While “Soul” has won most of the Best Original Score precursor awards for its mix of jazz and new age, the Oscar race isn’t necessarily all sewn up. It is an eclectic group of contenders in this category, with double nominees, a first-timer and two veteran composers. The five films to earn a score nomination this year are “Da 5 Bloods,” “Mank,” “Minari,” “News of the World” and “Soul.” All are featured heavily in their respective films, and they each have a plausible path to victory considering the quality of the scores, the narratives of the individual composers and the overall respect for the films themselves.
So who will win this year’s Oscar for Best Original Score? Let’s examine each of the nominees.
“Da 5 Bloods” earned its sole Oscar nomination for Terence Blanchard‘s melodic score. This is the composer’s second bid in this category following his nomination for another Spike Lee film, “BlacKkKlansman,” two years ago. The score was not nominated at any of the major precursors (Golden Globes, Critics Choice, BAFTA), which made this the most surprising inclusion on Oscar nomination morning, though it is far from undeserved. Blanchard assembled a 90-piece orchestra for “Da 5 Bloods,” combining strings and military drums to enhance the film’s operatic sense of grandeur. What hurts Blanchard’s winner chances is being the only representation for “Da 5 Bloods” among the nominations, though it is possible that fans of the film within the academy will rally behind it here as the only place to reward it.
“Mank” is one of two films scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to earn a Best Original Score nomination this year. This marks their fourth collaboration with director David Fincher, having won this category for their score to one of his most significant films, “The Social Network” (2010). The brassy score for “Mank” evokes the Golden Age of Hollywood, with jazzy horns and percussion, with shadings of legendary film composer Bernard Herrmann. With 10 bids including Best Picture, “Mank” is the most nominated film of the year, which could give it a leg up here. Reznor and Ross’s score has been nominated pretty much everywhere but has yet to win outside of a handful of critics groups.
“Minari” is the other Best Picture nominee that is contending for Best Original Score. Emile Mosseri scores his first nomination in this category for his sensitive, piano-driven work on “Minari,” which also earned love from the Golden Globes, BAFTAs and numerous critics’ organizations. Mosseri’s score is a poignant mix of wonder and nostalgia, with a 40-piece Macedonian orchestra adding warm layers to the piano melodies. While it has not collected as many wins as some of its competition, there is a unique, memorable quality to the “Minari” score that, combined with the love for the film itself, could allow it to pull off a big upset.
“News of the World” is the latest Original Score nomination for James Newton Howard, with six previous bids dating back to 1991. Howard joins Reznor and Ross as the only composers here to get in at the Golden Globes, BAFTA and Critics Choice. The “News of the World” score is appropriately infused with a Western sensibility, with a full-bodied orchestra accented with cellos and fiddles creating a propulsive sound, in between more poignant, solemn tracks. Howard has yet to win an Oscar and old-school members of the academy might be swayed to vote for the veteran composer.
“Soul” is the other Reznor and Ross score in this category, though in this case, they are joined by Jon Batiste, who crafted the jazz compositions and arrangements for the film. The score has true variety, with Batiste’s toe-tapping jazz tracks being performed in the film itself, while Reznor and Ross provide futuristic new age compositions for the film’s otherworldly sequences. The trio has utterly dominated the precursors, winning the Golden Globe, Critics Choice Award and over a dozen other critics prizes.
While “Soul” is the presumptive frontrunner based on the sheer amount of love from other awards groups, the Oscars may throw a curveball in the end. Voters frequently go for Best Picture nominees in these craft categories, with only one film, “The Hateful Eight,” winning Best Original Score without a corresponding Best Picture bid over the past decade. This could benefit “Mank” or “Minari,” which both have at least twice as many nominations as “Soul.”
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