Ear-splitting Oscar race: What’s going to win Best Original Score?

The winner of Best Original Score at the Oscars has typically been an easy category to predict. That certainly isn’t the case this year, as none of the nominated scores have won a major precursor prize. Justin Hurwitz took home the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Award for his haunting score to “First Man,” but he was shockingly snubbed at the Oscars. BAFTA’s version of this category is called Best Original Music, blending dramatic scores and soundtracks, and the music-heavy “A Star Is Born” won there. Of course, since “A Star Is Born” does not have a proper score, it is not nominated at the Oscars, either. Those that did make the cut for Best Original Score are “Black Panther,” “BlacKkKlansman,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Isle of Dogs” and “Mary Poppins Returns.”

Of those scores, “Black Panther” did at least win a Grammy but due to a drastically different eligibility window, it was actually competing against four scores from 2017. Gustavo Santaolalla is the most recent example of a composer taking home the Best Original Score Oscar without winning at least one major precursor beforehand, triumphing for his score to “Brokeback Mountain” (2005). So, in a wide-open field, which of this year’s nominee will emerge from the pack and take home that Oscar?

“Black Panther” has the benefit of a Grammy win, though it is unknown how many voters of the Recording Academy are also members of AMPAS. Ludwig Goransson‘s victory also was not televised, so it may not have the same effect as a win at the Golden Globes or BAFTA. Yet, the “Black Panther” score is so distinctive, with its use of instruments like the talking drum that enhance the tension, in addition to melodic orchestral music to emphasize the grandeur of Wakanda. This would also be a way for voters to honor “Black Panther” with an Oscar, especially with other films favored to win all other categories for which it is nominated.

“BlacKkKlansman” has a memorable score by Terence Blanchard, earning his first-ever Oscar nomination. The groovy electric guitar theme heard throughout is one that gets stuck in your head easily, and considering how prominently the score features in the film, it may be exactly what Oscar voters are looking for in this category. Like “Black Panther,” “BlacKkKlansman” is a Best Picture nominee, and that matters more often than not recently. Plus, director Spike Lee, with whom Blanchard has collaborated since 1991, frequently shouts out his composer in speeches and interviews, drawing attention to how this is his first nomination despite doing great work for so many years.

“If Beale Street Could Talk” is one of the most celebrated scores of the year, even if it hasn’t won major prizes. Of all the nominated scores, Nicholas Britell‘s has won the most critics’ trophies by far, including established groups like the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association. Britell’s lush score is integral to the love story at the heart of “Beale Street,” with warm piano melodies and jazz riffs that help evoke 1970s New York. Gold Derby Oscar predictions have Britell winning Best Original Score at moment, but the film’s lack of a Best Picture nomination could signal trouble, particularly if you consider that only one film score (“The Hateful Eight,” 2015) has won this category without a corresponding Best Picture nomination in the last 15 years.

“Isle of Dogs” is Alexandre Desplat‘s 10th Oscar nomination, essentially making him the Meryl Streep of this category. Desplat has won two Oscars from those nominations, for 2014’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and just last year for “The Shape of Water.” His score for “Isle of Dogs” is comprised of thunderous Taiko drums and brass instruments that give momentum to the perilous journey of the dogs at the center of the film. Unlike “Black Panther,” “BlacKkKlansman” and “If Beale Street Could Talk,” the “Isle of Dogs” score has been nominated at all three of Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice and BAFTA, and Desplat being an academy favorite could help him greatly.

SEE Composer Alexandre Desplat on his score for ‘Isle of Dogs’: Other than the taiko drums, we avoided Japanese influences [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“Mary Poppins Returns” marks the return of Marc Shaiman to the Oscars. His score, in addition to his nominated original song “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” are his first nominations since his song “Blame Canada” from “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut” (1999). Shaiman has now collected seven Oscar nominations without a win, and like Desplat, his “Mary Poppins Returns” score has been nominated at all the precursors. Shaiman’s score is nostalgic and traditional, and voters may feel the wistful magic he evokes. One factor that helps Shaiman is that “Mary Poppins Returns” is the only musical in this category, which could lead voters to think of his score as a harder and higher achievement.

PREDICT the Oscar winners now; change them until February 24

Be sure to check out how our experts rank this year’s Oscar contenders. Then take a look at the most up-to-date combined odds before you make your own 2019 Oscar predictions. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before winners are announced on February 24.

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