Pixar’s hot streak of nominations in the Original Score category will come to an end this year – after three straight years of recognition (Michael Giacchino for “Ratatouille” and “Up,” which won last year, plus Thomas Newman for “WALL-E”), Randy Newman has apparently decided not to enter his work on “Toy Story 3” into the race. Either Newman knew something that we don’t know (like his score was going to face some sort of late disqualification anyway), or he already bought tickets to the Bahamas for late February. I have no idea what happened there. Perhaps Disney and Newman figured that the Academy would find the work too derivative of Newman’s scores for the first two “Toy Story” films anyway. Regardless, Newman’s “We Belong Together” from the same film remains a strong contender for a Best Original Song nod.
Anyway, that was the one real surprise when the Academy released the list of 77 titles that will be competing in the Original Score category. Outside of the smaller, committee-guided categories like Foreign Language Film, Documentary, and Animated Feature, this is by far the smallest field of qualifying titles. Most of the high-profile exclusions were expected after the Academy announced earlier in the week that the scores for “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Tangled,” “True Grit” and “The Kids Are All Right” would all be disqualified, because they were too reliant either on songs or pre-existing material (if we’re really going to be sticklers on that front, can’t we put in an Adapted Score category? the presence of the Adapted Screenplay category shows that there’s already some recognition that great art can be made out of other great art).
Luckily, most of the most memorable, boldest scores of the year are still on the list, including Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ work on “The Social Network,” Daft Punk for “TRON: Legacy” (how awesome would a nod for these guys be?), Hans Zimmer for “Inception” and Sylvain Chomet for “The Illusionist.” Workaholic and recent category regular Alexandre Desplat unsurprisingly pulled off a triple dip with qualifying scores for “The Ghost Writer,” “The King’s Speech” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Ex-Tindersticks member Dickon Hinchcliffe’s work on “Winter’s Bone” even popped up, though his former bandmates’ equally exceptional work for Claire Denis’ “White Material” apparently wasn’t submitted.
Overall, the pickings are rather slim this year. The Academy could go the boring, safe (usual) route in the category by only picking regulars like Danny Elfman and A.R. Rahman by virtue of name only. Or, this could be an opportunity for Oscar to reach out to truly progressive work like Reznor’s and Daft Punk’s. I wouldn’t bet much on the latter.