Best Original Score- A 2023 Awards Season Recap

Katie Norbury on the best film songs and scores of the year.

I am not ashamed to say that if it was up to me every award for the best score of 2023 would easily go to the ABC Kids show ‘Bluey’, a show about a family of Australian cartoon dogs with a score that has pulled on the heart strings of people around the world. However, this is exactly why we leave it up to the professionals to decide on the real winners. 

The 95th Oscars marks the end of an eventful awards season, with an interesting spread of winners across all categories and a lot of clashes in individual opinions. The first awards for Original Score of the season come from the 2023 Grammys, with a diverse range of films such as animated movies, musicals, live action and series. The beloved Disney animated film Encanto took home ‘Best Visual Media Score’ beating The Power of The Dog with its favoured 11/2 odds. To me this is a no brainer- the catchy music of Encanto has been following us around since its release at the end of 2021. The best evidence I can find to show just how powerful this score is the impressive 121 listens to ‘Dos Origitas’ my mother, the seemingly biggest Encanto superfan, racked up in her 2022 Spotify wrapped… 

Germaine Franco was truly a deserving winner for this award, being the first woman ever to score a Disney Animated classic. The beautiful blend of Spanish and English music echoes the columbian heritage of the film, becoming the perfect soundtrack to a heartwarming film about culture and family. Sebastian Yatras’ ‘Dos Orugitas’ is a standout song for me, the beauty of the song and its translation still brings me to tears. But it is the less recognised score that adds to the real magic of the film. With highlights such as “I Need You” and “Tío Bruno” this score was a standout winner. 

Despite the short period of time between the Grammy awards and the following BAFTAS, we see a stark change in the nominations of the period. With films such as ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ receiving a number of the key award nominations. For me a standout in this category was Carter Burwell’s score for The Banshees of Inisherin, which brings a folk and fairytale feel that matches the picturesque cinematography of the film. Standout pieces such as “Walking Home Alone” and “The Slow Passing of Time” have made this score a sure win for me. 

However, it was Volker Bertelmann’s score for ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ that won ‘Best Original Score’, and although it wasn’t my winner the fresh take on the wartime classic is clearly enhanced by a score reflective of the true horrors of war. Bertelmann’s use of a harmonium, inherited from his great grandmother adds to the authenticity of the soundtrack. With the breath-like notes and interior wooden crackling symbolic of soldiers’ experiences of the trenches themselves. The powerful soundtrack at times overpowers the internal audio of the film, a clever way of portraying powerful emotion. 

This score once again took home the winning award at the 95th Academy Awards on Sunday night. Despite its win for Best Original Score, it was another film that swept up in the evening’s awards. Winning seven awards, ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ was the standout film of the evening. For me this would have been my winning score, however I was sceptical as it stood in a pool of distinguished composers and previously winning soundtracks. John Williams earned his 53rd Nomination for The Fableman’s, a film that seems to be lost within the awards this year. This isn’t the only film that flew under the radar, with Babylon not appearing in Oscars nominations for Best Score following its BAFTA nomination. The upbeat Jazz inspired soundtrack gave a perfect backdrop of the chaos of the film, however I can’t help but wonder if the ‘self-aware’ films about Hollywood have now had their day (with Nope as a notable exception and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood yet another example). 

Even though it didn’t take home the crown, Everything Everywhere All At Once was a presumed front runner for Best Original Score in the final weeks heading up to the Academy Awards. Scored by the experimental Rock band Son Lux, the chaotic mix of music and genre was a fresh take on film scores. For me the absurd adventure that is the screenplay for EEATO could not be matched more perfectly to its soundtrack. The clever mix of genres and instruments blends with the story, not overpowering the visuals but allowing the viewer to be truly immersed in the story. As my standout winner on all accounts this film sadly missed out on Best Score, but despite this took home the second ever Leading Actress Award for a woman of colour. 

Although I may not agree on every final winner this season (because let’s face it, what happened to the legendary film that is Puss In Boots in all these nominations!) -the range of diversity and inclusion of first time winners presents a powerful message for award seasons to come. I am predicting the rise of A24, and experimental soundtracks for 2024, but only time can tell!

Photo by Samuel Sianipar via Unsplashed