The score race is marked by experimentation and invention, highlighted by frontrunner “Dune,” “The Power of the Dog,” “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” and “Candyman.” Plus, the category is graced by the inclusion of three Black composers (Kris Bowers for “King Richard,” Jeymes Samuel for his all-Black western, “The Harder They Fall,” and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’ for “Candyman”), as well as Disney’s first female to score an animated feature (Germaine Franco for the Colombian-set “Encanto” musical).
In addition, Zimmer also made the shortlist for “No Time to Die,” containing an appropriate John Barryesque vibe for Daniel Craig’s farewell as James Bond (with nice nods to “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”), as did Jonny Greenwood for “Spencer,” Pablo Larraín’s fable about the painful Christmas holiday of ’91 for Kristen Stewart’s Princess Diana, which is filled with the colorful chaos of jazz set against a traditional orchestra.
Also noteworthy was the inclusion of Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias (winner of the LA Film Critics Award) for Pedro Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers”; two-time Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat for his jazz-induced “The French Dispatch”; Nicholas Britell for “Don’t Look Up”; and Daniel Hart for David Lowery’s “The Green Knight.”
However, Oscar winner Hans Zimmer (“The Lion King”) could win his second award for Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious “Dune” (Warner Bros.) His score is a musical masterpiece of experimental invention in conveying the beauty and danger of the Arrakis desert planet — from the rhythm of the wind pushing the sand between the rocks to the pounding percussion of the monstrous sandworms. Zimmer leaned on the spiritual, driven by a choir of female voices. As part of the hallucinatory nature, Zimmer didn’t want any of the culturally diverse instruments identifiable, so he disguised everything with the help of sculptor/welder Chas Smith and his virtual synthesizer.
Greenwood achieves his own masterful musical invention for Jane Campion’s psychological western, “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix). Inspired by the repression and savagery of Montana rancher Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch), Greenwood twists orchestral instruments into unique sounds to convey his loneliness, isolation, and yearning set against the beautiful landscape and his prison-like ranch house. A cello becomes a banjo for a unique sophistication, an atonal piano evokes pain, and French horns and strings have an aching quality. Greenwood essentially turns his score into a nightmare.
“King Richard” (Warner Bros.), the biopic about Richard Williams’ (Will Smith) uncompromising mission to propel daughters Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) to the top of the tennis profession, was a personal project for composer Bowers, whose father decided before he was born that he wanted him to play piano and who took an active role in the development of his craft. As a result, Bowers heavily featured piano and prepared piano in the score. He additionally evoked the sound and feeling of tennis through strings, harp, piano, prepared piano, and percussion, which both depicted the uniqueness of the Williams sisters breaking through the color barrier of tennis, and the grit and tenacity of the Williams family.
With “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (A24), starring Denzel Washington and McDormand, Joel Coen embraced the inherent theatricality of Shakespeare’s play in Expressionistic black-and-white tones. And since it’s more of a psychological than physical reality, composer Carter Burwell got a sense of dense black and silky gray, which inspired him to do a thrilling string sound, partly influenced by Bernard Herrmann’s chilling “Psycho.” In addition, Burwell utilized dialog as the melody and the strings as the accompaniment, so he placed most of the score in the lowest registers with cellos and basses, taking occasional flight with solo violin and a well-placed fiddle.
Nia DaCosta’s “Candyman” (Universal) horror update required an unconventional score — and composer and co-sound designer Lowe delivered a visceral soundscape in tune with the movie’s urban legend about racist violence perpetrated against Black men throughout history. The mythology provided plenty of inspiration for Lowe, whose approach consists of recording his own voice and then processing and manipulating it to sound like a choir of strings, woodwinds, and metallic instruments. He did his own field recording in the crucial location of Chicago’s gentrified Cabrini Green, turning those textural elements into “psychic energy” for the score. And he recorded and manipulated the sounds of bees and other insects into strange skittering and buzzing.
Listed in alphabetical order. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.
“The Power of the Dog”
“The Tragedy of Macbeth”
“Don’t Look Up”
“The French Dispatch”
“The Harder They Fall”
“Being the Ricardos”
“No Time to Die”
“The Green Knight”
“The Last Duel”