2020 Oscar Category Breakdown: Best Original Score

Today’s category is Best Original Score, which has largely been a really solid category throughout the years. And the reason I know that is because, even since they’ve started announcing a shortlist for the category, even those have been solid. Sure, like International Feature this year, there are a couple of entries on there that are more about the stature of the composers more than the scores themselves, but that’s why you have a shortlist of 15. To be able to have that extra padding. Overall, these categories have been really good most years and while I can quibble about some of their choices of winners, they generally get it right in terms of the nominees.

This year, we get a nice mix of great scores, respected composers and overall good movies represented. And, like most years, while I can quibble one choice over another, it’s a really nice list that really feels like it cares about quality above all else. And you have to respect that, especially given the ups and downs this branch has had in the Original Song category over the years.

Best Original Score

Da 5 Bloods

Mank

Minari

News of the World

Soul

Most of these scores have been seen throughout the precursor process. The only major exclusion was Alexandre Desplat for The Midnight Sky, who’d featured prominently throughout the precursors and was left off. But he’s won twice in the past seven years and is nominated almost every year. So he can sit out a year. Mostly I’m just happy to see Terence Blanchard getting some love. He’d been putting in good work for years before finally getting his first nomination for BlacKkKlansman two years ago. Which is sort of like Carter Burwell, who spent 25 years scoring Coen brothers movies before finally getting his first nomination, which he quickly followed up with a second exactly two years after the way Blanchard has done. We also get Emile Mosseri his first nomination. He’s only scored like three or four movies total at this point, but his scores have been really evocative and made everyone who heard them take notice (his first film score was The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which you can hear in the trailer for that movie and know it’s a great piece of work. And then you get the double Reznor and Ross nominations for their amazing work this year, plus James Newton Howard gets back in the fold after a 12 year absence. It’s a nice category.

We also are pretty sure what’s gonna win, too, which also makes things nicer for us in terms of having to guess it.

5. News of the World — The film’s come in soft in terms of nominations. It has 4 tech nominations and looks to not be a contender for any of them, really. Newton Howard is a respected composer, but it’s not like people vote specifically for composers here unless it’s one of those situations where they know Ennio Morricone scored the Tarantino film and has never won before. Normally you can telegraph when something like that is gonna happen. Maybe you say this is fourth just based on overall nominations next to Da 5 Bloods, but in the end I don’t think anyone considers this a legitimate contender for the win.

4. Da 5 Bloods — It’s the film’s only nomination, which would indicate that people didn’t necessarily love it. But I’m thinking that the fan base for this film that’s out there will more ardently wanna vote for this than the News of the World fans. I feel like the people who liked News of the World would be more likely to take one of the other choices left on this list. I don’t think this has a case for the win, especially without precursors (it’s very rare for something to win without precursor nominations, let alone precursor wins), but I feel like this is more of an exciting option for people looking at this category than News of the World is.

3. Mank — There hasn’t been any real momentum for this so far. The score is great, but Reznor and Ross are on here twice and people clearly prefer the other score to this one. Most years you know what score is likely to win based on the precursors, and this one’s got no wins to this point. Can’t really see it happening, but you still have to respect it. I think some people will vote for this based purely on the fact that it’s trying to emulate that 1940s score style in a sense. But I’m not sure I see this happening.

2. Minari — When I look at this category and think what people would be most likely to take if not Soul, this is the one I keep landing on. It’s got precursor nominations and the film is loved. I can see this making a case for an upset if people aren’t all in on voting for a Pixar movie. Without this scoring a BAFTA win, I’m not sure I can call it a favorite, but it definitely feels like the only score that feels destined to win should Soul not.

1. Soul — It’s won BFCA and the Globe so far and if it wins BAFTA, that’ll give it a clean sweep. The last time something had a clean precursor sweep and lost the Oscar was 2005. So by just about any measure this is the favorite in the category. Is it a sure thing? No. I’m not sure you can call Pixar a favorite in Score any year, but this is a solid favorite and will be very close to a sure thing the minute it wins BAFTA. This feels like one of the easier categories we have.

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