributions, but being hitched up to Quentin Tarantino’s nostalgia-flattering métier should override such minor technicalities.
Will Win: Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
Could Win: Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sicario
Should Win: Jóhann Jóhannsson, Sicario