Top 8 Oscar Snubs: Film Music Edition

Earlier this week on the KUSC Blog, Tim Greiving chronicled the five film scores nominated for this year’s Academy Awards. His post was titled “For Once, Oscar Picked (Some of) the Best Scores,” hinting that perhaps The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences occasionally misses the mark.

Okay … actually, The Academy has a rich history of missing the mark in the Best Original Score category. What follows are my Top 8 Oscar Snubs: Film Music Edition. (Special thanks to Jon Burlingame and Tim Greiving for their insight as I compiled this list.)

8. The Last Valley (1971): When we think of John Barry, we think of his ravishing Oscar-winning score to Out of Africa (1985) and his contributions to 12 of the films in the James Bond series. Barry also picked up Oscars for Born Free (1966), The Lion in Winter (1968), and Dances With Wolves (1990). That Barry’s sweeping, expansive score for The Last Valley was not even nominated for an Oscar certainly qualifies as a snub, but with a couple of caveats: 1.) the film was a colossal flop, losing more than $7 million at the box office. 2.) Barry was in fact nominated that year for Mary, Queen of Scots.

7. The Year 2010: The snub here could actually apply to three of the five Original Score nominees of 2010, which is why I’ve listed the year as the snub. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross took home the Oscar in 2010 for their electronica noodlings in The Social Network. Not a huge surprise, since nothing like it had ever been considered by the Academy and since DJ-ing is all the rage these days. (I know, I know…if I’m not careful, I’ll sound like the old man on his front porch yelling, “Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!”) Problem is, there were three other very strong candidates that year: Hans Zimmer’s powerful, driving score for Inception; John Powell’s imaginative score for How to Train Your Dragon (my favorite score of the year and a damn fine film from DreamWorks); and a very deserving score for The King’s Speech from a still Oscar-less Alexandre Desplat.

6. John Williams: Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Wait just a minute! John Williams has more Oscar nominations than any person not named Walt Disney.” And you’d be right. But among those 48 nominations and dozens of great scores, Williams has managed to snag Oscar just five times. He has no wins since Schindler’s List in 1993. (That’s a 20 year drought!) More than once he has had to compete against himself in the Original Score category. In fact, this has happened three times since 2001. (A.I. vs. Harry Potter; Memoirs of a Geisha vs. Munich; Tintin vs. War Horse.) Just to give you a sense for how many snubs Williams has endured, here are just a few of his losses.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Superman (1978)

-All of the Indiana Jones Movies, especially Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Empire of the Sun (1987)

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

Catch Me If You Can (2002)

Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)

War Horse (2011)

5. Jerry Goldsmith: One of the most prolific and versatile composers, it’s rather astonishing to realize Goldsmith only tasted Oscar glory once: for the terrifying (and terrific) score to The Omen (1976). He was nominated 18 times and, depending on how you count, Goldsmith composed more than 200 movie scores in his lifetime. In the 70s alone, Goldsmith churned out some 65 scores—more than six per year! Not to mention the music Goldsmith also wrote for the concert stage, including Fireworks (A Celebration of Los Angeles) written for the LA Phil to perform at the Hollywood Bowl. Notable Oscar snubs for Goldsmith: A Patch of Blue (1965), Patton (1970), Planet of the Apes (1968), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Pappillon (1973), and Chinatown (1974).

4. Laura (1944): Today, David Raksin’s score for Otto Preminger’s classic film noir about a police detective who becomes obsessed and falls in love with the victim whose murder he is investigating is regarded as one of the greatest film scores of all time. But in 1944—when the two music categories in the Academy Awards included a whopping 34 nominees, Laura wasn’t among them.

3. Alex North: 15 Oscar nominations. Zero wins. Alex North’s only Oscar came at the end of his career when the Academy bestowed on him an “honorary” Oscar. He is one of only two individuals to have that distinction. (You can bet the other is also on this “snubbed” list.) North was a modernist (1952’s Viva Zapata!), he used leitmotifs extensively in his work, and he was the first composer to write a jazz-based film score: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951).

Another little-known fact about Alex North: he was commissioned by Stanley Kubrick to write a score for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but Kubrick notoriously fell in love with his classical music temp tracks and discarded North’s original score.

2. Bernard Herrmann: I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a little biased here. Bernard Herrmann is my favorite film composer, so when faced with the fact that he only won one Oscar during his lifetime and was only nominated two other times, I kind of feel like going back in time and storming the Academy Headquarters on Wilshire Blvd and demanding recompense. (Herrmann was nominated posthumously twice in 1976 for Taxi Driver and Obsession, but he didn’t win those either.) Interestingly, Herrmann’s only Oscar came in a year in which he was nominated twice (1941): for All that Money Can Buy (aka. The Devil and Daniel Webster) and Citizen Kane. And many experts say the wrong film won that year, i.e. NOT Citizen Kane. Herrmann’s Oscar snub status also ranks this highly when you consider that the landmark sci-fi score for The Day the Earth Stood Still, none of Herrmann’s collaborations with François Truffaut (most notably, Fahrenheit 451), and staggeringly none of his collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, Psycho, North by Northwest) were even nominated by The Academy. In my book, that’s enough to earn Bernard Herrmann the Silver Medal of Oscar Snubs.

1. Ennio Morricone and The Mission (1986): This one is really a debacle. So much so, that after Ennio Morricone DIDN’T win the Oscar everyone thought he would win in 1987 for The Mission, the Academy changed the rules to emphasize that only original scores would be eligible for nomination. Sir David Puttnam, who produced The Mission, said Morricone had been “grotesquely robbed.” In fact, Morricone—who will turn 85 this year—has been grotesquely robbed his entire 60+ year career. Despite a myriad of deserving scores—Cinema Paradiso (1988, not nominated), The Untouchables (1987), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966, not nominated), Once Upon a Time in the West (1969, not nominated)—Morricone has never won an Oscar. Like Alex North (see #3 above), Morricone’s only Academy Award is an “honorary” Oscar, given to him in 2007. Conventional wisdom is this was just The Academy’s way of trying to make up for a career of Oscar snubs. By the way, Morricone is still writing music—most recently for the Italian film La migliore offerta (The Best Offer), released just last month.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s