In Oscar Music Race, familiar and fresh faces seek nominations to score

This year’s Oscar-worthy music is the most interesting mix in years. Veterans continue to provide well-crafted traditional orchestral scores, while new voices contribute surprising sounds for bold filmmakers looking for something new.

Let’s start with the most famous duo: John Williams and Steven Spielberg. Seventeen of their combined 29 films have been nominated for Oscars and three have won (“Jaws,” “ET” and “Schindler’s List”). His most recent film, “The Fabelmans,” is already a critical favorite and looks poised to become the 90-year-old composer’s 53rd Oscar nomination.

Williams met Spielberg’s parents, who feature prominently in this autobiographical film. His warm, nostalgic and sometimes melancholic score reflects the ups and downs of their marriage. He enlisted Los Angeles Philharmonic pianist Joanne Pearce Martin for the various classical pieces and piano solos of the dramatic score, which Williams believes may be the last for his longtime collaborator.

Another former Oscar winner, Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir (“Joker”) is a front-runner for two scores: Todd Field’s “Tár” and Sarah Polley’s “Talking Women.” He wrote music for “Tár” which was played for the actors (especially Cate Blanchett as a world-class symphony conductor) but not heard in the final film; much of his dramatic score is barely audible, designed to be felt rather than heard.

His music for “Talking Women” is one of his most accessible, written primarily for acoustic guitars to reflect the rural American setting. He struggled with the issue (sexual assaults on women in a religious community), but ultimately agreed with Polley that music should be “a vehicle of hope and progress.”

The #MeToo movement also features prominently in Nicholas Britell’s score for “She Said,” which tells the story of two New York Times reporters’ determination to pull back the curtain on Harvey Weinstein and his alleged assaults on multiple women.

Britell (a three-time Oscar nominee and Emmy winner for “Succession”) enlisted his wife, cellist Caitlin Sullivan, to help create a string-based score that would complement Maria Schrader’s film. At times emotional, at times avant-garde, the score for Sullivan’s cello, Britell’s piano, and a 15-piece string ensemble from New York City carefully chart this sensitive and difficult path.

Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who already have two Oscars each (for “The Social Network” and the animated “Soul”), are also in the running for two films: Sam Mendes’ “Empire of Light” and Luca’s ” Bones and All” .” Guadagnino .”

His score for Mendes’ moving film about a troubled woman working in a cinema on the south coast of England in the early 1980s is unexpectedly piano-based, the result of months of experimentation and consultation with the director. Among the duo Nine Inch Nails’ most evocative scores to date, along with Mendes’ theme of “movie magic,” “Empire” seems to be attracting more attention from Academy voters than the darker and more violent “Bones.” and All.

The piano also features prominently in Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch’s score for “Living,” starring Bill Nighy as a 1950s London bureaucrat at the end of his life. The inevitable sadness is balanced by a sense of hope in his score.

Few songwriters are better at evoking the sounds of a specific region than Canadian Mychael Danna, whose ethereal vocals and mystical sounds for “Where the Crawdads Sing” can garner award-winning attention. Danna won the Oscar for her elaborate world music-infused tapestry for “Life of Pi” nine years ago.

For “Crawdads,” Danna added the southern flavors of banjo, fiddle, and automatic harp, but also finds unique colors in the sounds of seashells and conch shells.

Interestingly, the regional colors are not in Carter Burwell’s score for “The Banshees of Inisherin”. let the small Irish town setting and characters speak for themselves rather than emphasizing the place with music. Instead, the two-time Oscar nominee (“Carol,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) chose the fairy-tale sounds of the celeste, harp and flute for the apparent innocence of Colin Farrell’s character.

Brendan Gleeson, who plays the film’s other main character, an elderly aspiring composer, is a fiddler himself, and his performances on screen (especially in the local pub) provide a great Irish atmosphere.

Historical and fact-based dramas require different musical approaches. One of the most powerful scores of the year was Terence Blanchard’s “The Woman King,” which used a symphony orchestra, a chorus of African-American opera singers, and vocal solos by legendary jazz singer Dianne Reeves.

For this story of a 19th-century West African kingdom and its all-female army of warriors, director Gina Prince-Bythewood also had the musical power and two-time Oscar nominee (“Da 5 Bloods,” “BlacKkKlansman”) and five – time Grammy winner delivered it with Reeves’ vocal improvisations, a trio of percussionists, and the authentic rhythms and harmonies of West African music.

