By Doug Levine
Is it just me or do the Academy Awards come earlier and earlier every year? I used to equate Hollywood’s biggest night with the change of seasons, when, in late March or early April, the warmth of spring was just around the corner and I could finally get out of the house and catch up on some of those Oscar-nominated movies. The timing of the Oscars comes down to ratings, and the last Sunday in February proves to be the most ideal time to attract the biggest television audience. But, as a movie buff of sorts, I’m not complaining – the earlier the better.
This year’s Oscar frontrunner is “Lincoln,” nominated for 12 Academy Awards, among them, Best Original Score. What is a score? Well, think of “mood” music or ambient music – usually an instrumental piece – that makes an emotional connection between the scene and the audience. The composer of the “Lincoln” score is American-born John Williams — by far the best-known of the five nominees for Best Original Score. At 81, he’s tallied more than 40 nominations and has won the Oscar for scoring five times, including for the music for “Jaws” and “Star Wars.” His score for “Lincoln,” marking his 40-year collaboration with director Steven Spielberg, ranges from pensive solo piano to full symphonic passages to enhance the troubled Civil War era.
Or perhaps this will be the first win for American composer Thomas Newman, who earned his 11th nomination for scoring the 23rd James Bond film, “Skyfall.” The music is laced with pulsating electronica that gets at Bond’s discomfort with a high-tech world that threatens to make him an anachronism.
Italian composer Dario Marianelli won his first scoring Oscar for the 2007 film “Atonement.” This year he’s nominated for “Anna Karenina,” based on the Russian novel by Leo Tolstoy. Marianelli weaves between Russian folk music and waltzes, leading one reviewer to write “Marianelli has composed one of the most sensitive, classically-inspired movie scores in many years.”
The other two contenders are 1) the Indian-inflected score for “Life of Pi” by Canadian Mychael Danna (who is also nominated for Best Original Song, “Pi’s Lullaby”); and 2) five-time nominee Alexandre Desplat for his “Argo” score, which features a blend of Iranian percussion, piano, strings and voice sampling.
We’ll find out Sunday who wins at the 85th Annual Academy Awards.