As I’ve always loved film music, the categories that always get me the most excited come award season are the music ones. Here’s a breakdown of the nominees for Best Original Song and Score at the 2020 Oscars, and a look at who is most likely to go home with the trophy.
Best Original Song
- ‘I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away’ (Randy Newman, Toy Story 4)
- ‘(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again’ (Elton John/Bernie Taupin, Rocketman)
- ‘I’m Standing With You’ (Diane Warren, Breakthrough)
- ‘Into The Unknown’ (Kristen Anderson-Lopez/Robert Lopez, Frozen II)
- ‘Stand Up’ (Joshuah Brian Campbell/Cynthia Erivo, Harriet)
This is a very novel Best Song race in that none of the nominees have come from any of the Best Picture nominations – most of the other categories are based around those 10 films, but none feature here. Perhaps that helps explain why the category this year is quite so weak, and the lack of any obvious stand-out makes it quite hard to pin down a likely winner.
Much though I love Randy Newman and the Toy Story films, his is probably the longest shot. The song is a fun gospel number that matches a good comedy scene in the film, but a fun beat is about as far as it goes (although his weakest Toy Story song, ‘We Belong Together’, has an Oscar, whereas ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me’ and ‘When She Loved Me’ don’t, so what do I know). This is a nomination born of reputation, and that’s the same case with Diane Warren, an 11-time nominee with no wins. The song’s a generic ballad, and the film – a Christian drama – is not something the Academy normally recognises.
The Elton John number is musically bouncy and doesn’t really hold up to a film full of Elton classics, but it won the Golden Globe and the Critics’ Choice award, so it is gaining momentum. ‘Stand Up’ is a generic song that mainly thrives on Erivo’s voice and through its evocation of the Harriet Tubman soundscape, but it’s too general to really stand up. And then, we have the Frozen II number – it’s nowhere near as good or catchy as ‘Let It Go’, which won in 2014, but Idina Menzel’s voice and the building orchestration covers up most of its blandness. It’s pivotal in the film, and I suspect it’s probably the most likely winner, but it’s hard to be satisfied with choosing something that is, to all intents and purposes, the least worse.
Snubs: Although I don’t particularly like it, it was widely expected that Beyoncé would receive a nomination for ‘Spirit’, her contribution to Disney’s remake of The Lion King, and her absence from the category is probably down to the film sinking. The true snub, though, and the song that deserves to win this year is the country number ‘Glasgow’ from Wild Rose, beautifully crafted by Caitlyn Smith, Kate York and Mary Steenburgen and sung to perfection by Jessie Buckley. In a category packed with generic power ballads, there was certainly room for this song to show how it’s done.
Best Original Score
- Joker (Hildur Guðnadóttir)
- Little Women (Alexandre Desplat)
- Marriage Story (Randy Newman)
- 1917 (Thomas Newman)
- Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (John Williams)
Unusually for a Best Score category, the John Williams entry (his 52nd nomination) is probably the weakest pick and the only one of the five with no real shot at winning. The score, although technically accomplished, is mainly a retread of existing Star Wars themes, and it feels as though his nomination is truly a legacy one – thanking Williams for his work on this huge cinematic saga, but not seriously troubling the competition.
A case could be made for any of the other four scores, although it seems that the competition is really a two-horse race between Thomas Newman and Guðnadóttir. Newman is an Oscar favourite picking up his 14th nomination – he currently holds the record for the longest unbroken losing streak, and it feels like the Academy will finally recognise him. Due to the nature of 1917, a film supposedly consisting of one unbroken shot, the score is mainly background texture, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. Listen to the weeping viola on ‘Come Back to Us’, and you’d struggle to argue against him.
If there’s a shock upset on the night, it’ll likely come courtesy of Guðnadóttir. The Iceland composer’s score to Joker has already claimed the corresponding Golden Globe, and the Academy may want to prove their commitment to diversity and popular film by picking this as the winner. It wouldn’t be undeserved – the score is a masterpiece in fitting to character, proving a dark and disturbing background against which Arthur Fleck’s story plays out. The music is simple but effective, using the low notes of the cello and lumbering percussion to powerful effect.
Randy Newman employs a chamber choir for the first time to devastating emotional effect in Marriage Story, and Desplat scores Little Women with charming romance music that instant feels warm and welcoming, but they’re definitely the outside candidates in a two-horse race.
Snubs: After the Academy realised it had to nominate Black Panther two years ago but didn’t want to give it any major wins, it gave it a Score Oscar. Given Avengers: Endgame’s significance this year, and the absolutely beautiful score Alan Silvestri composed for this Marvel event, it’s amazing that it was almost entirely snubbed. Silvestri has always been underserved by the Oscars, only picking up two nominations over a phenomenal career, and this would have been the perfect opportunity to honour him. Listen to ‘Portals’ to hear Silvestri going all out, or ‘The Real Hero’ for those emotional beats, and you’ll realise how much of a snub this is.