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Crafts Roundup: Best Original Score Contenders Talk Creating Music for Survival, Reinvention and Spiritual Uplift

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood December 19, 2013 at 2:30PM

The Oscar-contending music scores are particularly strong this year, given the propelling theme of survival and reinvention. Among the standouts are "Gravity," "All Is Lost," "The Book Thief," "Philomena," "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," and "Prisoners." Even original songs have spiritual uplift, including "Let It Go" ("Frozen"), Cold Play's "Atlas" ("The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"), U2's "Ordinary Love" ("Mandela"), and Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire" ("The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug").

In "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," Alex Heffes was not only inspired by the incredible life of the late South African leader but also by Idris Elba’s commanding performance. The composer's score conveys despair and loss as well as the uplift from love of family and home. 

"I've tried to go for something 'classic' but modern," Heffes explains. "The African percussion and vocals live alongside more contemporary synth elements and the thematic part of the orchestral score. The trick is to blend this all so it makes a coherent satisfying whole." 


For "Prisoners," Johann Johannsson creates an eerily hypnotic score that is as unconventional as the thriller. The composer conveys the pain and obsession of Hugh Jackman's journey to find his kidnapped son. There's even a spiritual quality that's both disturbing and calming. Strings and winds are complemented not only by quiet keyboards but also by the offbeat use of cristal bachet and ondes martenot.

Of the original songs, nothing stands out quite as powerfully as Idina Menzel's showstopping "Let It Go" (written by the husband and wife team of Robert Lopez & Kristen Anderson-Lopez). 

It's Elsa's triumphant coming out in which she finally embraces her hidden talent for making snow and ice in a flurry of artistic reverie. This is not about romantic love: it's about the bond between two sisters based on love vs. fear, and Disney's innovative snowy weather system serves as part of Elsa's character. It's a great instance of animation, music, and performance coming together.

This article is related to: Crafts Round-up, Thompson on Hollywood, Awards Season Roundup, Features

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.