Music is an important part of the film experience. A good score can heighten your reaction to good film, underscoring the emotional moments, enhancing adrenaline-pumping action sequences, or anything in between. In the early days there was live organ music accompanying films; I can only imagine what that must have been like. In any case, scores are an intrinsic part of our movie-going experience and can also continue on as separate creative works. Alongside film scores are songs written specifically for films, more pop-type tracks that can be thematically important to the experience, or just add another element to it.
The Academy Award for original music has existed since 1934 when the first statuette was awarded to Louis Silvers and the Columbia Studio Music Department for One Night of Love. The award has gone through a few changes over its lifespan. There were a few years when there were two awards, one for Original Score and one for Scoring. I am not sure what the difference was there. It would then go through a long stretch where there were still two awards but they were for Dramatic or Comedic Film and for a Musical feature. It would go through another transformation in 1962 when the awards went for Original Music Score and Scoring of Music – adaptation or treatment. The 1970s saw another renaming of the prize to Original Score and Original Song Score. It was not until 1980 that the award took on the form that we know today as Original Score, and a single statuette.
There are five films vying for the award this year: Avatar: James Horner; Fantastic Mr. Fox: Alexandre Desplat; The Hurt Locker: Marco Beltrami, Buck Sanders; Sherlock Holmes: Hans Zimmer; Up: Michael Giacchino.
There is some very good music there, although there is one omission, an expected one. My favorite score of the year was Christopher Young's for Drag Me to Hell. Frankly, I am not surprised in the least; I mean, it is a score for a horror film and how often do you see horror recognized by the Academy? That's right, not often.
As for these nominees? I immediately see Avatar, Up, and Sherlock Holmes jump out as early favorites. I did enjoy Alexandre Desplat's work in Fantastic Mr. Fox and to a lesser extent Marco Beltrami's in The Hurt Locker but I don't see either one of them as a legitimate contender.
Among the three top contenders, I have a strong suspicion that Michael Giacchino is going to walk away with the statue for Up. It is really a wonderful score that works just as well with the movie as it does on its own. It has a jazzy, light-as-air feel that plays with the heartstrings, especially during the opening montage. I tell you, he is a composer to keep an eye on. As for James Horner and Hans Zimmer, they both turned in exceptional work, with Zimmer pulling slightly ahead for his inventive Holmes soundtrack.
Here is a sample of Michael Giacchino's Up score, a piece entitled "Married Life":
The Original Song Oscar debuted the same year as the score award, 1934. The first award went to "The Continental" from The Gay Divorcee, music by Con Conrad and lyrics by Herb Magidson. Unlike the score award, the prize for Original Song has enjoyed an uninterrupted run since its inception.
Here are this year's nominees: "Almost There" – The Princess and the Frog – Music and Lyrics: Randy Newman; "Down in New Orleans" – The Princess and the Frog – Music and Lyrics: Randy Newman; "Loin de Paname" – Paris 36 – Music: Reinhardt Wagner, Lyrics: Frank Thomas; "Take It All" – Nine – Music and Lyrics: Maury Yeston; "The Weary Kind" – Crazy Heart – Music and Lyrics: Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett.
Looking at them, I find it very easy to pick the winner. First, let's peek at the ones who won't win. I cannot see either of the Princess and the Frog tunes winning. Yes, the film is very enjoyable and the music works well within the context, but I don't feel either one of them is all that memorable or worthy of the win. Next is "Loin de Paname" from Paris 36, a film I had never even heard of before now; it is certainly a lovely tune and has a very nice, light flow to it. I just think the film may be too obscure which will work against its chances, although it has made me interested in seeing the film.
All right, three songs down and two to go; do you see where I am heading? "Take it All" from Nine features the actress who should have been nominated for Best supporting Actress, and also happens to be he wrong song from this film to have been nominated. If you were to take a song from this film I would have gone with "Be Italian" or even "My Husband Makes Movies," both of which I prefer to the chosen song.
This leaves one song left to be your winner, "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart. This is a song that is the perfect theme for the movie. If there is one nominated song that is immediately identifiable with its film, one song that perfectly sums up its movie, this is it. It is a beautiful song that really stands out among the other nominees and it will walk away with the statuette.
Here is the song performed by co-writer Ryan Bingham: