Which of this year's candidates for the Best Original Score Academy Award do you think should take home the Oscar?
Listen to excerpts from the nominated musical scores by clicking on the embedded players below; then, vote in our poll at the end of this article!
"Bridge of Spies" by Thomas Newman
Listen: "End Title" from "Bridge of Spies"
"Bridge of Spies" represents the 13th Oscar nomination for Thomas Newman (his other credits include "The Shawshank Redemption," "American Beauty," "Finding Nemo" and "Skyfall"), and is his first collaboration with Steven Spielberg (who has worked almost exclusively with John Williams throughout his career).
Newman met the director's propensity for lyrical, sweeping emotional moments with his own characteristic piano work and rugged string playing that sounds a little more brutal than what Williams typically brings to a Spielberg film.
"Carol" by Carter Burwell
Carter Burwell has had a rich film music career that began with the Coen Brothers' "Blood Simple" (he's continually worked with the duo, up through this year's "Hail, Caesar!") and which has included "This Boy's Life," "Rob Roy," "Gods and Monsters," "Being John Malkovich," and "Anomalisa." Amazingly, he has never been nominated for an Oscar until "Carol," Todd Haynes' period romantic drama, set in the 1950s, about a young shop girl's attraction to an older married woman.
The key theme of the film is a romantic melody, heard in the opening, featuring strings, winds and piano playing in counterpoint. Another prominent theme ("The Letter") is a melancholy tune that cries for the stifled emotions of the film's lesbian protagonists.
"The Hateful Eight" by Ennio Morricone
Listen: "L'Ultima Diligenza di Red Rock," from "The Hateful Eight"
The maestro whose music has graced more than 500 theatrical and TV movies, is best known for his colorful music to spaghetti westerns such as "A Fistful of Dollars," "The Good, the Bad & the Ugly," and "Once Upon a Time in the West." Their spirit, if not their orchestration, is brought back in Quentin Tarantino's drawing room mystery/western, in which eight strangers waiting out a blizzard in the Wyoming wilderness find death lurking.
Morricone's music, punctuated by dirge-like woodwinds and horns, mournful strings and chanting voices, spells dread, a suffocating sense of imprisonment, and a vortex of impending doom. It reels and swirls downwards, sucking the listener down into Hell, which is where the characters -- and the audience -- soon find themselves.
The recipient of a lifetime Oscar in 2007, Morricone has been nominated five times before (for "Days of Heaven," "The Mission," "The Untouchables," "Bugsy" and "Malena").
"Sicario" by Jóhann Jóhannsson
If "dread" is the operative word of Morricone's "Hateful Eight," the word that comes to mind with Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson's stunning accompaniment to the drug war thriller "Sicario" is "despair."
Heavily-processed and electronically-manipulated recordings of acoustic orchestral groups (with emphasis on percussion) create extraordinary textures for this tale set in a political, economic and legal no-man's land. The opening (as heard in the sampler above) is a gripping succession of descending motifs against an incessant, pounding backdrop.
Jóhannsson was previously nominated for 2014's "The Theory of Everything."
"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" by John Williams
Listen: "The Jedi Steps and Finale"
The latest "Star Wars" adventure has earned Williams his 50th Oscar nomination -- a record among living recipients. (Only Walt Disney had more.) And just as J.J. Abrams' return of the franchise is a blast of nostalgia for fans, it also marks a wonderful extension of Williams' canonical music for the series. In addition to recalling themes for the original trilogy's characters, he also creates wonderful new themes for new characters who exist on opposite sides of the Force: Rey, Finn, Poe and the Resistance versus Kylo Ren, Snoke and the First Order.
"Jedi Steps," set during the film's emotional climax when [Spoiler -- oh, who are we kidding?] Luke Skywalker is found amid the ruins of an ancient temple, is followed by the End Titles, which incorporates much of Williams' new thematic material. It's a smashing wrap-up to this launch of a new trilogy, and it's impossible to imagine anyone doing it better.
Take our poll: Which should win the Oscar for Best Original Score?
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Winners of this year's Academy Awards will be announced on Sunday, February 28, 2016, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center in Hollywood. The show will be hosted by Chris Rock.
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