Academy Award 2023: Best Original Score: The Craft Race to Watch

The classy Son Lux (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) plays against the legendary John Williams (“The Fabelmans”) and the wild card Volker Bertelmann (“All Quiet on the Western Front”).

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This year’s Oscar competition for the best original score is the most interesting and competitive competition in recent years. Surprising composers Son Lux (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) and Volker Bertelmann (“All Quiet on the Western Front”) face off against 90-year-old legend John Williams (“The Fabelmans”) and the returning Justin. Hurwitz (“Babylon”) and Carter Burwell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”).

This means that this competition has many unusual components. Four out of five films are nominees for best picture (“Babylon” is the standout) and period pieces (“EEAAO” is the contemporary multiverse entry), and there’s old-school versus new-school experimental rock band Son Lux. about four famous vets: Williams has five Academy Awards and a record 53 nominations; Hurwitz won two Academy Awards for “La La Land” (score and original song); And Burwell and Bertelmann have three and two nominations, respectively.

And there is no clear favorite among them. Hurwitz was an early front-runner for his bravura jazz score for Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon,” which transported viewers to the days of Hollywood hedonism during the Roaring 20s. But Son Lux and Bertelmann are riding a wave of momentum for their films. The Daniels’ “EEAAO” leads the pack with 11 nominations — and is the favorite for best picture — while Edward Berger’s epic anti-war drama has nine nods (six of them for artisans, tied with “Elvis”) and is the favorite to win best international film . Either Son Lux or Bertelmann could benefit from a sweep and win the Oscar.

But will Williams get the sentimental vote for an inspired summary score that caps his 50-year collaboration with Steven Spielberg, despite abandoning his intention to retire? Or will Burwell finally break through with Martin McDonagh’s bittersweet “Banshees,” the most haunting score of his impressive career? And Hurwitz still managed to win for a powerful score that was integral to the storytelling.

"Silence on the Western Front"

“Quiet on the Western Front”

Courtesy of Netflix

“Everything everywhere at once” (Son Lux)
Los Angeles rock band Son Lux (Ryan Lott, Rafiq Bhatia and Ian Chang) impressed with their first soundtrack. Wall-to-wall adventurous sound, with plenty of chopped up and processed instrumentation that perfectly captures the atmosphere of the multiverse. The fact that they were nominated by one of the most conservative branches of the Academy, which frowns upon the recognition of scores by several composers, is a triumph in itself, as is the fact that Bhatia and Chang are the only people of color represented here. If Son Lux wins, they’ll join the elite group of a trio of composers (from ‘Soul’, ‘The Last Emperor’ and ‘Limelight’). This proves that people really like the film and bodes well for its chances with the voters.
Head: The film is well-liked, which bodes well now that voting is heading to the Academy. Plus, a Best Picture award could top the score (Son Lux is also nominated for Best Original Song, “This Is a Life”).
Disadvantage: All the reasons why Son Lux is so refreshingly different from the typical Oscar-winning score may work against it because it’s too radical for the Academy.

“The Fabelmans” (John Williams)
Williams explores Spielberg’s origin story musically with the benefit of knowing his late mother Leah Adler, a gifted concert pianist, and the director’s amazing start as a filmmaker. Williams was inspired to compose one of his finest piano-based themes around the strong bond between aspiring director Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) and his free-spirited mother Mitzi (Best Actress nominee Michelle Williams). This theme assisted the rest of the score with chamber-like solos for piano, harp, guitar and celeste. In addition, the composer sprinkled in period nods during the making of Sammy’s films (including piano rag and surf guitar).
Head: Williams is always a strong contender, and his 50-year collaboration with Spielberg takes on greater significance in such a personal film. It also helped that they campaigned together with FYC Q&As.
Disadvantage: The sentimental vote is not as urgent, and the score relies heavily on Adler’s favorite classical piano pieces (including Johann Sebastian Bach’s Adagio from the D Minor Concerto).

“Quiet on the Western Front” (Volker Bertelmann)
Few expected Bertelmann (previously nominated for “Lion” alongside Dustin O’Halloran) to be nominated for “All Quiet,” reimagining Erich Maria Remarque’s world-renowned bestseller as an intense POV experience of relentless artillery barrages and massive carnage. World War II battlefield. The composer provided an almost atonal score that reflects the harrowing emotional state of the protagonist Paul (Felix Kammerer) and the sounds of battle itself (a mix of raw synthesizers and snare drums). Bertelmann relies on acute, staccato drumbeats and ominous, spare chords. Snare drums were bullet-like; the bass became the primary instrument, and Bertelmann found personal inspiration in his great-grandmother’s restored harmonium, which he treated as a modern synthesizer.
Up: Bertelmann’s score is the wild card in the competition, drawing praise from outsiders who appreciate its classical and avant-garde sensibilities.
Disadvantage: Bertelmann’s score can be seen as more cerebral than emotional.

“Babylon” (Justin Hurwitz)
Hurwitz gives “Babylon” a loud musical universe to complement Chazelle’s vision of extreme life during Hollywood’s seismic shift from silent to talk. It’s a sound that’s not anachronistic enough to put anyone out of the 20s, but it’s a far cry from the jazz of the era. It consisted of wailing trumpets, screaming saxophones, hints of rock ‘n’ roll riffs and modern house beats. Some cues are scored for an orchestra led by Jovan Adepo’s character, Sidney, and others for a manic 100-piece band – some scenes even echo the circus. In fact, the score was so important that it underpinned Tom Cross’ muscular editing, particularly the downbeats used for transitions during the opening 30-minute bacchanal.
Head: Hurwitz is revered and his score stands out for its musical power.
Disadvantage: “Babylon” was the most divisive film of the award season.

“The Banshees of Inisherin” (Carter Burwell)
As McDonagh’s composer, Burwell brought a fairytale feel to “The Banshees of Inisherin,” set on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland in 1923 and about the sudden end of a lifelong friendship with dire consequences. This musical choice plays on the childish nature of Colin Farrell’s character, making the physical violence more allegorical and imbuing the island, its people and animals with a sense of mysticism. The composer embraced deep wind instruments such as bass flute and clarinet to help convey the windswept island of Inisherin.
Head: Burwell’s score eschews the Irish musical flavor in favor of something far more imaginative and indicates the film’s light and dark tones as well as an allegorical connection to the contemporaneous Irish Civil War.
Disadvantage: The unusual atmosphere can be overshadowed by the competition.

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