Last Updated February 11: The original score Oscar nominees — “Don’t Look Up” (Netflix), “Dune” (Warner Bros.), “Encanto” (Disney), “Parallel Mothers” (Sony Pictures Classics), and “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix) — are graced by experimentation and invention. Significantly, “Encanto’s” Germaine Franco represents the first Latina and woman at Disney feature animation to be nominated in the category.
Oscar winner Hans Zimmer (“The Lion King”), though, could win his second award for Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious “Dune.” 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.
Jonny Greenwood achieves his own masterful musical invention for Jane Campion’s psychological western, “The Power of the Dog.” 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.
Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias has been nominated four times but only once with director Pedro Almodóvar for their latest, “Parallel Mothers.” It’s a stirring drama, starring longtime Almodóvar collaborator and Oscar nominee Penélope Cruz, about a pair of single mothers — the middle-aged Cruz and the young Milena Smit, who share a hospital room and form a bond. Psychological, political, and traumatic, the parallels between them are treated musically like a thriller through the composer’s orchestral score, in which a subplot figures prominently about the unearthing of Spanish Civil War graves. The composer juxtaposes different tones and periods very effectively.
Two-time Oscar nominee Nicholas Britell (“If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Moonlight”) jazzes up Adam McKay’s climate change satire, “Don’t Look Up,” with a sense of chaos and absurdity about the crashing comet. This required a lot of musical experimentation by Britell, who came up with the notion: “What if we had lost World War II?” This resulted in a main theme influenced by a bombastic mid-century big band jazz sound. So he threw in a banjo, toy piano, bass saxophone and dueling trumpets. And this escalated into astonishment and chaos that helped underscored the overall rhythm of the movie.
“Encanto,” the animated musical fantasy about a Colombian family with special powers, leans heavily on magical realism, which blurs fantasy and reality. This was ripe for a score by Franco that touched on the idea of a large extended Latin American family with its clearly defined roles and expectations coming into conflict with individual needs and desires. Colombia, which sits at the crossroads of Latin America, provided a blend of indigenous musical ideas for Franco in creating appropriate rhythms and sounds. Among the traditional Colombian instruments she used were the guitar-like tiple, which is a national instrument, the mandolin-like bandola, an arpa llanera harp, and a long flute called the gaita.
Below are the nominees ranked in order of likelihood to win:
“The Power of the Dog”
“Don’t Look Up”