A Look at the Film Scores Nominated for an Oscar

This year’s Academy Awards features a wild range of film scores that run the gamut in terms of sound and mood. From Hollywood heavy-hitters like John Williams to indie darlings such as Arcade Fire/Owen Pallett, film scores hit an all-time high in 2013 with many well-deserving scores being snubbed. Taking a look at this year’s nominees we see which scores are good enough to stand on their own and which will eventually fade into movie history.

The Book Thief – Music by John Williams

In typical John Williams’ fashion, the score for the most neglected The Book Thief, is a very whimsical, light-hearted and piano/harp-heavy faire. It’s not Williams’ strongest work alongside Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List but its a memorable period composition. Williams succeeds very airy, landscape tones that strike the heart but The Book Thief lacks that strong melodic touch that he’s known to inject. Williams winning the Oscar would strictly be based on a safety choice for his name recognition by the Academy.


Gravity – Music by Steven Price

The most intensified of all the scores on this year’s nominees, Steven Price’s score for Gravity is a pure roller coaster. There’s sadness, dispair, loneliness, and yet motifs of hope and triumph all merged into one of the most spine-tingling scores of the last decade. Price’s score is unique for its very electronic, heavy machine-like feel. Full of contradiction, Price is able to sonically capture the emptiness of space but with a weighty feel to it. It’s one of the few scores a listener will ever feel a true push on their chest – a true adrenaline maker. Given the incredible atmospheric touch and its near perfect compliment to the movie, Price’s score should win the award. However given the score’s very machine-electronic and “Big Hollywood” sound, it could have issues receiving the votes of more traditional (older) academy voters.


Her – Music by Owen Pallett & William Butler / Arcade Fire

The only one of the nominated scores NOT to be available commercially and the most indie sound of all, Her‘s incredible score reads like an instrumentation to the intro for a Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Arcade Fire album. The combo of Pallett and Butler created a score that is completely unlike anything heard before. Odd held rifts, low toned strings, with occasional electronic motifs thrown in, Her‘s score is a masterpiece onto itself. There is a clear sense that this is a score not only of the future but of love gained and lost. Pallet, Butler and Arcade Fire triumph with a score so vivid that its almost too beautiful to hear. Shades of isolation are covered in patterns of deep beauty. Imagine the feeling of talking to someone you love the most that you haven’t heard in decade, and that’s the captivating feeling you’ll get from this warm-hearted score. Her‘s score is the MOST DESERVING CHOICE and SHOULD be the winner, but given its very unique sound and unconventional instrumentation use, old-school Academy voters will unfortunately stray away.  Out of all the scores, Her has possibly the greatest single movement with the touching piece “We’re All Leaving” –  absolute shivers and heart-break.


Philomena – Music by Alexandre Desplat

A score so innocent and heart-warming from the same composer whose done the music for thrillers such as Zero Dark Thirty and Argo?! Believe it or not, Alexandre Desplat’s music for Philomena is probably his best by far, trumping music he’s done for the Harry Potter series and more mainstream blockbusters to his credit. Philomena‘s score is gentle and pure – nothing overtly over the top and along the lines of a more classic film touch. Desplat score has the strongest chance of winning due to its more honest, cinematic-sound but given its the lesser known of the films in the pack it’s possible voters may choose to neglect this amazing gem of film magic.


Saving Mr. Banks – Thomas Newman

It’s easy to hear why Thomas Newman’s score for Saving Mr. Banks would be nominated. A very Disneyfied, Golden Age-style score, Saving Mr. Banks‘ music is reminiscent of a more inspirational, creative time in movie-making. The genuine jubilance of the score is felt throughout, even at its most tender moments. Despite the film being shut out from a lot of categories, Saving Mr. Banks is the safest choice and most likely to win with its classic Hollywood-score sound.

BONUS: The Score that Should Have Been On…AND WOULD WIN

All is Lost – Music by Alex Ebert

Surprising to most, Alex Ebert’s (of Edward and the Magnetic Zeroes fame) score for the near-silent film All Is Lost was surprisingly kept off the ballot despite winning the best score at the Golden Globes.  Compared to the other nominees, Ebert’s score would easily stand toe-to-toe with Pallet’s score for Her and is one of the finest scores heard all year. Ebert’s mostly open-air and low toned composition added not only the emotional weight to a practically plot-light film, but stands out as one of the most emotional scores of the year.  Why it was snubbed could only be explained by its more simplistic nature and incredibly minimalist touch.  Feelings of the open sea are captured perfectly with Ebert’s use of perfectly-timed hums and harps.  A fitting shame for it exclusion from the nominees but a score that should not be missed by anyone nonetheless.

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