Unlike Bollywood, where we sometimes judge movies solely based on its music, Hollywood has always struggled with the debate of whether music should be front and centre like other aspects of filmmaking or melt in the background. Any Hollywood composer will tell you they don't want their creation to get lost in the crowd. Music provides emotion to narrative. It is important to convey the meaning where in the frame you can only see the characters with no dialogues. Music is important to bridge the gap between cinematography and screenplay.In this year's nomination, four period pieces and one futuristic score are competing in the Best Original Score category. Double nominee Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game) and veteran Hans Zimmer (Interstellar) are up against first time nominees Gary Yershon (Mr Turner) and Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything). As usual Academy snubs to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Gone Girl), Marco Beltrami (The Homesman), Howard Shore (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) and James Newton Howard (Nightcrawler) were a bit surprising. AR Rehman didn't make the cut despite composing scores for three films that made it to the longlist for this category.
Let's have a look at the nominees—
Alexandre Desplat —The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Imitation Game
Hans Zimmer — Interstellar
Gary Yershon — Mr Turner
Johann Johannson — The Theory of Everything
Alexandre Desplat — The Imitation Game and The Grand Budapest Hotel
This is the Frenchman's seventh nomination with double nominations this year. Desplat has scored music for commercially successful and critically acclaimed films like The King's Speech, The Queen and Harry Potter and Deathly Hollows Part 1 & 2. 2014 has been a phenomenal year for the composer with The Monument's Men, Unbroken and Godzilla in addition to the nominated movies.
Let's talk about The Imitation Game score. Desplat has used a 60 piece orchestra and relied heavily on piano and celeste harp to underline the fact that Turing was way ahead of his time. This is why even though the music sounds conservative, it's not stuck in that period.
Desplat prefers fast arpeggios to highlight the race against time these geniuses have embarked upon. Not to mention that that is exactly what the composer himself was doing as he came on board just three weeks before the movie was up for post-production. The music never lets you forget that it is a film about the man and not the war. The music is character driven and you realise this when you hear 'Christopher's Theme'.
This is the most traditional score on the nominee list this year.
For The Grand Budapest Hotel, Desplat goes for heavy use of the three-stringed Russian instrument Balalaika, the Greek string instrument Bouzoukis (from the mandolin family), and the Spanish guitar. It's beautiful work with the European strings family, and speaks of the glorious and colourful past of East Europe which director Wes Anderson tried to capture in the film's cinematography too. Wes Anderson and Desplat have worked on Fantastic Mr Fox and Moonrise Kingdom before. One can easily spot the similarity in the tone of music here. All these movies, including The Grand Budapest Hotel, are melancholic but laced with humour.
Desplat has already bagged a Grammy and a BAFTA this year. The Grand Budapest Hotel is my favourite to win the race.
Hans Zimmer — Interstellar
After the Batman series and Inception, Zimmer and Christopher Nolan collaborated for this space adventure. Hans Zimmer is a big name in Hollywood's music scene. But with the exception of The Lion King, he has failed to bag an Academy Award despite being nominated 9 times before.
For Interstellar, Zimmer only had a piece of paper which Nolan gave him, talking about the relationship between a father and child. Zimmer described it as a delicious project and worked in parallel with Nolan as he wrote the script and shot the film. The best part of Interstellar's music is the use of pipe organs. Zimmer went back in time to create music of the future. Organs accompanied with strings, woodwinds and piano tell the story of a parent looking for a safe heaven for his daughter.
Gary Yershon — Mr Turner
Yershon is associated with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He is a veteran of English theatre and that shows in his choice of using Saxophone quartet to convey Turner's character traits throughout the movie. Mike Leigh and Yershon have worked together on Topsy-Turvy, Another Year and now Mr Turner.
Even thought the film is about a British painter in a very British town Margate, with the characters played by Brits and created by Brits, the music is not British at all. It is not conservative. It focuses on Turner's personality rather than giving an insight into his thoughts. The painter's grunts, sound of hooves of horses, brushstrokes on canvas all get beautifully mixed with the score to help you understand who Turner is!
The end credit score sums it all up for you. Listen...
This is Yershon's first Academy nomination.
Jóhann Jóhannsson — The Theory of Everything
Bagging the Golden Globes this year Jóhann Jóhannsson has become a strong contender to get the Academy nod this year. The use of electronica in the period pieces is one of the most striking aspects of his score for The Theory of Everything. Jóhannsson relies on a 70 piece orchestra, piano and cristal baschet to make you flow with the emotions of characters.
One can easily spot how Jóhannsson found inspirations in Hawking's equation. The track Cambridge starts small and the blossoms into a big bang! This sets the tone for the entire score.
Music for The Theory of Everything is focused on the emotions and struggles of the characters.
Our Prediction: This is Alexandre Desplat's to lose. Though Jóhann Jóhannsson comes close with his Golden globes win, Desplat's double nomination and amazing score for The Grand Budapest Hotel should end the awards drought for him.
Music fills the silence, it gives gravitas to the expressions, and amplifies the emotion an audience should feel in the theatre. These maestros have successfully done that to grab your attention.
Winner in 2014: Steven Price for Gravity