Oscars 2014: Best Original Score contenders

The annual 86th Academy Awards ceremony rolls into LA this Sunday for a night of cinematic celebration, and whilst the winner of the coveted Best Picture Oscar hangs on everyone’s lips (will it be slave drama 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle or space thriller Gravity?), the nominees for Best Original Score must wait patiently on the sidelines. Things are changing, however; movie scores are quickly becoming a point of interest for many filmgoers. Whether it’s regular faces like Alexandre Desplat and John Williams or newbies like William Butler and Owen Pallett, these immensely talented individuals are most definitely shaping the face of film music. Here’s our look at the 2014 Best Original Score nominees.

Steven Price, Gravity
Let’s begin with the favourite and BAFTA winner, Steven Price’s rousing score for Gravity. Much like its stratospheric counterpart, the score for Alfonso Cuarón’s effects behemoth transposes itself from the minute to the grand scale and then back again. Just as Dr. Ryan Stone’s (Sandra Bullock) personal struggle is more than a subjective plot point; the music too takes a shift, making her survival one which we can all share. Building from an ethereal drone to an all-out rhythmical tribe song, Price’s score is all about the triumph of human spirit over adversity. Even if the choral chanting is a little too much for you, it’s hard not to be moved by the film’s against-all-odds approach.

Alexandre Desplat, Philomena
There’s a lot going on in French composer Alexandre Desplat’s score for Stephen Frears’ Philomena – not least the instrumentation. Although much of the music remains melodically and rhythmically consistent, Desplat layers a number of different sounds to captures the subtle shifts and tensions at play in Frears’ narrative. All of the music seems to be about velocity, whether it’s the actual movement of the characters through space or the emotional changes which overcome them. Desplat’s score is truly varied and, like the guilt-ridden Philomena (Judi Dench) herself, packs a greater punch than it at first lets on.

Thomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks
Last year’s BAFTA winner and this year’s Oscar nominee, Thomas Newman has moved a little out of his comfort zone in his score for Saving Mr. Banks. Normally faithful to the impressionistic, ethereal style, Newman has created something a little more mainstream, highlighting the spirit of play within the film. His strings add a heartfelt sincerity to the music and at times, the melodies are truly surprising. It would have been nice to see Newman sample some of the original Mary Poppins music in the score, as he did so successfully with blockbusting Bond #23 Skyfall but nevertheless, the music captures the film narrative and the magic of Mary Poppins.

John Williams, The Book Thief
Williams is no stranger to awards ceremonies and this is nominated for The Book Thief. This will be his 49th nomination for the academy awards. What is most successful about his score is the featured solo piano, which nods to previous wartime dramas including Roman Polanski’s The Pianist and even his very own contribution to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. At times, the music can feel a little too small scale for the subject matter but Williams does a good job of capturing the child protagonists at the heart of the narrative. Unlike Price’s Gravity score, Williams’ music moves from large scale to small scale and never aspires to become anything bigger.

William Butler & Owen Pallett, Her
William Butler and Owen Pallett of Arcade Fire fame have really hit on something with their score for Spike Jonze’s equally unique Her. Whilst the other pieces use traditional methods of scoring, Butler and Pallett use unconventional sounds to create an alternative musical style. Just as the film manipulates our conception of technology by revealing it to be surprisingly intimate, the score shows how surplus noises can be used to make something truly beautiful; an unconventional, yet incredibly human sound. Within its pathetically lumbering guitar lines and string drones we find a real piece of humanity. Butler and Pallett’s accompaniment doesn’t try to shatter any great truth or rouse us to overcome adversity. Nor should it. Instead, within this small score, we can find ourselves and the tiny triumphs of everyday life.

The 86th Academy Awards take place at Los Angeles’ Dolby Theatre this Sunday evening (2 March).

Hannah Lamarque