Thursday, December 17, 2015

Check Out the 112 Finalists on the Best Original Score Shortlist

Michael Fassbender in Steve Jobs
The short lists keep on coming. While yesterday saw me tackle a variety of categories, I am choosing to focus solely on one for the Best Original Score list. More than the other field, this category is probably too subjective and controversial for me on a year-to-year basis. While there's certain ones that give me problems (the definition of "original"), I do think that sometimes The Academy gets it right, as the music used to emphasize emotional or action sequences are important to the film. This year's shortlist features 112 scores, including the absence of one of this year's biggest contenders (The Revenant, by Ryuichi Sakamoto). The following is a list of every contender, followed by the composer in parenthesis. There will also be opinions following the list for the ones that stand out to me.

Adult Beginners (Marcelo Zarvos)
The Age of Adaline (Rob Simonsen)
Altered Minds (Edmund Choi)
Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (Mark Mothersbaugh)
Anomalisa (Carter Burwell)
Ant-Man (Christophe Beck)
Beasts of No Nation (Dan Romer)
The Big Short (Nicholas Britell)
Black Mass (Tom Holkenborg)
Bridge of Spies (Thomas Newman)
Brooklyn (Michael Brook)
Burnt (Rob Simonsen)
By the Sea (Gabriel Yared)
Carol (Carter Burwell)
Cartel Land (H. Scott Salinas and Jackson Greenberg)
Chi-Raq (Terence Blanchard)
Cinderella (Patrick Doyle)
Coming Home (Qigang Chen)
Concussion (James Newton Howard)
Creed (Ludwig Goransson)
The Danish Girl (Alexandre Desplat)
The Divergent Series: Insurgent (Joseph Trapanese)
Dukhtar (Peter Nashel)
The End of the Tour (Danny Elfman)
Everest (Dario Marianelli)
Ex Machina (Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow)
Far from the Madding Crowd (Craig Armstrong)
Fifty Shades of Grey (Danny Elfman)
5 Flights Up (David Newman)
Frame by Frame (Patrick Jonsson)
Freedom (James Lavino)
Furious Seven (Brian Tyler)
The Good Dinosaur (Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna)
Goosebumps (Danny Elfman)
Grandma (Joel P. West)
The Hateful Eight (Ennio Morricone)
He Named Me Malala (Thomas Newman)
Hot Pursuit (Christophe Beck)
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Christophe Beck)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (James Newton Howard)
The Hunting Ground (Miriam Cutler)
I Smile Back (Zack Ryan)
I'll See You in My Dreams (Keegan DeWitt)
In the Heart of the Sea (Roque Baños)
Inside Out (Michael Giacchino)
The Intern (Theodore Shapiro)
It Follows (Disasterpeace)
Jalam (Ouesppachan)
Jurassic World (Michael Giacchino)
Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet (Gabriel Yared)
Kingsman: The Secret Service (Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson)
Krampus (Douglas Pipes)
La Jaula de Oro (Jacobo Lieberman and Leonardo Heiblum)
The Lady in the Van (George Fenton)
The Last Witch Hunter (Steve Jablonsky)
Learning to Drive (Dhani Harrison and Paul Hicks)
Legend (Carter Burwell)
Little Accidents (Marcelo Zarvos)
The Longest Ride (Mark Isham)
Mad Max: Fury Road (Tom Holkenborg)
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Daniel Pemberton)
The Martian (Harry Gregson-Williams)
Max (Trevor Rabin)
Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (John Paesano)
Meru (J. Ralph)
Minions (Heitor Pereira)
Mr. Holmes (Carter Burwell)
Mistress America (Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips)
My All American (John Paesano)
Nachom-ia Kumpasar (Ronnie Monsorate)
99 Homes (Antony Partos and Matteo Zingales)
Our Brand Is Crisis (David Wingo)
Pan (John Powell)
Paper Towns (Son Lux)
Paranoid Girls (Javier del Santo)
Pawn Sacrifice (James Newton Howard)
The Peanuts Movie (Christophe Beck)
Pixels (Henry Jackman)
Poached (Mark Orton)
Pod (Giona Ostinelli)
Poltergeist (Marc Streitenfeld)
Racing Extinction (J. Ralph)
Room (Stephen Rennicks)
Salt Bridge (Marciano Telese)
San Andreas (Andrew Lockington)
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Thomas Newman)
Set Fire to the Stars (Gruff Rhys)
Shaun the Sheep Movie (Ilan Eshkeri)
Sicario (Jóhann Jóhannsson)
Southpaw (James Horner)
Spectre (Thomas Newman)
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water (John Debney)
Spotlight (Howard Shore)
Spy (Theodore Shapiro)
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (John Williams)
Steve Jobs (Daniel Pemberton)
Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans (Jim Copperthwaite)
Stonewall (Rob Simonsen)
Suffragette (Alexandre Desplat)
Taken 3 (Nathaniel Mechaly)
Ted 2 (Walter Murphy)
Testament of Youth (Max Richter)
The 33 (James Horner)
Tomorrowland (Michael Giacchino)
True Story (Marco Beltrami)
Trumbo (Theodore Shapiro)
Truth (Brian Tyler)
Victor Frankenstein (Craig Armstrong)
The Walk (Alan Silvestri)
The Water Diviner (David Hirschfelder)
Wolf Totem (James Horner)
Z for Zachariah (Heather McIntosh)

