Best Original Score is one of the more homogenous categories at the Academy Awards. Nominees rarely skew from a rotating list of favorites: if Hans Zimmer, Alexandre Desplat, John Williams, Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross, or Carter Burwell contributed a score, you can be sure they’ll find their way onto the ballot. For the record, they’re all great — and all turn in stellar work most of the time — so you can’t really fault voters for sticking with the names they know. Still, it limits lesser-known composers from getting recognition, unless they’re attached to a film that’s already sweeping in other categories.
Both patterns have informed the list of 2023 nominees. Though “Babylon” isn’t exactly an awards season darling, it did manage to break through in a few categories, including score. And though experimental group Son Lux aren’t the most popular composers, they’re attached to the film that swept the Oscars in nearly every category: “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” The same could be said for Volker Bertelmann, who composed the score for “All Quiet on the Western Front.” That leaves two open slots, which went to Carter Burwell (for “The Banshees of Inisherin”) and John Williams (for “The Fabelmans”) respectively.
Not to be contrarian, but few of these choices feel all that groundbreaking. I know the Academy Awards aren’t exactly the place to break new ground — least of all in this category — and it probably feels like sacrilege to snub John Williams, the God of Movie Music. But two fabulous, fearless composers were ignored this year in favor of what I’d call the safe choices, and I have a feeling it’s got something to do with the films they composed scores for.