Best original score Oscar nominations showcase variety

Your guide to the most musical of Oscar categories.

For all my music-lovers who enjoy an exceptional original score, Oscars season isn’t just about best actor or picture nominations. As a lover of any good instrumental, I can get just as competitive about the best original score category as a film student could about the best picture category. Whether you absolutely love soundtracks and want to listen to them all or just want to get a taste of each one, the following guide is meant to introduce you to this year’s nominees for best original score.

Bridge of Spies - Thomas Newman This score relies heavily on strings to create a patriotic feel; most of these songs wouldn’t feel out of place playing in the White House at any given time. Brass also plays a role in its standout numbers, giving it that special touch to secure the very “American” tone. “Sunlit Silence,” one of the earlier tracks on the score, uses a brass fanfare along with snare drums to introduce this theme. Another great track to listen to is “Homecoming,” which combines the strings with brass into a slow, emotional track.

Carol - Carter Burwell Whereas most scores rely prominently on strings, “Carol” makes use of unique-sounding tracks that rely on mainly mallet percussion and woodwinds. Burwell made the right choice to use these abnormal instruments, as they help to create a suspension of belief and transport the viewer to a different time: the 1950s. “Opening” exemplifies the score’s strong points, with a forlorn oboe melody over hurried strings creating a sense of urgency and drama.

The Hateful Eight - Ennio Morricone Many of its tracks use broad strings like most action/adventure movies, but what makes this score stand out are its few very unique numbers. “L’Ultima Diligenza di Red Rock” is a perfect example — it has the suspense of spy movie soundtracks, combined with the kookiness of Pixar soundtracks. This effect is created by a run-of-the-mill urgent strings background, with a lazy, muted brass melody that adds both strife and a sense of humor. “Overture” is another distinctive track, featuring mallet percussion to establish a strong sense of mystery.

Sicario - Jóhann Jóhannsson Sicario may be a crime thriller, but its score makes it sound like straight-up horror. “The Beast,” the best-selling track from the score on iTunes, is almost frightening to listen to. Its background, a drone of heavy electronic noises, establishes a feeling of terror. The next layer is a descending brass note that honestly reminds me of what it must sound like to fall down an elevator shaft. In terms of the Oscars, this score definitely helps to create a tone for the movie, but for an everyday music-listener, it’s a little bit on the scary side.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - John Williams John Williams is a scoring legend — he’s received 50 music-related Oscar nominations, including this one. Williams uses traditional “Star Wars” instrumentation for “The Force Awakens,” sticking with swooping strings and biting brass to create that famous adventurous feel. Famous motifs return, such as the opening fanfare as well as the beloved “Force theme” making appearances in several tracks, such as “The Ways of the Force.” Williams isn’t just re-using old themes; however, “Rey’s Theme,” my favorite song from any score this year, is a new Star Wars classic.

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