2019 Oscars Look: Best Original Score

Welcome to our annual Oscar Look series, formally known as “Oscar Circuit” – our deep dive look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of will tackle a different category, offering up their own perspectives on those specific races.  If you miss a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Look 2018. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions for that particular race by clicking on the link here or at the bottom of each article.  Make sure to include your own predicted winners in the comment section too!

Despite potentially getting awarded off-air, Best Original Score is an interesting category. It is unpredictable. It generally features at least a couple of the nominees for Best Picture. And it recognizes achievements that literally dictate a movie’s tone.

Like most Oscar categories, the specific branch is responsible for choosing the nominees. In this case, the music branch makes those choices. Notably, Justin Hurwitz’s score for “First Man,” once a potential frontrunner, is not nominated, which leaves a more wide open field.

Because composers are sometimes scoring multiple films in a single year, this is a category where popular composers can rack up several nominations over the course of their careers.  This year’s field features a mix of first-time nominees, category regulars and one person who looks poised to become a regular.

The category features scores from two movies nominated for Best Picture, two movies that were likely just on the cusp of a Best Picture nomination, and one that saw its only other nomination come in Best Animated Feature. The field is relatively open, but let’s take a look at the nominees and see how they stack up.

And the Nominees Are:

Black Panther” – Ludwig Göransson
BlacKkKlansman” – Terence Blanchard
If Beale Street Could Talk” – Nicholas Britell
Isle of Dogs” – Alexandre Desplat
Mary Poppins Returns” – Marc Shaiman

Black Panther” – Ludwig Göransson

While Ludwig Göransson is a seven-time Grammy nominee, this is his first Oscar nomination. He is perhaps best known as a frequent collaborator with Childish Gambino and producer of the #1 hit record, “This Is America.” On the movie side, he frequently works with Ryan Coogler, director of “Black Panther.” He previously composed scores for Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed” movies.

Göransson’s score for “Black Panther” is the score most unlike its fellow nominees this year. It combines orchestral arrangements with elements of hip-hop and African tribal sounds. The film’s fictional setting of Wakanda might be the only place that contains all of these sounds at once. The result is a piece that feels right at home alongside its visuals.

The film received seven nominations, including Best Picture, so a win is certainly possible. A victory here could suggest that “Black Panther” is in line for a stronger than expected night. It could also mean nothing and just be the one place the Academy finds to reward it. Either way, it has an uphill climb to Oscar gold.

BlacKkKlansman” – Terence Blanchard

After decades of collaborating with Spike Lee, Blanchard has finally secured his first Oscar nomination for “BlacKkKlansman.” The film is the 19th collaboration for the pair and is the most recognized work of either of their careers.

Set in the 1970s, “BlacKkKlansman” tells a story filled with moments of hard-charging righteous anger, sadness, and triumph. Blanchard’s score meets the film on each of these levels. It mixes jazz, funk and orchestral elements to convey very real stakes. The result is a score that is just as interesting in its highs as it is in its lows.

While not the favorite, Blanchard can certainly win. “BlacKkKlansman” has six nominations this year, including Best Picture. Depending on how you judge its chances at competing in the major categories, namely Best Picture and Best Director, it is possible to read strength here as an indicator of strength elsewhere. Of all of the nominees, Blanchard seems most tied to the fortunes of the film–for better or for worse.

If Beale Street Could Talk” – Nicholas Britell

In December, I attended a screening of “If Beale Street Could Talk” where Nicholas Brittell talked about his creative process. He explained how he and Barry Jenkins work together to make sure the music is not sitting on top of the images. The goal is to weave it in. That weaving is the reason some are eying Brittell as the eventual winner here.

Brittell was previously nominated for his work on Jenkins’ last film and Best Picture winner, “Moonlight.” Given that he is under the age of 40, he will likely receive many more nominations in the future.

The score itself is evocative from start to finish. Every note brings to mind a splash of color or a lingering look that works on you whether you are watching the movie or listening separately. Translating the complexity of emotions in James Baldwin’s writing is no small feat, but Britell managed to make it look effortless.

It is one of the strongest elements in one of the year’s best film’s and deserves recognition. All of the nominees in the category are deserving, but without a juggernaut like “La La Land” to stop him this time, this may be Brittell’s year.

Isle of Dogs” – Alexandre Desplat

Alexandre Desplat is a category staple. This is his tenth nomination and he already has two wins. He won just last year for Best Picture winner “The Shape of Water.” Since 2007, he has been nominated almost every year and shows no signs of slowing down.

His work for Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” blends well with the Japanese underpinnings and staccato nature of the stop-motion animation. The score largely relies on percussive sounds and booming bass that brings to mind the way Anderson often gradually fills the screen with more and more of the subject. The marching drumbeats and rumbling chants immediately put you back at the scene.

That said, this is not Desplat’s strongest work. He is easily the most recognizable name in this category. However, the film is only nominated here and in Best Animated Feature, so victory is unlikely.

Marc Shaiman at the pre-recording for MARY POPPINS RETURNS.

Mary Poppins Returns” – Marc Shaiman

Marc Shaiman is also no stranger to this category or awards in general. He is a seven-time nominee (between this category and Best Original Song) for films ranging from “Sleepless in Seattle” to “Patch Adams.” However, even with all those nominations, he has never won an Oscar. This is notable because it is the only of the “EGOT” awards he is currently missing. He has won an Emmy, Grammy, and Tony for his work over the decades. Winning an Oscar would make him just the 16th person to reach EGOT.

Mary Poppins Returns” is the only musical in this category this year. This is notable because the music is the point of the movie. To that end, Shaiman’s score seamlessly captures the whimsy and bounce that makes Mary Poppins so beloved. It blends a sense of wonder with delightful surprises and a general sense of cheer.

This is, however, unlikely to be the year Shaiman breaks through. There are likely too many stronger scores for this to be the ultimate winner, but anything is possible.

WILL WIN:If Beale Street Could Talk” – Nicholas Britell
COULD WIN:Black Panther” – Ludwig Göransson
SHOULD WIN:If Beale Street Could Talk” – Nicholas Britell
SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: “First Man” – Justin Hurwitz


Be sure to check out the Official Oscar Predictions Page to see where the contenders rank!

What do you think?

Written by RC Miller


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2019 Oscars Look: Best Original Song

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