As mentioned earlier, there is one film that is missing that has been swooping up buzz in every other category: The Revenant. This is such bad luck for director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, whose film Birdman also had its score revoked. What is promised to be a very big and overwhelming score by the composer will not qualify. Despite this, most of the other major contenders to this point have qualified.

I would like to dedicate a brief paragraph to the films that I am mad to see on here. There's Jurassic World, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Spectre, and Peanuts. Why am I singling these films out? It's largely because I don't know that The Academy plays fair when choosing their "original score." Nominees. I do think that these scores can be good, but the fact that they all are in franchises with pre-existing music, the idea that they're original is already suspect. There are sequels with highly original music (Mad Max: Fury Road), but these films probably borrow the motifs of their predecessors. If you're not understanding why this is a problem, just know that scores in the past have been disqualified for using pre-existing music. These films include The Godfather and There Will Be Blood. Now, compare that to The Force Awakens and Spectre. You already know that these franchises have motifs that are crucial to a scene. We cannot see Spectre without hearing the melodies that Marvin Hamlisch wrote several decades ago. It can be excused with the claim that it's only a fragment of previously used materials, but I do believe that we should go for an all or nothing approach, of which has been annoying in the past few years - especially regarding Thomas Newman's work on Skyfall and Saving Mr. Banks.

Among the scores that I am surprised to see is Mad Max: Fury Road. As it stands, I remain skeptical that the film will do any main category business at The Oscars. I am relieved that it's gotten so much love everywhere else, but I maintain that it's too much of an action movie for The Academy. Still, that score has a perfect mixture of bombast and motifs that draw the action along. If anything, it seems like a plausible nominee considering that Gravity won in this category after using a loud and less defined score to advance its plot. 

Finally, a look at the films that I actually love the music for and expected to show up. While I am now in the minority, I do really like Steve Jobs and Daniel Pemberton's score is a nice balance of traditional score and "cutting edge" technological sounds. While I badmouthed Thomas Newman, I do find his work in Bridge of Spies to also be really well done and despite the absence of Steven Spielberg collaborator John Williams (who's on Star Wars this time around), I do think that they compliment each other nicely. Ex Machina and It Follows have great genre scores, though I don't think either have a shot at making the final cut. Inside Out is probably one of the few locks at this point, as it manages to capture something immediately iconic and emotional, much like Michael Giacchino's other iconic Pixar score for Up (it also helps that the film is doing very well in other fields). Spotlight, which is the film to beat for Best Picture, also has a nice and nuanced score, though ranks pretty low on my overall favorites on this list, partially because Howard Shore's work isn't as defined (or simply interesting) as the other selections.

Finally, a quick shout out to some scores that I would love to hear, but didn't in time for this piece. I've heard great things about Carol, and Carter Burwell's work has been considered the best of his impressive carer. As someone who really liked almost all of Alexandre Desplat's output last year, I am hoping that his work on The Danish Girl (or the other films for that matter) can compare to the genius that was either The Grand Budapest Hotel or The Imitation Game. Finally, I would really love it if Ennio Morricone finally won an Oscar. While I haven't seen The Hateful Eight, the prospect that he's doing all of the music is getting me excited that maybe we're getting something that is prime Morricone, and thus will be considered in the final round. 

What is your favorite score from this list? Should films with familiar motifs be disqualified? Anyone mad that The Revenant didn't make the cut?

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