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Memo to the Music Branch of the Academy 2005

By Cary Wong
It's never too early for the music branch to start weeding out the good scores from the bad in preparation for this year's Oscar nominations. Like last year, there's no clear front-runner, but there are many high profile, year-end scores that may either lead the pack or burst in flames (Alexander, anyone?). However, enough scores are out and enough buzz has been circulating regarding the remaining high profile Oscar movies, that one can at least make recommendations. Last November, my top five yielded one (The Village), my Second Tier yielded two (Finding Neverland and The Passion of the Christ), my long-shots yielded one (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was a surprise over Williams' The Terminal) and Unknown Quantities (late year scores) actually only produced one nominee (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events). So, somewhere in this article, you're likely to find the five eventual nominees.

The Top 5

Brokeback Mountain (Gustavo Santaolalla) -- Verve Forecast
Cinderella Man (Thomas Newman) -- Decca
A History of Violence (Howard Shore) -- New Line
Memoirs of a Geisha (John Williams) -- Sony Classical
The March of the Penguins (Alex Wurman) -- Milan

There is only one sure thing in this bunch, and that's Gustavo Santaolalla's gentle and wistful score to Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain. Not that the other scores aren't worthy -- there are just other factors. More than likely, John Williams' score to Geisha will get nominated just because he's Williams and it's a high profile film. But Williams' problem is that he had four scores this year, with one that may even be a higher profile film (Munich). Cinderella Man seemed a lock when the movie opened this summer, but it was not a box-office success, and Newman's Jarhead may trump it. Shore has won twice in this category in the last four years, and that may hurt his chances here, but Violence is such a good movie and the unsensationalist score is so unlike his Lord of the Rings scores that he will still have a good shot. And the sleeper hit of the year has to be Penguins, and Wurman may be the lucky recipient of an Academy wanting to recognize this movie.

The Second Tier

Capote (Mychael Danna) -- unreleased
The Constant Gardener (Alberto Iglesias) -- Higher Octave
Dreamer (John Debney) -- Sony Classical
Jarhead (Thomas Newman) -- Decca   
North Country (Gustavo Santaolalla) -- Sony

Danna's minimalist-tinged score for Capote is one of the best of the year, but he has never been nominated and the film may be perceived as more of an actor's movie. Gardener and North Country will have a shot if the films get a lot of pre-Oscar awards and buzz. Jarhead will compete with Cinderella Man for the Newman vote (although Thomas Newman is one of the few composers who have been nominated in the same year for best score). If Newman really wants a shot to win the elusive prize, Cinderella may be the score, apropos to its title. Debney lost last year for his severe but popular The Passion of the Christ score, so the music branch may reward him for Dreamers, a critically acclaimed family film. What may work against him? It's a critically acclaimed family film. Debney may also have a shot with a showier family film, Zathura.


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Danny Elfman) -- Warner Bros.
The Dying Gaul (Steve Reich) -- unreleased
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Patrick Doyle) -- Warner Bros.
Proof (Stephen Warbeck) -- Varese Sarabande
War of the Worlds (John Williams) -- Decca

The music branch's welcoming policy for classical music composers may reward newcomer Steve Reich. But he might be a tad too radical for their taste. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory could factor in here, but some voters might mistakenly think it's a musical, due to the confusing music branch rules (see below). War of the Worlds may be an overload of Williams (ditto Revenge of the Sith, although the branch may want to reward Williams for creating a mammoth work of art, while keeping his sanity working with George Lucas). Proof may have peaked too soon. And while Doyle wrote a rich and fulfilling score for the latest Harry Potter installment, it may seem like he's subbing for Williams as opposed to creating a whole world all his own. This score has the best chance to make the leap, but a sprinkle of pixie dust couldn't hurt.

Unknown Quantities

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Harry Gregson-Williams)
King Kong (James Newton Howard)
Munich (John Williams)
The New World (James Horner)
Syriana (Alexandre Desplat)

Just by pedigree alone, Munich and The New World should make it to the final five. Replacement scores rarely get an Oscar nod (Troy, The Horse Whisperer, Air Force One) but Howard is well respected (and he did get one for his replacement score to The Prince of Tides), and if the movie isn't anywhere near the disaster of Kong's last cinematic outing, Howard's score may get recognition. Desplat is due for his first nomination, and with three scores this year, he may sneak in, especially if Syriana is well received. And you can never discount an epic film based on a children's book, so while Narnia should have a bigger buzz at this point in the game, it may surprise us yet.

"According to Plan" -- Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
"Hustle and Flow (It Ain't Over)" -- Hustle & Flow
"The Maker Makes" -- Brokeback Mountain
"There's Nothing Like a Show on Broadway" -- The Producers
"Wonka's Welcome Song" -- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Danny Elfman wrote great scores for two inventive Tim Burton movies, but the music branch might consider them to be musicals (Elfman was burned by the musical rule with Chicago), although by official rules, these scores should be eligible. Just to be safe in this weak year for movie songs, I would, if I was Elfman, have Celine Dion or Annie Lennox do a cover of one of the Corpse Bride songs as soon as possible. The frontrunner right now is Rufus Wainwright's crooning love song for the gay cowboys of Brokeback Mountain, although some of the Gustavo Santaolalla-penned songs may make the cut as well. Mel Brooks wrote a new song for The Producers just to be eligible for this award, and he will at least get a nomination. With Eminem's win a few years back, being a rap song will not count you out for at least a nomination, and while the title song from Hustle & Flow is the least integral to the movie, I don't think the Academy will want to have song titles like "Whoop That Trick" or "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" on the final ballot.

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