In a Close Oscar Score Race, Sentimental Fave John Williams Faces Potential First-Time Winners, Including Carter Burwell

In what may be the most difficult-to-predict score competition in years, the original-music Oscar could go to a sentimental favorite, a past nominee or the newcomer to the race. Academy members begin voting today.

Legendary composer John Williams broke records again by becoming the most nominated living person (53 nominations, winning five), earning the highest number of nominations ever in the music categories, and (it is believed, per the Academy) becoming the oldest nominee ever for a competitive award. He is 91.

His nomination for “The Fabelmans” surprised some outsiders, as his fairly spare score is often overshadowed by the several classical pieces performed by Mitzi (Michelle Williams), the character based on director Steven Spielberg’s piano-playing mom. But it passed the 35% rule — that is, more than a third of the total musical content must be original dramatic score — or it would have been disqualified by the Academy’s strict music-branch executive committee.

Williams is enjoying more acclaim than ever, not just for “The Fabelmans” but for his multiple appearances on the concert stage (recently conducting his film music with world-class orchestras in Berlin, Vienna and Milan) while continuing to write for both movies and the concert hall.

That attention could translate into a sentimental vote for the man who has, over the years, given us the music of “Star Wars,” “Jaws,” “E.T.,” “Schindler’s List” and “Harry Potter.” Voters might want to see him make one more trip to the podium as a way of saying thank you for more than 60 years of music for films and TV.

On the flip side, the category’s only first-time nominee, the experimental band Son Lux, has an equal shot at the statuette for its music for “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

The three-man band became only the eighth team of composers to be nominated in the original score category since the start of music categories in 1934. Teams — three or more composers working together — have won three times over the years (“Limelight” in 1972, “The Last Emperor” in 1987, “Soul” in 2020) and this year could mark the fourth.

Nearly 80% of “Everything Everywhere” is scored (112 minutes of its 139-minute running time) and the band spent two years working on it, Son Lux founder Ryan Lott said.

Plus, the Academy loves to reward newcomers in this category. First-time nominees for original score have found their way to Oscar’s podium 18 times in the last 30 years (including Jon Batiste as part of the “Soul” team just two years ago), according to Academy statistics.

The three remaining nominees have all been to the Oscar ceremony before. Justin Hurwitz, nominated this year for “Babylon,” won for best song and best score for 2016’s musical “La La Land,” both films made with director Damien Chazelle.

This was another large-scale, long-term project: More than two hours of music were written over three years as Chazelle’s epic of early Hollywood was taking shape and being filmed. Hurwitz has already won the Golden Globe for his especially aggressive, jazz-based, out-front score.

Volker Bertelmann’s music for “All Quiet on the Western Front” marks his second nomination (he was cited for “Lion” in 2016), while Carter Burwell is up to bat for the third time (after noms for “Carol” in 2015 and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” in 2017). Both are possible wild-card wins.

Burwell’s charming, low-key score for “The Banshees of Inisherin” could win if voters decide to reward the well-liked Martin McDonagh character study with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. This is the composer’s fourth film with the director (including “Three Billboards”) and Burwell — a familiar voice from nearly 40 years of collaborations with the Coen brothers — has never won.

But the German-language “All Quiet” earned an unexpected nine nominations and must also be considered a possibility if Academy voters go for an anti-war statement during an especially fraught time for geopolitics. Bertelmann recently won a BAFTA for the score, and momentum has been building for film and score ever since.

Voting ends at 5 p.m. Tuesday and the Oscar ceremony will be on March 12.

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