As a film music fan, the personal highlight of any year’s Oscar race is the music categories – Best Original Song and Best Original Score. Here’s a breakdown of this year’s nominees, including who is likely to go home with a statue, and who missed out on potential Oscar glory.
Nominations for Best Original Song:
‘Be Alive’ (DIXSON/Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, King Richard)
‘Dos Oruguitas’ (Lin-Manuel Miranda, Encanto)
‘Down To Joy’ (Van Morrison, Belfast)
‘No Time To Die’ (Billie Eilish/Finneas O’Connell, No Time To Die)
‘Somehow You Do’ (Diane Warren, Four Good Days)
The moment I first heard the theme to No Time To Die, I thought that it was destined for an Oscar. Now the shortlist is out, and I haven’t changed my opinion – I think it’s the odds-on favourite to take home the statue. It’s a genuinely good song that reflects its film and franchise well, from the mournful piano to the swelling strings to the discordant brass, but it also boasts some extra flourishes that will push it over the line. Bond themes have recently done well at the Oscars, with Adele’s ‘Skyfall’ and Sam Smith’s dreadful ‘Writing’s On The Wall’ both taking the title. And awarding Eilish would help the Academy in its aim of appealing to a younger audience (though it wouldn’t go quite as far as nominating No Way Home, the only film anyone saw in cinemas last year).
Although Belfast is likely to leave the ceremony with several awards, don’t expect Best Original Song to be among them.
Upsets are possible, and if one occurs, it will likely come thanks to ‘Be Alive’ or ‘Dos Oruguitas’. The Academy is desperate to make Lin-Manuel Miranda an EGOT, and they may reward ‘Dos Oruguitas’, a touching Spanish-language guitar song that comes in one of Encanto’s most heartbreaking sequences. The language barrier may hurt the song’s chances, but it will likely be hit by the fact that another of the film’s songs has taken a life of its own – ‘We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ is the film’s breakout tune, but Disney didn’t even submit it. In her first Oscar nomination, Beyoncé may be in with a shout with the stirring ‘Be Alive’, boasting a thumping drum arrangement under the singer’s soaring vocals.
I think these three are the only songs with any real shot at taking home the Oscar. Warren is an Academy favourite, with ‘Somehow You Do’ her 13th nomination in this category, but the film flew under the radar and there’s no real buzz for it. Although Belfast is likely to leave the ceremony with several awards, don’t expect Best Original Song to be among them. The voters will likely shower the love elsewhere, especially as Van Morrison’s Covid comments have proven very controversial.
Snubs: It doesn’t feel like a snub, per se, but as the Academy showed a surprising amount of recognition to Don’t Look Up, it’s a little unexpected that the film’s ‘Just Look Up’ didn’t make the shortlist. It’s a cheesy power ballad that brings together Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi, and it was a left-field choice that could have made the list on another day.
Best Original Score
Don’t Look Up (Nicholas Britell)
Dune (Hans Zimmer)
Encanto (Germaine Franco)
Parallel Mothers (Alberto Iglesias)
The Power of the Dog (Jonny Greenwood)
This is a good shortlist, with five exciting scores that complement their films. As naff as Don’t Look Up is, the music is quite good – scoring satire and comedy can be a hard task, but Britell does a great job, mixing jazz motifs with traditional orchestral sounds and unconventional instruments (you’ll hear a banjo and toy piano, among others). Franco combines a sweeping orchestra with Colombian sounds, using instruments like the gaita and the marimba de chonta to follow individual characters, as well as composing themes for Mirabel, la casita and the magic. These instruments and the Latin rhythms carry the score, and then some. In his fourth Oscar nomination, Iglesias employs a string-heavy score that touches on a mix of genres and manages to be thrilling and intimate in equal measure.
However, I do think there is a clear likely winner in the pack, and that’s Jonny Greenwood.
Of these five, I would normally put Zimmer in with the best chance. His Dune score is one of his most experimental, employing synths and electronic sounds in novel ways, and combining them with layered vocals and electrifying strings. Zimmer (with his 11th nomination) successfully transports the listener to a completely alien world, shunning traditional orchestral ideas of sci-fi to try something new and completely landing it. This is a score that is not shy on bombast and quiet ominousness in equal measure – there’s a definite epic quality to Dune that would usually make this a shoo-in.
However, I do think there is a clear likely winner in the pack, and that’s Jonny Greenwood. The Radiohead guitar has become an exciting name in film scoring in recent years, picking up an Oscar nomination in 2018 for his score for Phantom Thread. This is a different kind of score, often foregoing identifiable themes in favour of creating an atmosphere, and he does that incredibly – this is a score of textures, dark and often discordant. It employs detuned pianos, atonal brass and the cello, developing a unique soundscape that reflects this film. I’m not saying it’s an easy listen, but a good score is representative of and enhances its film – for that reason, I think the Academy will recognise The Power of the Dog.
Snubs: I think this is a strong score shortlist, and it’s hard to feel that anyone missed out. In the run-up to nominations, there was talk of potential double nominations for Zimmer (with No Time To Die) and/or Greenwood (for Spencer), but I don’t think they’ll feel particularly hard done by here.