Now in its 86th year, the academy has ceremoniously recognized the talents and skills the many actors, actresses, directors, musicians, engineers, designers, hair and makeup artists, and more. Though it is certainly exciting to see your favorite celebrities, I always tune in for the best original score nominees. This year’s nominees include John Williams, Thomas Newman, Alexandre Desplat, Steven Price, William Butler, and Owen Pallett. John Williams has been nominated over forty times with five wins, while Thomas Newman has been nominated eleven times with no wins. Alexandre Desplat, six times with no wins, and this is the first Academy Award nomination for Steven Price, William Butler, and Owen Pallet. Both John Williams and Steven Price were nominated for a 2014 Golden Globe for Best Original Score.
View previous years’ Academy Award nominated original scores:
2013 Academy Award Nominees for Best Film Score
2012 Academy Award Nominees for Best Film Score
2011 Academy Award Nominees for Best Film Score
1. Alexandre Desplat - Philomena
Desplat’s well-thought-out score is a joy to listen to. Prior to composing the score, Desplat studied the character, Philomena, and wrote the music around her. Philomena is a caring and kind person, so when writing a theme for her, he kept the melody light hearted and simple - nothing dramatic. Though Philomena encounters dark situations, which Desplat mimics in his music, you can hear a thread, or melodic line, of happiness and lightness woven into the score’s fabric.
2. John Williams - The Book Thief
Basically, since the start of the Academy Awards 86 years ago, with over forty Oscar nominations, that means John Williams has been nominated at least once every other year. Normally, I can pick out a John Williams score in just about any lineup, but his work for The Book Thief has me stumped. I would never have guessed he was the composer. I find it to be a rather curious score - despite its heavy orchestrations scored for piano and orchestra, it is light, vibrant, and full of color. With an inherent nimbleness, each track glides effortlessly through an array of emotions, leaving me to wonder how it will resolve. Not all scores tell a story, but the ones that do don’t tell a story nearly as captivating as this.
3. Steven Price - Gravity (WINNER)
A futuristic, electro-synth score composed by Steven Price, perfectly complements the sci-fi thriller, Gravity (which was also nominated for nine other Academy Awards: best picture, best actress in a leading role, best cinematography, best director, best film editing, best production design, best sound editing, best sound mixing, and best visual effects). I have yet to see the movie, but if the score reveals anything, it’s that I can expect moments of heart-pumping adrenaline surges followed by passages of much needed respite. The score has me sitting on the edge of my seat!
*Steven Price was awarded the Academy Award for best original score on March 2, 2014, for his score for Gravity.
4. Thomas Newman - Saving Mr. Banks
Ever since American Beauty, I have been a huge fan of Thomas Newman. His style of composition and his orchestrations have always connected with me, as if my emotions were putty in his hands. Like John Williams, I can almost always tell a Thomas Newman score upon hearing one. Similar to a signature, his music is unique to him. Yes, his various scores at times sound similar, but he does such a great job at conveying feeling through his music, it doesn’t affect the quality of the music or the film. Watch this YouTube video of Thomas Newman conducting an orchestra in the recording studio performing his score for Saving Mr. Banks.
5. William Butler and Owen Pallett - Her
Unlike composers John Williams and Thomas Newman, William Butler and Owen Pallett are best known for their roles in indie rock bands Arcade Fire and Final Fantasy, respectively. Karen Orzolek of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs also contributed to the album, and in doing so was nominated for the best original song, “The Moon Song.” Of the original film scores nominated for the 2014 Academy Award, I have not listened to the Her score in its entirety due to the fact that the film was released nearly two weeks into the month of January. By the tracks that I have heard, I can tell that Her will definitely be distinct compared to the other nominated scores; its indie rock roots are definitely, and appropriately, apparent.