Oscars 2018: From Hans Zimmer to Jonny Greenwood, the Best Original Score category is interestingly competitive

Archita Kashyap

Mar,04 2018 11:59:05 IST

Like each year, conversation around this year’s Oscars has focused on the prominent awards. An important category that misses out from the public eye is that of Original Score. On 4 March, five different, gifted composers will be in the race for this win, and they range from a first time nominee to a record holder with 51 nominations.

Hans Zimmer for Dunkirk, Alexandre Desplat for The Shape of Water, John Williams for The Last Jedi, Carter Burwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Jonny Greenwood for Phantom Thread are nominated to take home the Academy award for Best Original Score. Interestingly, each composer has worked with the director of the nominated film regularly, with the exception of Desplat, who has collaborated with Guillermo Del Toro just this once.

Why bring up this category? Because it shapes a film, tones up drama, and stays with us as we listen to a film and relive it much after watching it. Film scores are crucial to bringing alive emotions in films that have little to say (like Dunkirk), or feature a mute protagonist (The Shape of Water) or a melancholic protagonist whose helplessness is overwhelming (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri). Here’s why this year’s race for Original Score is interesting and competitive.

Logically speaking, the biggest contender for a win this year is Hans Zimmer. The prolific German born composer, a veteran of over 150 films, Zimmer is prolific and eclectic. Having given musical scores to top franchises like the Dark Knight trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean, and many applauded films, Zimmer has carved his niche with his adaptability of new age electronic music with orchestra. He has 9 Oscar nominations and a win for the wildly successful The Lion King.

Hans Zimmer/Imager from Twitter.

Hans Zimmer/Imager from Twitter.

Apart from the Dark Knight franchise, Zimmer has composed for Nolan’s Inception and Interstellar, both working with the concept of overlapping layers. He describes Dunkirk as his hardest so far, which says a lot. Nolan, with whom he strikes a chord of harmony repeatedly, gave Zimmer a ticking watch as his sole sound reference. From there on, Zimmer wrote a seamless score, working with a core principle of Shepard Tone, one that creates a sound illusion. Much of Dunkirk rides on its sound to build and deliver emotion as the film has sparse dialogue. Zimmer has created an overwhelming score structured around ascension of tone. In the film, visual, sound and music merge in an absolute sense. For instance, the scene where one senses petrifying darkness, or when soldiers await a rescue ship, listen to the ominous drone of the enemy aircraft. Danger and fear enter your mind as you hear the steady build up. Dunkirk stands out as the competitor with maximum scope for original score to make impact.

Like Zimmer, this year’s youngest nominee, Johnny Greenwood, also has a rich pedigree with bands having been the lead guitarist for Radiohead. Described as a multi-instrumentalist, Greenwood has composed scores for all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, including There Will Be Blood. While the young composer missed out on an Oscar nomination because it drew heavily from his past original compositions, Hans Zimmer had complimented it as one of the best he’s ever heard, calling it ‘crazily beautiful’. For Phantom Thread, Greenwood had a template of recreating baroque, heavy sound that dominated the fifties. Keeping it straightforward, he used string orchestra and the viola to create a sharpish, dramatic score. The strings have worked their charm on critics so far, and he remains the underdog who might just surprise.

Jonny Greenwood/Image from Twitter.

Jonny Greenwood/Image from Twitter.

The hot favorite for the Hollywood press is Alexandre Desplat this year. His folksy, Hungarian, light score for The Grand Budapest Hotel won him an Oscar. Like Zimmer, he too has nine nominations. Desplat doesn’t have a record of regular collaborations with filmmakers necessarily, rather his body of work as composer is varied and enriched by local sounds. The Shape of Water has a hummable and melodic score with interludes by musical instruments that both surprise and fit well with the story. Working with the theme of water being invisible, powerful and potent everywhere, Desplat has created a fuzzy, warm feeling of love. He plays the whistle in the score himself and uses the flute generously as it’s the first instrument that he mastered. Elements like waltz and jazz blend with his instrumental composition to create a feeling of waves, fluid and all encompassing throughout the entire film score.

French born Desplat has created a varied range of music scores for varied films like The Imitation Game, The Danish Girl, Argo, The Queen and The King’s Speech among others. He identifies his style as understated, the kind that becomes a part of the film without drawing attention to it. His accurate self-analysis reminds one of the scores for both The Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows films. You barely notice the magical quality of it’s powerful, localized soundtrack. This time, the understated lightness of his score makes him the populist favorite for a win.

Alexandre Desplat/Image from Twitter.

Alexandre Desplat/Image from Twitter.

John Williams and Carter Burwell round off the other two nominees. Willams, a five-time winner and 51 time nominee, holds the record for the most nominated living person. Having returned to the Star Wars franchise, the 85-year-old also delivered the score for Spielberg’s The Post. In the Last Jedi, he recreates signature loaded pieces for intergalactic conflict and adds new individual themes from classic orchestral pieces for new characters. Yet, nostalgia and recall of Star Wars themes tend to dilute his chances as they are taken for granted.

Carter Burwell, who has scored music for Martin McDonagh (director of Three Billboards…), the Coen Brothers and Spike Jonze regularly, specializes in developing homegrown, typical American sounds. For Three Billboards… he used guitar and mandolin strings to give the film a Middle American texture — casual yet emotive. Burwell deliberately created a serious tone for the film’s score to counter-balance it’s black humor and stark conversations between central characters. Burwell’s scores evoke thoughts of inner conflict and melancholia effortlessly. Not the star contender, his chances ride on voting members feeling a strong American connect with his score.

In recent memory, the Academy has voted for unusual, new and ethnic influenced scores as winners. If that is the most decisive factor this year, Alexandre Desplat should win. Desplat's score is the most easy to hum and listen to; as free flowing as water itself. Between Zimmer and Desplat, the winner will have an edge given their equal number of nominations. Irrespective of wins, this year’s original scores deliver rich sounds and compositions that remind one of the everlasting magic of film music.

Published Date: Mar 04, 2018 11:59 AM | Updated Date: Mar 04, 2018 12:05 PM