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Best Original Score Shortlist Reflects the Season’s Embrace of Nostalgia and Experimentation

And that's a good sign for bolder film music.

Brendan Gleeson in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN

“The Banshees of Inisherin”

Jonathan Hession / courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

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This article contains IndieWire’s preliminary Best Original Score predictions for the 2023 Oscars, originally published December 21, 2022. We regularly update our predictions throughout awards season, and republish previous versions (like this one) for readers to track changes in how the Oscar race has changed. For the latest update on the frontrunners for the 95th Academy Awards, see our 2023 Oscars predictions hub.

Nominations voting is from January 12-17, 2023, with official Oscar nominations announced January 24, 2023. Final voting is March 2-7, 2023. And finally, the 95th Oscars telecast will be broadcast on Sunday, March 12 and air live on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET/ 5:00 p.m. PT. We update predictions through awards season, so keep checking IndieWire for all our 2023 Oscar picks.

The State of the Race

Wednesday’s shortlist of 15 original scores (including several of IndieWire’s picks for the year’s best) reflects the season’s embrace of nostalgia and experimentation — often together — which is a good sign for bolder film music. A great example is Justin Hurwitz’s jazzy score for “Babylon,” with its wailing trumpets, screaming saxes, shades of rock ‘n’ roll riffs, and modern house beats. This perfectly captures director Damien Chazelle’s Wild West Hollywood vibe of the late ’20s.

Another example is the way Alexandre Desplat experiments with his retro-inspired score for Guillermo del Toro’s stop-motion “Pinocchio,” using only wooden instruments to evoke the physicality and emotion of the titular wooden boy. In this way, he turned a limitation into a sense of melodic liberation.

The list is not without its share of snubs and surprises, with the inclusions of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “Don’t Worry Darling,” and “Devotion,” and the omissions of Michael Giacchino’s operatic vision for “The Batman” and M.M. Keeravani’s score for the Tollywood crowd-pleaser “RRR.” Continuing its strong showing across the shortlists, “All Quiet” boasts director Edward Berger’s go-to composer, Volker Bertelmann, musically filling the screen with a range of frequencies that don’t compete with the explosions and gunfire, relying on an amplified harmonium to good effect. If Chanda Dancy is nominated for “Devotion,” she’d be the first Black woman to receive a Best Original Score nod; her uplifting score for J.D. Dillard’s biopic about this country’s first Black Navy pilot and Korean War hero, Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), delivers a combination of orchestral and choir music for the exciting dogfights and the emotional bonding with his fellow airmen.

Dancy is among three Black composers and two women composers shortlisted, alongside Michael Abels (“Nope”), Terence Blanchard (“The Woman King”), and Hildur Guðnadóttir (“Women Talking” — her daring score for “TÁR” was ruled ineligible.) Abels achieves a thrilling sense of chaos in Jordan Peele’s subversive UFO film, “Nope,” using snap pizzicato in the basses, Wild West brass, some percussive tricks, and a wordless choir to convey an otherworldly sensation. Blanchard brought in elements of West African culture in Gina Prince-Bythewood’s “The Woman King,” including West African drums, the Koto, the kalimba, and the marimba. Guðnadóttir’s lyrical, guitar-driven score for Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” channels a sense of hope for the traumatized Mennonite women at the film’s center, while also evoking its rural environment.

In terms of other standouts: There’s John Williams’ final score for directing legend Steven Spielberg — “The Fabelmans” — capping a unique 50-year partnership with this cinematic memoir. The 90-year-old scoring master was inspired to compose one of his most beautiful piano-based themes around the strong bond between aspiring director Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) and his free-spirited mom, Mitzi (Michelle Williams), who was an aspiring concert pianist. With “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Ludwig Göransson expanded the musical universe by tapping lost Mayan traditions for the sounds of the underwater Talokan civilization. For Daniels’ “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” L.A. post-rock band Son Lux (keyboardist and vocalist Ryan Lott, guitarist Rafiq Bhatia, and drummer Ian Chang) created an outrageous, genre-bending score, ranging from synthetic beats to Chinese opera.


Justin Hurwitz (“Babylon”)
John Williams (“The Fabelmans”)
Hildur Guðnadóttir (“Women Talking”)
Chanda Dancy (“Devotion”)
Alexandre Desplat (“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio”)


Ludwig Göransson (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”)
Volker Bertelmann (“All Quiet on the Western Front”)
Simon Franglen (“Avatar: The Way of Water”)
Nathan Johnson (“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”)
Michael Abels (“Nope”)
Carter Burwell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”)
John Powell (“Don’t Worry Darling”)
Son Lux (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)
Nicholas Britell (“She Said”)
Terence Blanchard (“The Woman King”)

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