The nominees for the 2017 Academy Awards were announced this morning with some glaring omissions in the Best Original Score category. What OSTs should be in the running but were cruelly overlooked? FACT writers weigh in.
Mica Levi’s idiosyncratic composition for Jackie was the only FACT favorite to get a Best Score nomination, although we appreciate the nods for Moonlight and the undeniably charming La La Land. Horror films continue to be criminally excluded from consideration despite how critical they are to making the movie work. And some of the best working modern composers, like Cliff Martinez and Hans Zimmer, were denied nominations, as well.
Taking what we know about the Academy judges’ rigid rule book – no significant inclusion of previously-recorded music, only two composers per score – and sticking to them, albeit loosely, we compiled a list of the sorely under-appreciated scores that deserved inclusion.
The smartest sci-fi of the year also happened to have one of the cleverest original scores, so it must be galling for Denis Villeneuve and his regular musical collaborator Jóhann Jóhannsson to see Passengers – unequivocally the dumbest sci-fi movie of the year – parked in their space in the Best Original Score category.
Jóhannsson’s music is subtle and moving, picking up on the movie’s themes of language and time through its eerie voices and rumbling drones; it’s the kind of score that sounds just as good without the visuals. But due to the inclusion of Max Richter’s tear-jerking ‘On The Nature of Daylight’ in the final cut, Jóhannsson’s Oscar-ready work was deemed ineligible for nomination. Criminal!
Couple in a Hole
Nowhere near enough people saw Tom Geens’ Couple in a Hole, the traumatic tale of a husband and wife who abandon civilization to live rough in a patch of French woodland. The moss-covered motorik rumble of BEAK> is the perfect backdrop for their eerie tale, but to be honest, it’s the very last thing we’d expected to see in the Best Score category – the Academy voters aren’t exactly known for their love of Can-inspired chugging avant-rock. More fool them – BEAK>’s foggy melancholy is more heart-wrenching than any swooping, overblown classical score.
Brooke Blair & Will Blair
Green Room, the follow-up to director Jeremy Saulnier’s 2013 film Blue Ruin, is a knife-edge horror-thriller about a punk band’s fight for survival against murderous neo-Nazis. Naturally, the movie contains lashings of blood and gore and composer siblings Brooke and Will Blair came up with a score that nails the extreme nature of the film: thrash and hardcore punk collide head-on with horror synths and eerie atmospherics. Taking influence from Antonio Badalamenti and John Carpenter, the Blair brothers’ score snub is just another in a long line of the Academy not taking horror as seriously as it deserves.
Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams & Benjamin Wallfisch
Pharrell Williams’ most successful foray into movie music so far was at the hands of Minions. His Despicable Me 2 theme ‘Happy’ was one of the most ubiquitous songs of 2014 (and was nominated for an Oscar that year), but it missed the magic touch of Skateboard P. Taking the potency of his 2015 track ‘Freedom’, Williams linked for Hidden Figures with Hans Zimmer, who knows how to navigate splitting time between wildly popular animated features – his score for The Lion King earned him an Oscar in 1994 – and more serious affairs, like The Thin Red Line and The Dark Knight to create the kind of score that makes you feel hopeful.
It synthesizes the jubilance of so many Neptunes productions with the emotional affect Zimmer has been deploying on audiences for decades. If the minds behind Hidden Figures could get themselves a crew of composers who can do both, the Academy surely should have acknowledged it.
Pop Will Eat Itself grunger-turned-composer Clint Mansell “doesn’t really like movies.” That’s what he told us in 2016 anyways, upon the release of Ben Wheatley’s smart adaptation of J.G. Ballard classic High-Rise.
Handily, High-Rise was more than a movie, and Mansell’s score more than a mere soundtrack. Between the Black Country musician’s flamboyant strings, dipping intermittently into oppressive, dissonant chaos, and Wheatley’s elegant direction, the result was a highly-stylized, under-appreciated triumph of tone and tension. Not saying we’re upset by this film’s Academy Awards oversight, but to borrow a line from another Ballard novel, Crash: “I wanted to rub the human race in its own vomit, and force it to look in the mirror.”
The Neon Demon
Cliff Martinez’s score for The Neon Demon has the glittery menace that perfectly matches Nicolas Winding Refn’s first dive into horror. Chilly electronics, sparkling synthesizers and heady drones all channeled the atmosphere of a film that was depicted Los Angeles as equal parts dream and nightmare.
But let’s put this score aside for a moment. After all these years, the Academy has not acknowledged Martinez at all despite decades of work, including composer the score for Steven Soderbergh’s award-winning Traffic and many of his other films. For an institution infamous for giving awards and nominations to artists they “owe” (look at the 14-time nominated composer Thomas Newman back again with the dull Passengers), the Academy needs to throw one of film’s great musical auteurs a bone. This would have been a great start.
Robert Eggers’ The Witch brought bleak hopelessness and nail-biting terror to its period setting with the help of Mark Korven’s panic-inducing score that felt as primal as the titular villain stalking the doomed characters. Horror scores have always been at a disadvantage during award ceremonies, but Korven’s ornate arrangements of strings and eerie chorales deserved credit.
Its incredible slow burn eventually explodes with bone-rattling percussion that brings to mind Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. That film never would have been qualified since Kubrick used modern masters like Penderecki and Ligeti. With brand new music for The Witch, this time, the Academy had no excuse.
Read next: The 10 best TV and film soundtracks of 2016