Similarly, Marcelo Zarvos’ score for “Emancipación” is based on African-inspired wordless vocal sounds, as well as Haitian musical instruments, along with a dark orchestral basis for the story of a runaway slave (Will Smith) who leads his pursuers in the forest springs and swamps. Louisiana of the Civil War era.

And while we might not characterize the three hours of “Babylon” as a historical drama, Damien Chazelle’s wild and loose epic about 1920s Hollywood required more than two hours of original music from his longtime collaborator. , two-time Oscar winner Justin Hurwitz (“La La La La” Country”).

He spent more than three years on the film, writing the aggressive jazz band material on screen as well as the dramatic score (recorded by orchestras of up to 100 players) to echo the dark side of the Hollywood dream. Some of the music begins as on-screen source music, but is subtly scored as it transitions from party scenes to action elsewhere.

For “Thirteen Lives,” about the rescue of boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand four years ago, Benjamin Wallfisch recorded a small group of soloists in Bangkok for geographical flair, but then processed them electronically and added the sound of oxygen . cylinders. for percussion and rhythmic effects with a London chamber orchestra as the final touch.

Abel Korzeniowski rejected the idea of musically characterizing the South of the 1950s for the tragic story of the lynching of a 14-year-old boy in “Till”; rather, he needed a traditional orchestra to emphasize the mother’s grief and her determination to gain national attention. for the cause of civil rights. And Chanda Dancy’s score for the Korean War fighter pilot film “Devotion” uses a chorus, but only sparingly and subtly along with a 100-piece orchestra to capture the intense emotions and heroism. .

Composers often have more fun with genre projects, be they fantasy, sci-fi or comic book heroes, and 2022 has seen a lot of them. Michael Giacchino’s dark and brooding score for “The Batman” was very popular with fans, suggesting the ghostly figure behind the mask and Gotham City’s grim maelstrom of crime. His two-hour-plus symphonic music also conveyed a sense of innocence for the story’s tragic Riddler; and intriguing jazz figures for the mysterious Catwoman.

The Oscar and Emmy winner (“Up,” “Lost”) has become one of the most in-demand songwriters of recent years, and his track record includes some of the year’s biggest box office hits (including ” Jurassic World: Dominion” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home”).

Ludwig Göransson, who won an Oscar in 2018 for his massive African-influenced score for “Black Panther,” managed to outdo himself with an almost entirely new score for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” He first traveled to Mexico in search of authentic sounds of Mayan culture to represent Prince Namor and his underwater kingdom of Talokan.

He also flew to Nigeria to seek out and record African musicians, singers and rappers. He combined recordings made in both locations (including such evocative sounds as the harp-like kora) with an 80-piece London orchestra, 40-voice choirs in London and Los Angeles, plus another 20-voice ensemble specializing in Mesoamerican music. . The voice-driven score took a year and an estimated 250 musicians and singers to achieve.

Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” required something completely different. Working again with two-time Oscar-winning French composer Alexandre Desplat, including “The Shape of Water”, del Toro’s previous film, he wrote several songs and inspired a score that varied from the charm and innocence of the main character until the dark martial. figures. Mussolini’s Italy in the 1930s.

Desplat’s unique approach to this stop-motion animated film about a wooden puppet was to create an orchestra composed almost entirely of wooden instruments: strings, woodwinds and percussion, including mandolin, recorder and accordion. for the good Italian tastes. Only the crystal harmonica and Crystal Baschet for the Blauwe Fee deviate from that rule.

Michael Abels “Nope,” his third film for Jordan Peele, is his most ambitious yet, blending wonder and fear with mystery and horror in a story of Los Angeles brothers terrorized by an evil UFO; he needed a 75-piece orchestra and a 32-voice choir for the most dramatic moments.

Four-time Oscar nominee Danny Elfman (“Milk,” “Big Fish”) also needed an orchestra and choir to compose Noah Baumbach’s quirky “White Noise,” which brings a touch of musical irony to a story about a college professor and his family. reaction to the arrival of a poisonous cloud over their city.

Nathan Johnson reunited with his cousin Rian Johnson for “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” using a 70-piece orchestra to clue in on the whodunit; Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc motif returns, along with new themes of extravagance and opulence.

Some of the music remains a mystery at this writing. Simon Franglen’s score for James Cameron’s sci-fi epic “Avatar: The Way of Water” has not yet been released, which is said to feature exotic sounds from around the world, as well as choirs from London and the islands. and Thomas Newman’s music for “A Man Called Otto,” Marc Forster’s dramatic comedy about a man whose suicide attempts are repeatedly thwarted. Neither should be ruled out, as preliminary voting for the shortlist begins on December 12.

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