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Oscars 2020 predictions: 6 Best Original Score frontrunners

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What is a movie without a memorable soundtrack? Of course, many classic films over the years have got by without a score, but there's no denying the power of music for enhancing our understanding of character and narrative.

As we march towards the Academy Awards next February, we're here with six Oscars 2020 predictions for Best Original Score. Our choices mix up a host of genres and composers, from relative newcomers to franchise veterans, so we're asking you: which of the following stands the strongest chance of clinching the prize?

1. Us – Michael Abels

Back in 2017, writer-director Jordan Peele and composer Michael Abels channelled the spirit of Psycho's Bernard Herrmann for comedy-horror Get Out. The ensuing score received much acclaim, so it's little surprise Peele wanted to reunite with Abels for the even-more-ambitious Us.

Peele's audacious movie is the blackly comic yet terrifying story of an underground uprising led by dopplegangers, which hinges on a terrific dual performance from Lupita Nyong'o. The film-maker's vision is well matched by Abels's terrific score, which lets loose with a host of piercing strings to mirror the actions of the scissor-wielding 'tethered', while also deploying voices to variously creepy and ironic effect.

Abels's use of vocals ultimately give us a sense of the underground movement at work in the story. And there are plenty of witty flourishes, including the use of harpsichord for horrifying double Umbrae. Given the level of critical acclaim that Us has received, we wouldn't be surprised if Abels was recognised at the Oscars.


2. Avengers: Endgame – Alan Silvestri

Until the release of 2018's Black Panther, no superhero movie had won the Oscar for Best Original Score. Composer Ludwig Goransson, however, changed all that, achieving something that not even John Williams had managed with his seminal Superman score back in 1978.

Are we therefore looking at a sea-change in terms of how Oscar voters perceive superhero soundtracks? Only time will tell, but we can hope that Avengers: Endgame composer Alan Silvestri will ride the level of acclaim for the movie and land an Oscar nomination.

Although Silvestri is one of Hollywood's most lauded composers (Back to the Future; Predator; The Abyss et al), he's only been Oscar nominated twice before, and never for his MCU scores. Hopefully the sheer ambition and overwhelming emotion of the Endgame score will change all that.

Silvestri's loyalty to his main Avengers theme, treated to variously heroic and heartbreaking arrangements, along with his subtle interpretation of other composers' MCU themes, plus some barnstorming action sequences ('Portals', anyone?), mean this is a more than worthy contender. And the sheer tear-jerking impact of that cue for Tony Stark's funeral – that's surely Oscar-worthy on its own.


3. Joker – Hildur Guðnadóttir

If Alan Silvestri's score for Avengers: Endgame plays to the more traditional, symphonic end of the superhero spectrum, then Hildur Guðnadóttir's brooding Joker is memorable for altogether different reasons.

In-keeping with the despairing tone of the Todd Phillips movie, the composer grounds everything in the sound of the cello, capturing the mournful and ultimately tragic undercurrents of the story. It's a brilliant distillation of Joaquin Phoenix's central performance, and as his character Arthur Fleck slides from sympathy to savagery, the score follows suit, amassing layers of disturbing electronics in the process.

The Oscars, somewhat controversially, love to award more experimental, low-key scores (Brokeback Mountain's 2006 win in this field was especially divisive), so there's every chance that by playing against the grain, Guðnadóttir stands a strong chance of being nominated.

She's only the second woman to have scored a theatrically released comic book movie (Captain Marvel's Pinar Toprak was the first), so even a nomination, let alone a win, would be historic.

Joker is on release now in Cineworld.


4. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – John Williams

Oscar voters love a bit of heritage to back up their choices – very often, a winner is selected for sentimental reasons of longevity and experience, rather than the quality of the work itself. (Think veteran Western star Jack Palance for 1991's City Slickers – a great performance, but Oscar-worthy? Hardly.)

Star Wars composer John Williams defines the concept of heritage – he's been with the saga storyline since it started with 1977's A New Hope. His Oscar-winning symphonic masterpiece galvanised Hollywood, opening the industry's eyes to the power of the film score in an era largely dominated by needle-drops and pop staples. It's little wonder that A New Hope and Williams's ensuing Star Wars scores, which have now spanned three trilogies, are often voted the greatest scores of all time.

It will therefore be heart-breaking to bid farewell to Williams following this year's Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. It's said to be the composer's final jaunt across the galaxy, and the sheer watershed nature of this moment may well sway Oscar voters all on its own. That said, such is Williams's mastery of the format that the score will likely be strong enough to win the Oscar on its own terms. Only time will tell...

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is released on 19th December.


5. Little Women – Alexandre Desplat

The combination of film composers and costume dramas has yielded Oscar gold in the past. In 1996, for example, Rachel Portman became the first woman composer to win an Oscar for Jane Austen adaptation Emma, starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

When it came to this year's adaptation of Little Women, writer-director Greta Gerwig settled on Frenchman Alexandre Desplat. The composer's famously precise and symmetrical melodies have adorned a host of genres, from fantasy (Harry Potter; The Golden Compass) to thrillers (The Ghost Writer) and dramas (The Painted Veil), and there's no doubt his delicate, precise touch is perfect for the emotional landscape of Little Women.

Desplat is already the recipient of two Oscars, for The Grand Budapest Hotel and The Shape of Water, which will either increase his cache this year or cause Oscar voters to stay away and vote for someone else who needs a boost. Nevertheless, he's renowned as one of the finest composers working in the industry at the moment, so even if another win is out of the question, a nomination is highly likely, especially given the awards-courting profile of the film itself.

Little Women is released on 26th December.


6. 1917 – Thomas Newman

Remarkably, composer Thomas Newman has been Oscar-nominated 14 times but has never lifted the trophy. Talk about an underdog – Newman's characteristic mixture of experimental sound design and symphonic beauty has adorned numerous classic movies over the last 30 years, including The Shawshank Redemption, Little Women (the 1994 version), American Beauty, Finding Nemo and Skyfall.

Will he finally land the Oscar for World War I movie 1917? The film isn't out until 10th January 2020 and we haven't yet heard what his score sounds like, but Newman is reuniting with regular collaborator Sam Mendes, a partnership that generated Oscar nominations for the aforementioned American Beauty and Skyfall.

That should stand him in good stead, and the movie itself is being positioned as something of an awards frontrunner – this invariably has a trickle-down effect onto a composer, so watch this space.

Which of these movie scores are you tipping for an Oscar nomination? Let us know @Cineworld and get ready for the big night itself on 9th February 2020.


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