February 3, 2023

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Scores of Oscar shortlists mark the most diverse lineup in the music industry

5 min read

Which of the 15 shortlisted original scores will the Oscars’ music branch pick as their final five nominees for 2022?

It is as diverse a group as the genre has ever considered, both in terms of composers and the nature of their music. The composers come from seven different countries; Two women and five colored people.

There are five past Oscar winners and five other past Oscar nominees, though it’s the newcomers to the Oscar race who seem to be garnering the most attention in these final days before nomination voting begins Thursday.

Their music ranges from traditional orchestral to choral works, from electronic sounds to experimental compositional techniques. About 390 music-sector voters (all composers, lyricists or music editors) are eligible to vote.

A Guide to Shortlist Contenders:

“The Fablemans”

Topping the list is 90-year-old John Williams, whose 29th film with director Steven Spielberg ends an unprecedented collaboration spanning more than 50 years. The most honored composer ever (with five statuettes and 52 total nominations), he looks likely to get a 53rd nod for his warm, nostalgic and sometimes melancholic music for the characters Spielberg effectively plays as parents.

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson, the only composer to date to win for a Marvel movie (2018’s “Black Panther”), could score again with the sequel. His bold and complex soundscapes evoke the African and post-Mayan-culture music of sophisticated Wakanda and the underground kingdom of Taloqan, respectively.

“Woman Speaks”

Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir (2019 winner for “Joker”) is in demand for his pastoral, mostly guitar-based composition for Sarah Polley’s powerful drama “Woman Talking.” (The composer’s other awards-season favorite, “Tár,” was disqualified for having little audible original music compared to extensive classical music excerpts.)

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”

Also poised for a spot in that final five is French composer Alexandre Desplat (a two-time winner for 2014’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” and 2017’s “The Shape of Water”), whose charming score for del Toro’s acclaimed stop-motion animation film was designed almost entirely for wooden instruments, befitting the title character. Interestingly, Desplat is one of four shortlisted composers who are also on the song shortlist, in this case for the charming “Ciao Papa”.

“Babylon”

Don’t count out past winner Justin Hurwitz (a double winner for song and score for 2016’s “La La Land”), whose jazzy stylings and rich orchestral brilliance propelled audiences through Damien Chazelle’s controversial 1920s Hollywood epic. Spent three years on the project, including writing all the music for the on-screen bands.

“Woman King”

Terrence Blanchard, a two-time past nominee (“Da 5 Bloods,” “BlackKkKlansman”), deserves a spot for what may be his most ambitious score to date. He used African-American operatic voices, legendary jazz singer Dianne Reeves, and symphony orchestras for West African historical dramas.

“All Quiet on the Western Front”

German composer Volker Bartelmann (previously nominated for “Lion”) enhanced his orchestra with the unusual sound of a turn-of-the-century harmonium, while eschewing drum-and-brass war-movie clichés for Edward Berger’s German. Language is the epic of the First World War.

“Descendants of Inisharin”

Best of the day were small parts for other past Oscar nominees, including Carter Burwell (“Carol,” “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) for Martin McDonagh’s black comedy. The composer, eschewing a traditional “Irish” sound for a movie set in 1920s Ireland, opted instead for a fairy tale sound for Colin Farrell’s bewildered lead character: celeste, augmented with harps and bells, flutes and just 15 string players.

“she said”

Another past nominee, Nicholas Brittel (“Moonlight,” “If Beale Street Could Talk”), tackles the true-based story of two New York Times reporters behind the Harvey Weinstein sexual-assault story. It demanded a different, though still intimate sound: the cello (played by his wife, Caitlin Sullivan) took center stage with unusual playing techniques, adding a small ensemble of New York string players as appropriate.

“don’t worry dear”

Another previous nominee, English composer John Powell (“How to Train Your Dragon”), gave Olivia Wilde’s film a catchy score that may be the film’s best chance for awards attention: a unique collection of processed female voices designed to represent. Oppression of women by men in the community like the “Stepford Wives” of the film.

“no”

Michael Abels, director Jordan Peele’s resident composer (“Get Out,” “Us”), is not yet nominated but could be for his music for Peele’s horror-sci-fi film. He managed to capture the sense of wonder, and later terror, of the extraterrestrial audience with a 75-piece orchestra and a 32-voice voiceless choir.

“devotion”

Chanda may make history as the first black woman to be nominated in the dance category. He scored the Korean War story about a heroic fighter pilot with a 109-piece Nashville orchestra. The classically trained Dancy was hired before shooting and wrote throughout the production, watching dailies and coming up with themes for director JD Dillard. With three women nominated in the past six years, and increasing attention being paid to this rapidly expanding segment of the music community, Dancy could make the cut.

“Avatar: Waterway”

Another English composer, Simon Franglen, had the unexpected task of following in the footsteps of his long-time collaborator James Horner with a huge score for a box-office hit. He worked with Horner on the original to come up with colorful sounds for the exotic planet Pandora, but he found that he needed a whole new mix of orchestra, vocals, synths and various world-music elements to accommodate the many new characters and environments. James Cameron’s three-hour sequel.

“Glass Onion”

Nathan Johnson, cousin of “Glass Onion” director Rian Johnson (and composer of last year’s del Toro movie “Nightmare Alley”), is cited for the first time for his music for the “Knives Out” sequel: a great throwback to mystery scores from the past, with its harpsichord and elegant orchestral background.

“everywhere everything at once”

Perhaps the biggest question mark is, will Branch nominate an experimental rock group? Son Lux composed the lengthy score for “Everything Everything All at Ones” underlining the multiverse frenzy with multiple themes and a mix of orchestra, voice and virtual instruments. Son Lux is a trio of musicians, and the Oscars have nominated a team of composers for a dramatic score only six times in its history (although one such team, Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste, won for “Soul” in 2020).

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