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93rd Annual Oscars Spotlight on Music (Original Score)

April 8, 2021 08:00 | By

This year’s line-up for Achievement in Music (Original Score) may be one of the more intriguing categories, because it includes past winners, past nominees — some who have been nominated many times without a win, in fact — as well as one relatively new composer. More importantly, two composers have achieved a somewhat rare achievement by receiving two nominations for two different movie scores within the same year.

The last time a composer received two Oscar nominations in the same year, it was Alexandre Desplat in 2014 for The Imitation Game and The Grand Budapest Hotel — he won for the latter and then was nominated twice since then. The last time before that was John WIlliams dual nomination for Memoirs of a Geisha and Munich in 2005, but in that case, he lost that year to the first of two consecutive Oscars won by Gustavo Santaolalla for Brokeback Mountain

Don’t feel bad for Williams. He had already won five Oscars and is still the most nominated composer ever with 52 nominations, including five in the Original Song category.

There are five composers that have been nominated in this category more than ten times but only managed to win one Oscar for ten, so nine-time nominee James Newton Howard still needs to get nominated one more time before he joins those other Oscar-winning composers. But we’ll get to him below. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to interview three of the nominated composers. The other two, nominated twice, have not graced me with an interview, as of yet. Maybe someday.

Terence Blanchard

Terence Blanchard (Photo: Matt Sayles)

Da 5 Bloods  – Terence Blanchard

The only surprising thing about Blanchard being nominated for a second consecutive Oscar for his work on a Spike Lee movie, following his previous nom for 2018’s BlackKklansman, is that it comes after a thirty-year collaboration between the two men. Also, and much to many people’s surprise and consternation, it ended up being the ONLY Oscar nomination received by Lee’s latest, Da 5 Bloods. The movie received many accolades and awards leading up to the announcement of the nominations, but the Composers’ branch of the Academy was the only one who felt strongly enough about the work by Blanchard to nominate it within what could have been a particularly competitive year.

However you feel about Lee’s movie — I thought it was okay but a bit erratic in tone — there’s no denying that Blanchard’s amazing film scores have added so much to every single one of Lee’s films, going back to Jungle Fever and Malcolm X. What’s amazing about Blanchard’s score to Da 5 Bloods is that it’s even better when just listened to as music rather than as a bed for Lee’s trademark character patter. Despite this only being Blanchard’s second nomination, he’s well deserving of an Oscar from his peers, much like Lee was when he finally won for BlackKklansman. I’m not sure, but Blanchard might be the first African-American to win in this category if he gets the Oscar, though he’s not the only one nominated this year.  (Correction: Herbie Hancock won the Oscar in this category for Round Midnight in 1986.)

Mank

A scene from Mank (Photo: Netflix)

Mank –  Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

This is the first of two Oscar nominations for previous winners, musicians Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who burst onto the Oscar scene with their work on David Fincher’s The Social Network nearly ten years ago while still fronting the industrial rock group, Nine Inch Nails. Unlike their own electronically-based scores to date, Mank allowed the duo to play within the realm of Bernard Hermann in creating music better-suited for a story that takes place in Hollywood of the ‘30s and ‘40s. It’s a fine score and definitely very different for the duo, but it’s also not particularly stirring. Although Mank received the most Oscar nominations in total, I’m not sure this is one that it has a chance of winning, maybe since most of the other scores are more original.

Minari

The cast of Minari (Photo by Josh Ethan Johnson)

Minari – Emile Mosseri

The fresh-faced newbie on the Oscar scene in the Score category is a young man who has not done very many movies that have broken out from the indie film festival scene. Minari is a true dramatic revelation, one that is also one of the only two in this category that also received a Best Picture nomination.It’s a gorgeous score that one only needs to listen to, even separate from the movie, to feel all the emotions that director Lee Isaac Chung was trying to instill into his semi-autobiographical film. While it’s not the biggest or the most boisterous of the scores, Mosseri’s music is likely to be a favorite among many voters, especially those who are fans of the film.

News of the World

News of the World (Universal; Photo: Bruce W. Talamon)

News of the World –  James Newton Howard

That brings us to the nine-time nominee, whose work has been bringing so much emotion and movement to all his film scores from The Fugitive to Michael Clayton and literally a hundred others, as Mr. Howard is quite prolific indeed. There’s definitely a feeling that Howard is due among his peers, but I worry this might not translate to the Academy as a whole who didn’t feel strongly enough to nominate the movie for Picture, Screenplay or any acting awards. It’s also a Western, which might feel a bit like a white man’s cliche when it comes to an Academy trying to diversify and be seen as far more woke than many claim. Unfortunately, this might not be Howard’s year as deserved as this Oscar would be.

Soul

A scene from Soul (Photo: Disney•Pixar)

Soul – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste

Finally, that brings us to the other Oscar nomination for Reznor & Ross, this one which they share with musician and band leader Jon Batiste, who probably helped greatly with the jazz aspects of the score. The animated feature from Pixar is likely to be the frontrunner in the Animated Feature category, and you can almost guarantee that most if not all Oscar voters will have seen it due to the long-time prestige surrounding Pixar. The movie was also nominated by the Sound chapter of the Academy, so clearly there’s something about the movie’s sound and score that helps pull the viewer into the somewhat metaphysical experience. Barring a sudden surge of support for Minari — which we’ve already seen with the critics and SAG — this seems like the obvious winner, and if so, it will be the first Pixar score to win here in almost 11 years. (But it’s also the first PIxar score to be nominated in that same length of time.) It’s likely that Soul offers enough of everything needed to win, and that would make Batiste the first African-American musician to win in this category.

Should Win: News of the World
Might Win: Minari
Will Win: Soul

Oscar voting closes on April 20 for the ceremony taking place on April 25, and you can read the full list of ALL the nominees for the 93rd Annual Academy Awards here. Look for Below the Line’s FULL predictions sometime next week.