A lot of familiar names grace the 2012 Best Score nomination list, yet it’s the lone newcomer who dominates this scorecard. Let’s take a look at all five deserving nominees:

Well-regarded Italian composer Dario Marianelli makes his third appearance on the Oscars nomination list with his score to Anna Karenina. Remarkably, all three of Marianelli’s nods have been scores to Joe Wright films, (Pride and Prejudice in 2005, Atonement in 2007). Clearly, Marianelli should just set his voicemail to, “If this is Joe Wright calling, yes, I’ll do it!”

Usually, Marianelli’s instrumentations are piano-heavy, strummed by a light hand in the upper register, but he has gone outside that range with Anna Karenina. Instead, he opts for a magnificent morph of Prokofiev and circus atmosphere. Listen to the way the trumpet first enters, reminiscent of Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kije Suite, yet then diverts to an accordion-like sound:

Marianelli ended up winning for Atonement – justly, I might add — but he will have a more difficult time succeeding here, simply because Anna Karenina got lost in theatrical drapery. Consider him a dark horse contender.

Alexandre Desplat has become more than a fixture at these ceremonies, with a steady stream of nominations: in 2006 (The Queen), 2008 (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), 2009 (Fantastic Mr. Fox), 2010 (The King’s Speech), and now 2012 (Argo). The tuba in the room? Amazingly, he has never won! It seems like I point this out every other year, but there is no composer in Hollywood more prolific or exceptional than Desplat (there are many other scores he could have received nominations for), and when all is said and done, he will probably own multiple Oscars.

The trouble is, he enters this season as — yet again — a bit of an underdog. The King’s Speech was probably his best chance to date, but Argo’s resent surge at the Golden Globes and SAG awards could propel his candidacy, especially if the Academy considers the delicacy with which he interweaves Persian lyricism with Tinseltown éclat. Immerse yourself in the contrasting styles here:

What astonishes me is how he continues to compose with such fervor. In the calendar year 2012, he drafted scores for seven feature-length films, including this zany downpour from Moonrise Kingdom:

And let’s not forget that he wrote the mood-spinning score to Zero Dark Thirty:

If the award was for best annual anthology, Desplat would win by a landslide.

And then there’s Mychael Danna, whose score and song to Life of Pi have landed him a coming-out party at the Academy Awards. You could even take some fragments of Marianelli’s Anna Karenina for the backdrop of Danna’s debutante story.

There are a number of reasons to think this is Danna’s award to lose. Look at how this mirrors A.R. Rahman’s explosion upon the scene with Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. Both artists made extraordinary use of the Indian backdrop, receiving nominations for Best Score and Best Song – showing some multifaceted talent. They also stormed in on the heels of a Golden Globe, something that has proved pretty reliable as a soothsaying tool; the Golden Globe winner has won five years in a row.


Danna does several things effectively, but perhaps the greatest compliment one could give is to acknowledge the way his music transports the viewer to another, more fantastical place. He accomplishes this with savvy instrumentation, multi-genre association, and – from a technical standpoint – brilliant use of sound panning. Close your eyes and drift off:

Life of Pi is an earthy, slow-moving affair, and it relies heavily on its visuals and audio to create a unique sensory experience. Danna’s approach is pure magic, sustaining a sense of wonder that is so often elusive. Listen to this beautiful track:

Or this collection of tracks, which demonstrate the more meaningful side of Pi’s meditative tale:

Danna has put together not only the best soundtrack of the year, but perhaps the most impressive single-film compilation of the modern era. This is genuine greatness, a rare display of creativity that humbles the soul.

In a decision that surprised no one, John Williams collected yet another Oscar nomination for Lincoln. This marks his 48th nomination (he won five times), a staggering achievement that even the most frequent Oscar guests can only dream of. What a career!

Williams is always good, so he often ends up being measured against himself. Is Lincoln among his more memorable scores? Not even close, though it’s certainly an enjoyable listen. Combining old-age colonial Americanism with warlike solemnity, the music provides a sturdy soundstage for Daniel Day-Lewis’ virtuosity. Listen through the themes here:

I love the way he mimics Copland, making a clear homage to his famous “Lincoln Portrait.” Worthy of nomination? Absolutely! Worthy of the win? Probably not, but Lincoln dominated the Oscar nominations battle, and that often bodes well for scores – especially with a name as big as Williams’.

Lastly, we have perennial dynamo Thomas Newman, who dazzled viewers with his deeper, nuanced take on James Bond. Yes, Bond is blood-to-the-throat action, but Newman slices the series up with careful attention to personality and setting. Here’s a prime example of what he did in Skyfall:

Major kudos to the Academy for rewarding the unusual, especially in a major blockbuster adventure series. And, as you can see here, Newman proves plenty competent with the action sequences, too:

Newman stands a puncher’s chance of coming away with top honors, but this is a much-deserved nomination. With any luck, it might inspire other well-known composers to take similar less-traveled-by approaches.

All five of these scores are tremendous efforts, and the Academy should be applauded for selecting so wisely. Danna deserves the victory, but all of these contenders are quality enough to merit the highest recognition.

Road to the Oscars Series

January 14: Best Visual Effects – Ian Murphy

January 16: Best Sound Editing – Ian Murphy

January 18: Best Sound Mixing – Michael Benedict

January 21: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

January 23: Best Costume Design – Ian Murphy

January 25: Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Rebecca Susmarski

January 28: Best Film Editing – Dan Schindel

January 30: Best Production Design – Scott Youngbauer

February 1: Best Animated Feature – Carlos Aguilar

February 4: Best Documentary Feature – Dan Schindel

February 7: Best Documentary Short Subject – Dan Schindel

February 8: Best Live Action Short – Carlos Aguilar

February 9: Best Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 10: Best Foreign Language Film – Carlos Aguilar

February 11: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Screenplay – Dan Schindel

February 14: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Supporting Actor – Angela Stern

February 17: Best Supporting Actress – Hiko Mitsuzuka

February 18: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 19: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 20: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Picture – Kit Bowen

February 24: 85th Annual Academy Awards