Oscars Best Score conundrum: Can ‘Babylon’ still win without a Best Picture nomination?

According to our current combined predictions, “Babylon” is the front-runner to win Best Original Score with 17/5 odds at this year’s Oscars. However, it is the only contender in the lineup that does not have a corresponding Best Picture nomination. Each of the other four nominees — “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “The Banshees of Inisherin,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” and “The Fabelmans” — do. Can “Babylon” overcome that hurdle?

Set in Los Angeles during the 1920s, “Babylon” traces the rise and fall of multiple characters at a time when the film industry was transitioning from the silent era to the talkies. Justin Hurwitz may have already won the Golden Globe for his work on “Babylon,” but that movie had four other nominations from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (including Best Film Comedy/Musical). Plus, Hurwitz has so far been undefeated at the Globes as he previously prevailed there for 2016’s “La La Land” (which also won him Best Song for “City of Stars”) and 2018’s “First Man.”

Throughout the 21st century only three films have managed to win Best Score without a Best Picture nom: 2002’s “Frida,” 2015’s “The Hateful Eight,” and 2020’s “Soul.” “Frida” had six Academy Award nominations altogether, so one could argue that it was probably close to a Best Picture bid and might have been nominated if there had been 10 slots as there are now. “The Hateful Eight” had the factor of getting legendary composer Ennio Morricone his first competitive Oscar. And “Soul” was a movie about a musician, so it made a lot of sense.

There are three major Oscar precursors that have a category for Best Original Score: the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and BAFTAs, and this year they all went a different way. After Hurwitz’s win at the Globes, Critics Choice went to Hildur Guðnadóttir for “TAR,” who didn’t even receive an Oscar nomination (“TAR” was ruled ineligible by the academy). Meanwhile at BAFTA (the only group that has an overlap of voters with the American academy) this past weekend, “All Quiet on the Western Front” prevailed. That movie was in third place in the odds behind “The Banshees of Inisherin” and “Babylon,” the latter of which was expected to win.

Going into the Oscars, “All Quiet on the Western Front” is currently in second place with 39/10 odds behind “Babylon.” Yet its BAFTA win as well as its corresponding Best Picture nomination I think put its composer Volker Bertelmann in a great position here. In third place is “The Fabelmans” with 4/1 odds. Meanwhile, “Banshees” is in fourth place while “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is in fifth place; both have 9/2 odds.

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