Composer: Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (“Unfaithful,” “Washington Square”)
Oscar pedigree: first nom
Other awards: Golden Globe and BAFTA noms; National Board of Review award
The composer says: “With a film like this, very gentle, very refined, you need to find a musical language which will carry those emotions, support what happens but not be overwhelmingly sentimental. That was the challenge, to respond in a subtle way that never pushes anything beyond the limits of good taste.”
Also of note: Score features solos by Kaczmarek’s regular pianist Leszek Mozdzer, plus bits of a boys choir and exotic flutes for the fantasy scenes.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Composer: John Williams (“Jaws,” “Star Wars”)
Oscar pedigree: 42 previous noms, five wins
Other awards: Grammy nom
The composer says: “It differed from the first two films in that this was a darker, more mature subject. But like the others, it required something like two hours plus of very active and difficult orchestral scoring, balletic action, the light and dark side of magic, the atmosphere of the world and so on. The orchestral palette was very broad.”
Also of note: Williams wrote a Hogwarts homecoming song (with lyrics from Shakespeare) and employed medieval instruments.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Composer: Thomas Newman (“American Beauty,” “Finding Nemo”)
Oscar pedigree: six previous noms, no wins
Other awards: none
The composer says: “(The challenge was) one of comic tonality. What kind of movie are you watching and how are you supposed to perceive it? If these are a series of unfortunate events, how do you still make them compelling and delightful? You try to stand behind the three Baudelaire orphans and try to direct the audience’s empathy and involvement with them.”
Also of note: Newman and music editor Bill Bernstein penned a sunny, old-fashioned children’s song that opens the film and is “interrupted” by the narrator promising a much darker tale.
The Passion of the Christ
Composer: John Debney (“Elf,” “The Scorpion King”)
Oscar pedigree: First nom
Other awards: Gold record for 500,000 units shipped
The composer says: “I would describe it as a world-music score. I brought in all these wonderful performers: vocalists, flautists, instruments of that era and area of the world. If I had done every piece of music with a large orchestra and choir, it would have been overkill, so we picked our spots very carefully. There is more emotional impact as the score goes on.”
Also of note: Choir sings biblically inspired passages in Aramaic, Latin and Hebrew, many written or co-written by score vocalist Lisbeth Scott.
Composer: James Newton Howard (“The Sixth Sense,” “Signs”)
Oscar pedigree: five previous noms, no wins
Other awards: none
The composer says: “These people (in the story) are attempting to live in a utopian kind of society, and all of a sudden things start to fracture, so the music was about subtle agitation in a way. Then there were these mythical creatures living in the woods; there I was trying to communicate something very elemental, with almost a ceremonial quality and angular, harder sounds.”
Also of note: Howard spent five months on the film and employed famed violin soloist Hilary Hahn for the more poignant, intimate moments.