The rap: He may have seemed an offbeat choice as composer of a piece of Americana, albeit one that turns the Western genre on it ear, but the five-time Grammy-winning Argentinian (who had also scored “Amores perros,” “21 Grams” and “The Motorcycle Diaries”) delivered a score that resonated with its spare lyricism. He’s already picked up the Golden Globe for one of his “Brokeback” songs.
In his own words: “I wanted an Americana feel, but I also wanted a universal feel. Obviously an acoustic guitar — with steel strings, not nylon — and strings, to embrace the guitar. But I also added the idea of a pedal-steel guitar, which (provided) a counteraction between two elements, just like the two characters in the movie.”
“The Constant Gardener”
The rap: This Spanish-born composer had already demonstrated his versatility with five scores for director Pedro Almodovar (including “All About My Mother” and “Talk to Her,” which won him two of his six Goya Awards, Spain’s version of the Oscar). “The Constant Gardener,” his first work for director Fernando Meirelles, demanded very specific African sounds. This is his first Oscar nomination; he’s also up for a BAFTA.
Nuts & bolts: Iglesias’ score for the John le Carre political thriller features the voice of acclaimed Kenyan artist Ayub Ogada and his work on nyatiti, a Kenyan lyre; plus a host of unusual and atmospheric wind instruments, including kawala (an Egyptian bamboo flute), Turkish clarinet and zumara (a North African double clarinet).
“Memoirs of a Geisha”
The rap: Five-time Oscar winner, composer of nearly 100 scores, enlisted cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Itzhak Perlman for key solos. But the Japanese instruments — the stringed koto, shamisen and biwa; the bamboo-flute shakuhachi; and the massive taiko drums — provided the authentic sound of the geisha world that has already earned Williams Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics awards and a BAFTA nom.
Gospel according to John: “(The challenge was) bringing Japanese instruments into the conventional Western orchestra, making an East-West connection and getting the measure of that connection right, so that the balance wasn’t tilted too far one way or the other.”
The rap: Adding his nom for “Memoirs of a Geisha” and this score for Steven Spielberg’s film about the Mossad agents who hunted down those responsible for the 1972 massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes, Williams has gained his 45th Oscar nomination, tying the previous record held by Alfred Newman, his old boss at 20th Century-Fox.
The challenge: “Getting an atmosphere that suggested something of the Middle East, and of the Palestinian and Israeli experience in musical terms that would support the film,” Williams says. As for tying Newman’s record, Williams reminisced about playing piano for the Fox music director in the 1950s: “I admired him as a conductor more than anyone I worked with, and any link does make me very proud. I was very close with his brother Lionel, and I always felt a member of the Newman family, a bit, by extension.”
“Pride & Prejudice”
The rap: The Italian-born, London-based composer — unknown in this country except for the little-seen “The Brothers Grimm” — earned his first Oscar nom for his romantic, classically styled music for the Jane Austen adaptation. Acclaimed French classical pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet performed the many piano solos in the film.
A delicate balance: It was tricky, Marianelli says, “to start with music of the period and then quickly move away from it, to more emotional areas where it could really connect with the characters. The piano was meant to capture a side of Elizabeth’s character. It was really the soul of the score. The piano pieces that are played in the film by the actresses were written before anything else, and they provided the themes that were developed later.”
“In the Deep” (“Crash”)
Music and lyrics by Kathleen “Bird” York, music by Michael Becker
The rap: Best known for her recurring role as Andrea Wyatt on “The West Wing,” York may be able to focus more on her music career now that she’s been nominated for the dreamy song that plays over the finale of “Crash,” written for her longtime collaborator Paul Haggis (she regularly wrote songs for his CBS series “Family Law”).
Bird is the word: “(The song’s) like a prayer that you have by yourself at 2 in the morning,” says York, “when you’re reflecting on one of the seminal moments in your life, and you’re not exactly sure how to get up it, under it or around it — but you have that moment when you’re lost in the most beautiful way.”
“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” (“Hustle & Flow”)
Music and lyrics by Jordan Houston, Cedric Coleman and Paul Beauregard
The rap: The song provides one of the key moments in the film and crystallizes the hero’s plight. The rap is the work of Memphis musicians Juicy J (Houston), DJ Paul (Beauregard) and Frayser Boy (Coleman), who were enlisted before shooting by producer John Singleton and director Craig Brewer. Houston and Beauregard had written a song for Singleton’s “Baby Boy” in 2001 and, as Three 6 Mafia, have made a major impact on the hip-hop scene in the South.
Straight outta Houston: “The song is catchy, and when you watch the movie, you see how they created it. It’s so dramatic.”
“Travelin’ Thru” (“Transamerica”)
Music and lyrics by Dolly Parton
The rap: Veteran country singer-songwriter Parton was touched by the transgender tale of “Transamerica,” and the song it inspired earned her a second Academy nom (“9 to 5” was the first, in 1980).
Dolly’s take: “I thought it was a wonderful idea for a movie. I know so many people (who) seem to be misfits in their own bodies. In fact, I have a good friend (who) once was a woman and now is a man. (The movie) was not just about the woman, but about the son,” she says, referring to the cross-country road trip that gender-challenged Felicity Huffman takes with his/her angry, confused son. “It was about people being misplaced, trying to find their own way, try ing to make all the pieces fit.”