The LAMB Devours the Oscar 2020 – Best Original Score

by Rob · January 23, 2020 · LAMB Devours the Oscars, Periodic Features · 1 Comment

Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:

Today, Meagan Hyland of is here to look at the nominees for Best Original Score.

Thanks Megan!

BEST Original Score

Settling the Best Original Score

Fun fact: You don’t need six degrees of separation to connect three of this year’s nominees. Two are cousins and the other is a family friend who gave one of them their start in the industry by handing them one of their first projects in Hollywood by letting them work on one of the biggest franchises of all time. Curious that.

The nominees this year are:

Alexandre Desplat, ‘Little Women’

Hildur Gudnadottir, ‘Joker’

Randy Newman, ‘Marriage Story’

Thomas Newman, ‘1917’

John Williams, ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

John Williams, ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Ranking #5

No introduction needed. The most nominated academy member after Walt Disney, John Williams is a behemoth, a legend and at 87 still going strong; and yet simply put if this was “Best Adapted Score” Star Wars TROS would be in with a shot. However, the category is for original score so it’s a bit unfair to have a suite of music that heavily relies on work from forty years ago from the same franchise nominated while Daniel Lopatin’s frantic adrenaline ride for the Safdie Brother’s film ‘Uncut Gems’ would have made a much more worthy nom. #JusticeForSafdies

Thomas Newman, ‘1917’ Ranking #4

I was not fully aware of who Thomas Newman was until I began to research this article, pardon my ignorance I am now fully aware. If you like me didn’t know the name right away, he is behind some of the most iconic pieces of cinema music and yet has never won for his efforts. American Beauty, Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and arguably my favourite the 1994 Little Women (Sorry Desplat it doesn’t hold a candle). Newman holds the great distinction of being part of the most nominated Academy Award extended family, with a collective 92 nominations in various music categories, including work for Pixar where his cousin and fellow nominee Randy Newman is a staple. Of all his iconic scores I don’t think 1917 is his best work. Seasoned voters may vote in his favour to finally give him that statuette he deserved long ago but after being shut out of the Golden Globes I don’t think it’s his year.

Alexandre Desplat, “Little Women” Ranking #3

A two time Academy winner for original score, Desplat last won in 2017 for the Shape of Water, and before that for The Grand Budapest. His music is bright, fanciful and dare I say ‘twee’; exactly what you would expect from someone who cites Ravel and Debussy as influences, and Wes Anderson as a regular collaborator. The score for Little Women is very much in Desplat’s style. You can hear echoes of his Imitation Game score in ‘Plumfield’, winds from his Shape of Water score and I would argue the score’s main piano motif borrows from Michael Giacchino’s ‘Married Life’ from the film Up. Serviceable, but not my first choice. And considering that fellow nominee Thomas Newman scored the earlier adaptation of Little Women, Desplat’s would have needed to outdo that score to be in with a chance in m books.

Randy Newman, “Marriage Story” Ranking #2.

Hear the name Randy Newman and what comes to mind? Toy Story, Monsters Inc, A Bug’s Life and his iconic voice. Also nominated in the best original song category this year, which is his preferred territory taking home the Best Song award twice beforehand. The last time he was nominated for a score was Monsters Inc

Much of the levity in Marriage Story comes from Newman’s score. If you replaced it with something more somber the film would feel a lot more kitchen sink than quirky indie. But here’s my issue with it. You could put this score on top of the latest Pixar movie and it would work just as well. It feels like Randy Newman being Randy Newman rather than marrying the score to Noah Baumbach’s wonderful story (sorry I had to). 

Hildur Gudnadottir, “Joker” Ranking #1 

Coming in hot from winning the Golden Globe and Critic’s choice award this year and after her Emmy win for HBO’s Chernobyl, Hildur is looking like the bookie’s favourite, and I’m delighted for numerous reasons. Only the seventh ever female nominee in this category, she is also the youngest of the nominees and remains the only one not previously nominated. 

Out of all the scores this year, The Joker score was written before the film and not after as is usually the case. Todd Phillips wove the score into the film by playing the track ‘bathroom dance’ to Joaquin Phoenix whilst filming the scene to get his real-time natural reaction to the music in his movements. The score is an integral part of the scene instead of just being tacked on after the fact. For that reason alone Hildur’s score is set apart from the other nominees. 

First-time nominee Hildur Gudnadottir aside you have to go back to 2007 to see a nominee list that didn’t include one of the other names nominated and then back to 1992 before that when the categories were split between comedy score and dramatic score. Some years including two or more of them. In almost thirty years we have had 21 nominations for John Williams, 14 for Thomas Newman, 11 for Desplat and 7 for Randy Newman. In stark contrast, the last woman nominated in this category was in 2000, for Rachel Portman’s score for the film Chocolat, exactly twenty years ago. Make of that what you will.

It is frustrating to think of how many voices have been shut out because studios go with what they know and who they know. In the year Micah Levi should have been nominated for Under the Skin, Alexandre Desplat was nominated twice. I don’t think Hildur should win because she is a woman, she deserves it for her artistic efforts which are fresh and informed the film it was a part of. In her own words, “I think it’s just magnificent to be able to be a part of this conversation and to shed some light to the situation of women in the industry, especially in this category, because it’s a little bit silly how few there are. It’s completely [incomprehensible] to me,” the composer told Deadline. “So, I think it’s just wonderful to be a part of that conversation, and in the kindest way possible say, ‘Hey, isn’t this a bit ridiculous?’”

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