In David Hume’s highly regarded An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, he states quite eloquently:

“Truth is disputable; not taste: what exists in the nature of things is the standard of our judgment; what each man feels within himself is the standard of sentiment. Propositions in geometry may be proved, systems in physics may be controverted; but the harmony of verse, the tenderness of passion, the brilliancy of wit, must give immediate pleasure.”

However, there is a case where truth and taste become indisputably intertwined: John Williams. In his particular category of excellence, his work is as vaulted as Shakespeare’s plays, Einstein’s theories, Picktainment’s Oscar pools (okay, perhaps not that. Picktainment’s Oscar pools are far superior of course!) Sometimes, it’s easy to forget just how many legendary scores the former Boston Pops conductor sprinkled on this world. And just because he used to churn out trebled wonders like Thomas Kinkade paintings does not make him a commercial sellout. Rather, his product has remained of the highest quality. As Frank Sinatra might say of his life, “It was a very good year.”

Still, Williams is not quite as prolific as he once was, which is why his 46th and 47th Oscar nominations this year are worth celebrating. So raise your glasses to John, and throw on the Star Wars soundtrack while you’re at it.

Now that you’re a little tipsy, let’s contemplate his chances of capturing his sixth win. These are his first nominations since Munich and Memoirs of a Geisha in 2005, putting an end to what seems like a prohibition (cue Budweiser Super Bowl commercial).

His first entry is for The Adventures of Tintin, which, not surprisingly, is a Spielberg film. There are plenty of vintage Williams elements throughout the soundtrack, such as bass syncopation, trumpet-heavy fanfares, and what I might call “jazz with alacrity.” There are also traceable parallels from his past. Listen here, to this track which summons memories of Catch Me If You Can:

Or this one, which is basically a Harry Potter quidditch scene reinvented:

Or these remnants of E.T. (with maybe an assist from Alan Silvestri’s Back to the Future soundtrack):

Pleasant stuff, but is it exceptional? Consider Tintin’s entry a worthy homage to a great artist, but the praise stops there. Recycled Williams is better than most composers’ original works, but in a year featuring several top-flight scores, it’s a glossy throw-in.

Which brings us to Williams’ other nomination: War Horse. This is the one you should take seriously, because it’s much more memorable and actually has a chance of winning. Just ask my iPhone how many times it’s been listened to and you’ll understand my appreciation of it.

Listen to the exquisite variation in this track:

At 0:14, examine how the flute becomes enveloped by a grand string promenade. Williams has always known how to paint imagery with music, and this is as solid as anything he’s ever done. Countryside. Innocence. Youthfulness and idealism. The beginnings of a scenic adventure. It harkens thoughts of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony.

And then at 0:55, a simple English melody that manifests into the spirited exposition of the horse at 1:16. Just fantastic! From quiet picturesque to full-blown adventure, yet never losing its homey texture. And then in the home stretch, it gallops into the melodramatic refrain, reminiscent of his Far and Away soundtrack (probably the best component of that film).

For a more comprehensive medley of War Horse themes, give this one a whirl:

If I have one criticism, it’s that the music can get a little schmaltzy at times, but that’s just a tiny smudge on Peppy Miller’s skin. (Yes, that is a segue to The Artist!)

As I’ve said in previous years, the quality of the overall film can have a huge bearing on the original score’s chance of winning. The Artist is riding a gargantuan wave of support, not to mention its innovative nature. Think 2008 when the Academy fell into a Bollywood stupor and handed Slumdog Millionaire a buffet of awards – including both musical categories. This time it’s the – shhh – silent film craze! And, much like in Indian films, music plays a defining role in silent productions. If Jean Dujardin could talk (or liked talkies), he’d tell you the smart bet’s on The Artist, and he would be right. Listen to him – and this:

Much as I like War Horse, my heart is screaming for Ludovic Bource. You’re all familiar with Bource, of course, from his work on… wait, what? Yes, he’s completely unknown in the United States, as delightfully foreign and new as A.R. Rahman was for Slumdog. And his novelty here is putting a modern afterglow on a retro style. It’s the wild, glorious 20s with some present-day panache. It’s sweeping and sweet, slapstick and farcical, puppet-like and brazenly profound. So are the characters in The Artist, where overdone expressions can somehow be subtle and nuanced beneath the showmanship.

You can even hear it in the instrumentation. Percussion provides the slap, strings the heart, clarinet the yearning, piano the vibrancy. To borrow a line from Suzanne Collins, the odds are ever in Bource’s favor.

And then comes Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which was extremely deserving of one nomination: Gary Oldman. As for Best Score? Alberto Iglesias does do a solid job of conveying the slow, deliberate nature of the film, but is it remarkable enough to earn an Oscar nomination? Listen here for yourself:

Nothing to complain about, but considering the preponderance of solid scores out there this year, I’m a little baffled that this made the list. A few Bach-like undertones behind some plodding melodic progressions does not an Oscar make. Not when you’re up against Bource’s inventiveness and Williams’ prowess.

Lastly, we have Howard Shore’s spectacular soundtrack to Hugo. Shore finally seems to have picked up the pieces from Middle Earth and bestowed a new wonder upon the world. Hugo has the most complete soundtrack of the quintet, providing a whole variety of musical anecdotes. Listen to the Parisian influences here, inserted within the monochromatic rhythm of the clock tune:

Much like Michael Giacchino’s Ratatouille soundtrack, Shore’s heartfelt love for the material pours through the clefs and measures. Just as Scorsese adores Paris – and specifically the Gare Montparnasse – so does Shore. Listen to this heartfelt offering, which bubbles with mystery and froths joy:

Pure magic! Again, the French flair is juxtaposed with childhood wonderment, a lethal combination. Which is why Hugo absolutely cannot be counted out in this category, even if it faces considerable adversity on its way to the top.

Since I gave a percentage breakdown last year, I’ll do the same for 2011. I’d give Bource’s The Artist a 60% chance of winning, with War Horse and Hugo coming in at 20% each. All three are exemplary efforts, making this year one to cherish.

Here are two other Oscar-worthy scores, which go unrecognized by the Academy, but not by Picktainment:

Henry Jackman – X-Men: First Class

This is the most adrenaline-inducing, pulse-pounding representative of the year. I hear this and want to break through a wall.

Thomas Newman – The Adjustment Bureau

Just because a movie is mediocre does not mean its score is. Thomas Newman is his usual extraordinary self, throwing a whimsical combination of timbres and syncopation.

And if this from The Descendants was eligible (not original to the movie):

What an idyllic way to end this article…

Road to the Oscars Series

January 27: Best Live Action Short – Kit Bowen

January 31: Best Animated Short – Savanna New

February 1: Best Documentary Short – Christa Youngpeter

February 2: Best Documentary – Dantzler Smith

February 3: Best Foreign Language Film – Steve Neumann

February 4: Best Visual Effects – Michael Benedict

February 5: Best Sound Editing – Michael Benedict

February 6: Best Sound Mixing – Joseph Doherty

February 7: Best Makeup – Katie Mae Peters

February 8: Best Costume Design – Jax Russo

February 9: Best Art Direction – Scott Youngbauer

February 10: Best Film Editing – Michael Benedict

February 11: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

February 12: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 14: Best Animated Feature Film – Steve Neumann

February 15: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Original Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 17: Best Supporting Actor – Joseph Doherty

February 18: Best Supporting Actress – Angela Stern

February 20: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 22: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 23: Best Picture – Kit Bowen