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Best Original Score: Who will win (and who should!)

By Kathryn Kalinak


This year’s slate of contenders includes established pros (John Williams, Thomas Newman, Alexandre Desplat) along with some newcomers (William Butler and Owen Pallett, Steven Price). This used to be a category where you had to pay your dues, but no longer. The last three winners had never been nominated before. So the real surprise winner in this category would be Williams.

William Butler and Owen Pallett: Her

Butler and Pallett already have a pocketful of awards and this is just the kind of “outsider” score (Butler and Pallett’s first nomination) that Academy voters love: remember Reznor and Ross winning for The Social Network? A win for Butler and Pallett makes the Academy seem hip and edgy and cool, not unimportant to an aging votership. Gravity is the favorite to win here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the statuette goes to Her. Its use of acoustic instruments (that piano!) brings coziness to the sterile interiors and even the electronic instruments radiate warmth. The score is crucial in helping us to understand the characters in the film and feel for them. This wouldn’t be the same film without the score.

Alexandre Desplat: Philomena

Desplat has done some remarkable work in the last few years (Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, The King’s Speech, The Queen, Harry Potter, Fantastic Mr. Fox—a personal favorite) and he’s the go-to composer for films about England and now Ireland. But he’s perennially overlooked by Academy voters (he’s lost five times in the last seven years and for some amazing work—come on, Academy)! I don’t think this is his year. Philomena doesn’t have a high enough profile in the Oscar race. I would LOVE to be wrong about this. Desplat deserves an Oscar for something and why not for Philomena—it’s a heartfelt film with an equally heartfelt score.

Thomas Newman: Saving Mr. Banks

Newman has twelve nominations and no wins but I don’t think this year is going to change that. Saving Mr. Banks was almost completely overlooked by the Academy (this is its only nomination) and Newman’s style of big symphonic scoring hasn’t found favor in recent years with Academy voters. (See John Williams below).

Steven Price: Gravity
*clip from film includes “Debris” from the soundtrack

Gravity is the front runner here. The trailer’s tag line reads “At 372 miles above the earth, there is nothing to carry sound.” Except the soundtrack…which is filled with the score. Big, noticeable, dare I say it—intrusive, this is the kind of score you can’t fail to notice…even if you try. John Williams meets Hans Zimmer.

John Williams: The Book Thief

This is Williams’ forty-ninth nomination—but The Book Thief doesn’t have the visibility of other films in this category and Academy voters of late have failed to embrace the kind of big symphonic scores, like this one, that routinely won Oscars back in the twentieth century. Lush, melodic, memorable—vintage Williams. Like Newman for Saving Mr. Banks, Williams would be an upset.

Will win: Steven Price for Gravity

Should win: William Butler and Owen Pallett for Her

Kathryn Kalinak is Professor of English and Film Studies at Rhode Island College. Her extensive writing on film music includes numerous articles as well as the books Settling the Score: Music in the Classical Hollywood Film and How the West was Sung: Music in the Westerns of John Ford. She is author of Film Music: A Very Short Introduction.

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  1. [...] approaching next week, and Oxford University Press includes a round-up by author Kathryn Kalinak on who should win Best Original Score, including embedded songs to listen [...]

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