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John Williams (#110 of 12)

Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions Original Score

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Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions: Original Score

The Weinstein Company

Oscar 2016 Winner Predictions: Original Score

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.

Summer of ’90 Presumed Innocent

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Summer of ’90: Presumed Innocent: Destroying the Destroyer

Warner Bros.

Summer of ’90: Presumed Innocent: Destroying the Destroyer

“That lady was bad news.” This is one of the many ominous phrases used to describe Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi), a deputy prosecutor whose brutal murder lies at center of Presumed Innocent. Detective Lipranzer (John Spencer) uses that specific expression more than once in reference to Carolyn, who was as widely known for her sexual exploits within the district attorney’s office as her crafty skills in the courtroom. Lipranzer is only a sideline character in the film, a friend and informant to Rusty Sabich (Harrison Ford), the prosecutor tasked with investigating Carolyn’s murder who quickly becomes the primary suspect. Nevertheless, Lipranzer’s summation of Carol is rife with implication and plays like a recurring melody in a symphony that resounds more profoundly with each expression.

On the surface, Presumed Innocent is a deft portrayal of the systemic corruption embedded in the legal system. Nearly every character manipulates, falsifies, or otherwise distorts as a means of staying one step ahead of the very system whose ethics and ideals they’re supposed to uphold, including and especially DA Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy). But pulsing through the film is an arguably darker current concerning sexual politics and power stemming from Carolyn’s beauty being regarded with fear and danger. Lipranzer’s comments are among many throughout the film that suggest a collective negative attitude toward Carolyn for being a woman who’d sleep with anyone to get to the top. Carolyn’s reputation is known even to Rusty’s own wife, Barbara (Bonnie Bedelia), who’s keenly aware of her husband’s previous affair with the victim. For the DA office’s men, whose preoccupations with Carolyn despite their own transgressions underline their hypocrisy, Carolyn was only “bad news” because she understood that the system was made to favor men and knew how to advance within it.

Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Original Score

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Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Original Score
Oscar 2014 Winner Predictions: Original Score

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.

Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Score

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Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Score
Oscar 2013 Winner Predictions: Score

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.

Oscar Prospects: Lincoln

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Oscar Prospects: Lincoln
Oscar Prospects: Lincoln

Though it boasts the strongest pedigree of all 2012 awards contenders, Lincoln doesn’t play like obvious Oscar bait while you’re watching it. Masterfully realized, the tame and talky saga spends most of its duration bucking the epic-biopic formula, unfolding with minimal spectacle and with characterization that’s as communal as it is subject-focused. From look to language, it’s no trophy-seeking construct, but a first-rate political drama made with consummate skill. So, how nice that it’s been so ardently embraced by critics, racking up—at this writing—more perfect-score reviews than any other Oscar candidate this year. That critical push is going to help voters take notice of all the un-showy aspects of Lincoln’s production, including Rick Carter’s Art Direction, Joanna Johnston’s Costume Design, and, yes, Steven Spielberg’s Direction. Say all you want about Argo and Life of Pi, but this is your Best Picture frontrunner, poised to be the film with the most nods come January 10. It looks to be a downright lock in at least nine categories, and a handful of other races seem well within its reach. Had it featured some CG cannons or, say, a fresh diddy to be sung by Sally Field, you’d likely be seeing it in damn-near every lineup.

Minority Report at 10

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<em>Minority Report</em> at 10
<em>Minority Report</em> at 10

Some of cinema’s most awesome sights are those that envision our future. Movies have routinely taken a look at where we’ll be decades, sometimes centuries, from now. And while these visions have captured our imaginations (from Metropolis’s towering skyscrapers and lumbering archways suspended thousands of feet over ground to Blade Runner’s perpetual rainfall over neon-lit urban decay), their accuracy has been sketchy. To be fair, not all of these movies necessarily tried to foster authentic versions of the future. Nevertheless, the near-deficiency of believable futuristic settings in the cinema speaks to the slippery slope of anticipating cultural, technological, and architectural components that are in constant flux. It’s with some bit of irony, then, that a movie about visualizing the future has produced a vision of society decades from now that continues to gain legitimacy, even as the work itself slips further into the past.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Original Score

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Original Score
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Original Score

At the risk of milking a joke whose teets have been sore for weeks, The Artist’s musical score will do just fine without Kim Novak’s vote. In the hierarchy of Oscar scandals, which have a way of surfacing every season (just ask THR subscribers), the ire of an old Hitchcock muse is meager compared to blockbuster-bashing emails and history’s tackiest FYC ads. So, rest easy, Ludovic Bource, for your rape charges won’t take you the way of Herman Cain, and few Academy members will be able to resist the sprightly notes subbed in for Jean Dujardin’s dialogue. If anything, The Artist’s perfectly legal Vertigo sampling will strengthen that skim-off-the-cream nostalgia, which has yet to relent in its ability to charm the Depends off Novak’s peers.

Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Score

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Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Score
Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Score

All this talk about Meryl Streep and very few are editorializing much on when the Academy will give John Williams an award just for being America’s most Kennedy Center Honor-ific film composer. He’s been trophied more often and more recently, but it’s still been a pretty long stretch since 1993. Both Williams and Steven Spielberg have been laying low since the latest Indiana Jones movie blew up in everyone’s face, but they’ve returned in tandem and it’s hard to see how the Academy’s music branch will be able to a) resist, and b) choose one over the other. So expect them to have their cake and eat it too, citing both the traditional Wagnerian triumphalism of War Horse (which, up until the last two weeks, seemed a frontrunner for double-digit nods) and the more varied, synth-assisted, Prokofiev-tinged themes from The Adventures of Tintin.

Oscar Prospects: War Horse

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Oscar Prospects: War Horse
Oscar Prospects: War Horse

Just as The Artist boasts a built-in underdog story perfectly primed to court Oscar (“It’s silent, it’s black and white, and it’s actually a lovable hit!”), War Horse, Steven Spielberg’s old-school insta-contender, has its own inherent, frontrunner-battling virtues to get behind, its title alone as apt as one could imagine for a top hopeful striving to stay ahead in the race. War Horse’s largely good critical ink and inevitably good box office have some pundits capitalizing on an attractive, would-be-winner scenario, attempting to add intrigue to a redundant precursor influx by declaring the equine epic the new Best Picture candidate to beat. The truth is, while The Descendants has certainly fallen behind as The Artist’s toughest competition, not much about War Horse’s chances has changed since the movie’s Christmas release. It is unsurprisingly grand, and unsurprisingly beloved in a not-quite-universal way, all of which still suggests it will place in the top category, but have to settle for a nomination. Humoring the notion of a War Horse victory is a bit too cynical and trend-driven, invoking last year’s King’s Speech win to hastily declare a complete death of the Academy/critics’ group alignment that flourished in the aughts.

The Conversations: Jaws

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The Conversations: Jaws
The Conversations: Jaws

Ed Howard: The sudden resolution at the end of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is one of those great, absurd movie moments that makes me really giddy, that never fails to put a grin on my face. It’s a (literally) explosive climax to a film that, despite its reputation as a nonstop fright-fest, isn’t liberal with these kinds of grand, cathartic gestures. I realize that’s maybe an odd thing to say about a movie that’s credited with being one of the very first summer blockbusters. In 1975, buoyed by a massive national marketing campaign and one of the earliest applications of the “wide release” distribution strategy, Jaws quickly achieved unprecedented commercial success, becoming the highest grossing film of all time. Although Jaws’ record was surpassed just two years later by George Lucas’ Star Wars, another harbinger of a changing Hollywood, the success of Spielberg’s film was a big factor in shifting movie distribution from slow release patterns and word-of-mouth hype to huge marketing pushes and national saturation.

In retrospect, Jaws the film (as opposed to its marketing) is an unlikely candidate for such an important place in movie history. It is a thrilling, scary, often darkly funny movie, a great and entertaining movie, but its sensational content aside, it doesn’t have a whole lot in common with what we now think of as summer blockbusters: grandiose effects spectacles with massive budgets, amped up as loud and fast as possible. In comparison, Jaws feels like a very classical film, a taut thriller where the first half is a succession of build-and-release suspense/horror sequences, and the second half is exclusively about three men in a boat, alternately bullshitting in the cabin and chasing a killer shark. The special effects are rough, the shark is often unconvincing, and indeed Spielberg and his crew were plagued with problems involving the mechanical sharks. The effects limitations led to what turned out to be a brilliant aesthetic as well as practical decision: the shark is often not shown, especially in the first half, where the briefest glimpses of a fin or a tooth-filled maw, coupled with indirect evidence of the beast’s viciousness and tremendous size, are sufficient to induce dizzying terror.

This is a long way from Transformers: technologically of course, but also in spirit. Although Jaws wound up ushering in an era where bloody, explosive spectacles dominate the summer moviegoing season, Spielberg’s film is clearly working on a much smaller scale. The film is rooted in Hollywood classicism, populated with idiosyncratic characters who have plenty of room to speak and interact in between the action/horror set pieces. About the closest the film comes to modern blockbuster territory is the improbable mayhem of the climax, but by that point a moment of excess after two hours of simmering tension and restraint feels more than earned. That climax can still make me giddy, over thirty-five years after the film debuted, because it’s a true catharsis, a product of an era before blockbuster filmmakers strove to make every moment seem cathartic and overpowering. Unlike successors that pummel viewers with nonstop “thrills” for two hours or more, Jaws modulates its violence and action with Hitchcockian suspense and quiet character moments, and as a result its bigger notes (like that irresistibly grin-inducing final showdown) hit that much harder.