This year’s race for Best Score is one of the most competitive in recent memory: look no further than the charts to find our experts splitting all over the place, and for good reason. The Golden Globes went for relative newcomer Johann Johannsonn for “The Theory of Everything,” while the BAFTAs sprung for perennial bridesmaid Alexandre Desplat for “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Let’s take a closer look at the race and each contender’s chances of winning:
Alexandre Desplat, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”
In less than a decade, Alexander Desplat has become one of the most honored composers in recent history, with six previous nominations – “The Queen” (2006), “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (2008), “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009), “The King’s Speech” (2010), “Argo” (2012), and “Philomena” (2013) – under his belt, and now two in one year for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Imitation Game.” “Budapest” is Desplat’s third score for Wes Anderson after “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) and “Moonrise Kingdom” (2012), and one of his most unique to date, balancing quirky fun with deep emotion. He’s ranked in second place with odds of 3/1, but after a BAFTA win, don’t be surprised if his name is finally in the envelope.
Alexandre Desplat, “The Imitation Game“
As stated above, Alexandre Desplat is one of the hardest working people in the movie music business. “The Imitation Game” finds the composer doing his usually solid work, evoking period feeling through music, and he received Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice nominations for his efforts. Yet his work on this film is being overshadowed by “Grand Budapest,” and he’s currently ranked in fourth place with odds of 50/1. He shouldn’t lose too much sleep however, unless he’s worried about his two bids splitting the vote, thus allowing for another contender to take the gold.
Hans Zimmer, “Interstellar“
Hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Hans Zimmer won his last Oscar, but it’s true. The veteran composer won for “The Lion King” (1994), and was nominated for “Rain Man” (1988), “The Preacher’s Wife” (1996), “As Good as It Gets” (1997), “The Thin Red Line” (1998), “The Prince of Egypt” (1998; shared with Stephen Schwartz), “Gladiator” (2000), “Sherlock Holmes” (2009), and now “Inception” (2010). “Interstellar” is one of Zimmer’s most personal scores – drawing upon his own relationship with his son to create a tender, sensitive theme in contrast to the epic nature of the film – yet he’s ranked in third place with odds of 20/1. Zimmer could sneak in should Desplat and Johannsson split the vote, but for now he may have to remain content with another nomination.
Johann Johannsson, “The Theory of Everything”
Johann Johannsson received his first Oscar nomination for “The Theory of Everything,” and won the Golden Globe for his sweeping, romantic score. This puts him in the lead with odds of 4/9, yet he could be threatened by the potential below-the-line domination of “Grand Budapest Hotel.” Johannsson could still take this if (a) Desplat cancels himself out with his two bids; and (b) voters want to reward “The Theory of Everything” apart from Eddie Redmayne. He’s still in the lead, but just barely.
Gary Yershon, “Mr. Turner“
The inclusion this year is Gary Yershon, here with his subtle, melancholy score for “Mr. Turner,” was a surprise. Yershon – who frequently collaborates with director Mike Leigh – got his first nomination without any precursor attention, a sure sign of support for the little film that ended up with four total bids (including Cinematography, Production Design, and Costume Design). It isn’t expected to win any of those awards, however, least of all score, where it’s ranked in last place with odds of 100/1. But stranger things have happened.
The winner for Best Score has also taken Best Picture a total of 25 times. The score category has gone through so many changes that a bit of history is necessary. Between 1934-1937, there was just one award for scoring, which went to the head of the music department, not the composer. Then, from 1938-1940, the award was split into Original Score and Scoring.
In 1941, Original Score became Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture, and Scoring became Scoring of a Musical Picture; this lasted until 1961 (1957 was the only year when one prize was given out), when Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture because Substantially Original Score, and Scoring of a Musical Picture became Scoring of Music-Adaptation or Treatment. These two awards underwent several changes in title and context over the next few decades, but what’s important to note is that one was strictly for an original score, while the other pertained to song scores, either original or adapted.
The Academy did away with the Song Score or Adaptation category in 1985, leaving only one award for Original Score until 1995, when it was split between Dramatic and Musical/Comedy (this lasted until 1999):
1946: “The Best Years of Our Lives” (Hugo Friedhofer) (Dramatic or Comedy)
1951: “An American in Paris” (Johnny Green, Saul Chaplin) (Musical)
1956: “Around the World in 80 Days” (Victor Young) (Dramatic or Comedy)
1957: “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (Malcolm Arnold)
1958: “Gigi” (Andre Previn) (Musical)
1959: “Ben-Hur” (Miklos Rozsa) (Dramatic or Comedy)
1961: “West Side Story” (Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Sid Ramin, Irwin Kostal) (Musical)
1962: “Lawrence of Arabia” (Maurice Jarre) (Original)
1963: “Tom Jones” (John Addison) (Original)
1964: “My Fair Lady” (Andre Previn) (Adaptation or Treatment)
1965: “The Sound of Music” (Irwin Kostal) (Adaptation or Treatment)
1968: “Oliver!” (Johnny Green) (Adaptation or Treatment)
1973: “The Sting” (Marvin Hamlisch) (Song Score or Adaptation)
1974: “The Godfather: Part II” (Nino Rota, Carmine Coppola) (Original)
1981: “Chariots of Fire” (Vangelis)
1985: “Out of Africa” (John Barry)
1987: “The Last Emperor” (Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne, Cong Su)
1990: “Dances with Wolves” (John Barry)
1993: “Schindler’s List” (John Williams)
1996: “The English Patient” (Gabriel Yared) (Original, Dramatic)
1997: “Titanic” (James Horner) (Original, Dramatic)
1998: “Shakespeare in Love” (Stephen Warbeck) (Original, Musical or Comedy)
2003: “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (Howard Shore)
2008: “Slumdog Millionaire” (A.R. Rahman)
2011: “The Artist” (Ludovic Bource)
Like a lot of tech categories, this award is often viewed as a consolation prize for a film that’s in the race, but won’t cross the finish line first. This year, there are three Best Picture nominees in the bunch – “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game,” and “The Theory of Everything” – but a win for any of them here likely won’t help their chances in the big race whatsoever.