His lengthy resumé includes Grammys, BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and an Emmy. Yet if you refer to Thomas Newman by name to the lay moviegoer, you’re bound to get a blank stare in return. “The guy who did the music for ‘Toy Story?’” some film buffs and/or Pixar lovers might ask.
This is Thomas Newman, not Randy—though the two are cousins, derived from a long line of cinematic composers, both of whom have scored many a Pixar film—who deserves just as much, if not, I would argue, more credit for his work.
At nearly 62 years old, Newman has 80 film scores and nine television scores to his prized name. For “The Shawshank Redemption“—the one film people from all walks of life, political parties, and religions can agree is an incredible and indelible work of heart-wrenching art—Newman created his own masterpiece, in pieces like “Brooks Was Here” and the ever-cinematic “End Title.” Show me a film buff immune to the chills this score induces, and I’ll just have to play you another piece. Take your pick: “Shawshank Prison – Stoic Theme?” “An Inch of His Life?” Newman’s work is a gold mine.
If underdog women fighting corruption and social injustices are more your speed than the twisted politics of incarceration, perhaps the scores for “Erin Brockovich” or “The Help” would suit you better. Personally? “Aibilene,” off “The Help” score is just as soft- spoken, measured, and full of pent-up strength and grace as Viola Davis’ character of the same name.
If there were ever a composer whose music fueled escapism, it’s Newman. Despite “American Beauty” centering on Lester Burnham’s (Kevin Spacey) numbness to his own existence, the film’s theme, “Any Other Name” is one of the most tranquil instrumental works. Its ambient subtlety and the slow and steady notes of the piano, which deepen as the piece progresses, are anchored by Lester’s desperation—which so many of us feel at some time or another—to reclaim his life and achieve his full potential.
When it comes to Newman’s forays into the land of Pixar, Newman straddles the line between cautious exuberance and ethereal curiosity. This is especially evident in “Wow” and “Field Trip” from “Finding Nemo.” In “WALL-E,” this can be heard in “Eve,” which shares many similarities with the more optimistic portions on the “Passengers” score—don’t worry, there’s more on that one.
“Skyfall” offers up “Brave New World,” and “Breadcrumbs,” the latter of which puts a shaken, not stirred twist on the legendary Bond theme that 007 fans know and hold dear. And when it comes to 2013’s “Saving Mr. Banks”? Though Newman might have been a bit too young to compose the original songs for “Mary Poppins,” he created his own magic with “Travers Goff” and “Ginty My Love.” The latter of which is enough to conjure up the tears brought on by the entire film.
And when it comes to “Passengers” (see, I told you I’d come back to it), there are three things that cannot be discounted, despite the controversial, albeit entirely human plot device: the production design, the score, and Jennifer Lawrence’s banging wardrobe. If you’re among the masses who slammed the film for the protagonist’s decision to wake up (and by definition steal the life of) the woman he essentially internet stalked, at the very least, listen to the score and see if you don’t cut the movie a bit of slack. Don’t know where to start? “The Starship Avalon (Main Title)” and “Aurora” channel that same unearthly—heh, get it?—quality as “American Beauty,” and the self-titled theme from “Road to Perdition.” “Build a House and Live In It” and “Starlit” are just charming, peaceful, and, admittedly, pretty amorous…which it’s safe to say we can all agree was the point.
And while Newman has garnered a whopping 14 Oscar noms—the first through third he lost to Disney’s “The Lion King” (Hans Zimmer) and “Pocahontas” (Alan Menken) —he’s never actually managed to take home the gold. But why is that?
Maybe it’s his admittedly unconventional tonal changes, maybe it’s the smidgen of darkness that underlays even his most uplifting pieces. The man though has been lauded for his work on a myriad of films—period pieces like “Shawshank” and “The Iron Lady,” family features like “Nemo” and “WALL-E,” comedies like “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” and dramas like “Beauty” and “Cinderella Man.” So it would stand to reason that the Academy does believe in his ability to transcend genres, no?
Maybe, just maybe, it’s the fan base. Just as season three of “The Leftovers” was praised by critics everywhere and the small but mighty fan base it boasts, the show missed out on all but one nomination, likely because its number of viewers didn’t reflect its quality. From the sheer amount of people I’ve met who know and love Zimmer but draw the aforementioned blank look when I bring up Newman, it’s clear he’s among the more…unsung film composers.
Thomas Newman might not have the recognition of the John Williams and Zimmers of the world, but he does have the body of work to attain said recognition. He does deserve each and every one of those Oscars, and by continuing to deprive him of one, the Academy is further depriving film fans of his notice.
While Newman is likely to get another Oscar bid for his work on either “Victoria and Abdul” or “Thank You For Your Service,” his competition is sure to be steep, with other films already leaving audiences and critics in awe. Zimmer’s “Dunkirk” score is certainly the front runner, and Newman will likely also be pitted against Alexandre Desplat’s “The Shape of Water,” Williams’ “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Carter Burwell’s “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri,” and Dario Marianelli’s “Darkest Hour,” as they all vie for one of the coveted five slots for Best Original Score.
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| MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
| LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS |
| ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
| PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
| ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |