The Academy’s 400-member music branch singled out an especially diverse group this year, including composers born in England, Spain and Germany, along with two Americans – one of whom is not only female but also a person of color.
They also cast a wide net in terms of genre: a comedy, two dramas, a science-fiction epic and an animated family film. And while “Dune” has long been the favorite of Oscar prognosticators (and won both the Golden Globe and the BAFTA), we can’t count out the critically praised “Power of the Dog,” the colorful backdrop of “Encanto,” or Academy voters’ frequent use of the score category as consolation prize: a convenient way to reward a film that won’t win anything else.
“Don’t Look Up”
New York composer Nicholas Britell received his third Oscar nomination for the music of Adam McKay’s sci-fi social satire: an eclectic brew of big-band jazz, traditional orchestral sounds, considerable electronics and a wild collection of offbeat instruments from toy piano to banjo and mandolin.
The challenge, says the composer, was to chart “the musical landscape of the movie, to get the tone right and have it balance all these different elements, from the seriousness to the comedy, in a way where it feels right, and doesn’t feel forced.”
Hans Zimmer’s 12th Oscar nomination may be his most meaningful. He read Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel when he was 18 and has long imagined the sounds of the desert planet Arrakis, its sandworms, and the invaluable spice that makes interstellar travel possible. Eerie, ominous and dramatic, it is a unique mix of choral, world-music, rock and electronic sounds created by friends and colleagues on three continents.
“One of the major themes of the book was the power of women,” Zimmer says. “We were dealing with a culture that was extraterrestrial. I felt that the only thing that should be pure – and even that shouldn’t be quite pure – was the voice. I was trying to do the inner voices of the characters, without using words.”
Composer Germaine Franco becomes the first Latina, and only the sixth woman ever, to be nominated for an original-score Oscar. An Annie winner for her songs and orchestrations on Disney’s Mexican-set “Coco,” she spent an entire year on “Encanto” in search of an authentic Colombian-music sound.
The score, she says, needed to “weave in and out of [Lin-Manuel Miranda’s] songs, and tell the story of Mirabel and her emotions, evoking a sense of magical realism. Specific rhythms are applied to different characters,” she adds, utilizing traditional folk instruments and choral sounds from the region.
The Penelope Cruz film earned Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias his fourth Oscar nomination, yet it’s only the first for a Pedro Almodóvar film, and this is their 13th film together (after such hits as “All About My Mother” and “Pain and Glory”). A string orchestra, piano and a small complement of woodwinds are the foundation of the score.
He started with the film’s most intense moment, as Cruz’s character learns the truth about her baby. “This was the soul of the movie,” he says. “I followed the breathing of the actress; it was a guide for me, full of close-ups. I oriented the music to the suspense of this scene, and that gave me possibilities for other scenes.”
“The Power of the Dog”
England’s Jonny Greenwood, still best known as part of pop’s Radiohead, received his second Oscar nomination for the acclaimed Jane Campion film. And as usual, he tackled it with unusual sonorities: a cello played like a banjo, a detuned mechanical piano, horns with lots of reverb.
“Usually I’m all for making music as romantic as I can,” he says. “But we recorded the string groups whilst running random scenes from the film, and the colder they played, the better it suited the picture. So there’s not much vibrato in their playing. Likewise the French horns – that’s the sound of pent-up masculinity, but the louder they play, the more open and angry they get.”