Overdue: Can The Academy Hear Thomas Newman’s Music?

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Some of the most overdue Oscar perennials aren’t in the acting categories. In fact, since craft people seem to draw less headlines than Leonardo DiCaprio, for instance, it is not often one hears a rallying cry for an overdue composer. To date, Thomas Newman has been nominated for 14 Oscars. Thirteen came in Best Original Score and one was in Best Original Song. He’s been nominated in some of the genres most likely to win one an Oscar in this category – Best Picture winners, animated films, sweeping prestige films. However, continually he has always been the bridesmaid, never the bride.

One common complaint about the music branch is they tend to nominate the same people. This makes it harder for new composers to break in. Thomas Newman is a perfect example of a perennial nominee. Since breaking through in 1994, Newman has since never gone more than four years without an Oscar nomination. In fact, his record streak is three years in a row (2002 – 2004). However, none of this has translated into a win.

He first broke onto the scene in 1994 with dual nominations for “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Little Women.” Unlike in other categories, being nominated against oneself doesn’t necessarily spell defeat. In below-the-line categories, voters tend to vote for a film, rather than a singular craft person. This is how Alexandre Desplat won in 2014 for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” despite also being nominated for “The Imitation Game.” However, Newman’s dual nominations failed to overtake the music branch’s love for Disney. “The Lion King” took the award that night. The next year, Disney once again beat Newman in score as “Pocahontas” beat “Unstrung Heroes.”

Newman caught on that Disney is a magnet in these categories and did some scores for the Mouse House. While his work on Pixar films – such as “Finding Nemo” (nominated in 2003), “WALL-E” (nominated in 2008) – was exceptional, both of those films were unable to beat Best Picture juggernauts in the midst of sweeps. “Finding Nemo” fell against “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.” “WALL-E” saw Newman nominated for both Original Score and Original Song for “Down to Earth.” Both those nominations were lost against a “Slumdog Millionaire” dual victory. Newman got in with other children’s scores – “Saving Mr. Banks” in 2013 and “A Series of Unfortunate Events” in 2004. However, both of those lost to Best Picture nominees. “Gravity” took Original Score away from “Saving Mr. Banks” in a tech mini-sweep. “Finding Neverland” managed a victory against “A Series of Unfortunate Events.”

That isn’t to say Thomas Newman hasn’t worked on some Best Picture nominees. In fact, his closest shot at the Oscar win came in 1999 with his work on the smash hit Best Picture winner “American Beauty.” In an anomaly, “The Red Violin” took home the prize, despite it being the only nomination for the film in that category. In fact, since then, the only times a Best Picture nominee has won Original Score has been in 2002 with “Frida” and in 2015 with “The Hateful Eight.” Guess who lost both those years? Yeah, it was Thomas Newman. In 2002, Newman went in with the prestige film “Road to Perdition,” but failed to get gold. Likewise, 2015 saw Newman contend with Best Picture nominee “Bridge of Spies.”

In short, Newman seems to always end up being in the wrong year, despite consistently good work. This year, he is nominated for “Passengers,” one of the least predicted nominees of the year. It seems the “La La Land” juggernaut is all but set to pick up the Original Score prize. However, as Thomas Newman knows, surprises do happen. Hopefully, if not this year, then some year soon he will be the surprise winner.

Top 5 Thomas Newman Scores:

  1. “WALL-E”
  2. “American Beauty”
  3. “Finding Nemo”
  4. “Road to Perdition”
  5. “Shawshank Redemption”

What are your favorite Thomas Newman scores?

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