The analysis

The score race lacks a clear favorite as a slew of potential contenders, including Howard Shore’s Golden Globe- and BFCA-winning work for “The Aviator,” were disqualified a week before the nominations were announced. Also disqualified under the music branch’s tight rules were Craig Armstrong’s score for “Ray,” Harry Gregson-Williams’ music for “Shrek 2,” James Howard Newton’s score for “Collateral” and Clint Eastwood’s music for “Million Dollar Baby.”

Of the composers who remain in the race, John Williams received his 38th nom, for “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” While the score is varied and accomplished, Williams has a few factors working against him. “Prisoner of Azkaban” is the third “Potter” movie and voters might lump this score in with the others, lessening its impact. His dozens of noms coupled with his five wins may make Oscar want to give the award to one of his four competitors, none of whom has won.

Thomas Newman has a fine shot this year, getting his seventh nomination for “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” His unusual sonorities and instrumentation for the gloomy kid-lit adaptation could work for or against him with the traditional Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters. Though the film opened to a mixed reception, production values and score are well regarded.

James Newton Howard’s fourth score nom, for “The Village,” was reaped by work with an eerie and malevolent tone that ordinarily would have a good shot at winning were it not for the film’s extremely poor critical reception.

John Debney’s nomination for “The Passion of the Christ” comes as a bit of a surprise, as the three-time Emmy-winning composer had previously scored such light-hearted comedies as “Cats and Dogs” and “Elf.” Debney replaced composer Jack Lenz months into production when an old friend producing the film serendipitously suggested him to director Mel Gibson. The unusual Middle Eastern themes in his score for the popular “Passion” gives it a chance of standing out with voters.

Jan A.P. Kaczmarek gets his first nomination, for “Finding Neverland,” after getting notice in 2002 for his score to “Unfaithful.” He brings a sentimental score to the critical darling and seven-time nominee “Neverland,” and could ride the film’s wave should it begin to rise when the envelopes are opened.

Finding Neverland

Jan A. P. Kaczmarek

Current kudos: NBR (win), Golden Globe (nom), BAFTA (nom)

Oscar pedigree: None.

Why it’ll win: Sentimental score will win over voters.

Why it won’t: Voters recognizing “Neverland” in other categories might decide to give this award to a less-nominated film.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

John Williams

Current kudos: Grammy (nom)

Oscar pedigree: “Schindler’s List” (won), “E.T.” (won), “Star Wars” (won), “Jaws” (won), “Fiddler on the Roof” (won); 37 additional previous noms

Why it’ll win: John Williams is the last living film scoring heavyweight, with 38 noms and 5 wins.

Why it won’t: He’s already won five Oscars, and his competitors have never won.

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

Thomas Newman

Current kudos: None.

Oscar pedigree: “Finding Nemo” (nom), “Road to Perdition” (nom), “American Beauty” (nom), “Unstrung Heroes” (nom), “Little Women” (nom), “The Shawshank Redemption” (nom)

Why it’ll win: Newman’s whimsical, varied score, along with his six previous noms, could give him the prize.

Why it won’t: Use of unusual instruments and sonorities could be off-putting to the tradition-bound Academy.

The Passion of the Christ

John Debney

Current kudos: None.

Oscar pedigree: None.

Why it’ll win: Debney’s melding of Middle-Eastern sounds and antiquated languages could impress the Academy.

Why it won’t: Controversy surrounding “The Passion” could scare voters away.

The Village

James Newton Howard

Current kudos: None.

Oscar pedigree: “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (nom), “The Fugitive” (nom), “The Prince of Tides” (nom)

Why it’ll win: James Newton Howard has been nommed for best score three times previously and twice for best song; this could be the year the Academy finally hands him the prize.

Why it won’t: “The Village” was a bust with critics and this is its only nom.

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