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The Oscar nominees for best original film score


The Oscars are just a week away, and you may have realized how excited we are for the big night March 10, because for the past few weeks, we have been looking at the current slate of nominees and also talking about Oscars of years past. Clearly, we cannot get enough Oscars here on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. But today we are going to look at the nominees for best original score, and one nominee should be familiar to any moviegoer.


DETROW: That is, of course, John Williams' immortal theme music for the "Indiana Jones" series. The 92-year-old composer received his 54th - that is five-four - Oscar nomination for the fifth "Indiana Jones" film, "Dial Of Destiny." How does that score stack up with the other nominees, though? And more importantly, what makes for a good film score these days? So we called up - again, happy to do it - NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour co-host Stephen Thompson. Hey, Stephen.


DETROW: Do you want to just, like, hop on an airplane or hop in a tank and punch a Nazi when you hear that theme music?

THOMPSON: I mean, always - even if I don't hear that music.

DETROW: I mean, that kind of feels, on one hand, unfair to be nominated for a score for the same score you've been doing five times over the course of decades and is maybe the most famous of all movie scores or is in the conversation. But, I mean, how did - I know the movie itself got panned. But how did the score, do you think, stand up against Williams previous iconic work?

THOMPSON: Well, first, it's worth noting that he's not necessarily being nominated again for the original "Indiana Jones" score. The score, if you watch the movie, it's occasionally using the original dun-dun-dun-da-dun-da-dun (ph) as punctuation, but it's almost entirely a new composition.


DETROW: He is the perfect person to step back and talk about the role of a movie score with before we go to some of the other nominees because so many people think of his music when you think of what a transformational movie score can do, and that is to emotionally cue you, the dun-a-dun-a (ph), the swelling music when they see the dinosaurs for the first time in "Jurassic Park," you know.

THOMPSON: Oh, totally.


DETROW: A good movie score is the movie in so many ways.

THOMPSON: A great score can elevate a movie in a million different ways. You know, the fact that his filmography contains the score to "Schindler's List," the score to "Jaws," the score to "Indiana Jones," like, those are tonally very, very different films. He has captured those emotions in music. And he continues, at 92, to make scores that are worthy of consideration for Oscars.

DETROW: That all being said, I don't think we can think of him as possibly the frontrunner in this contest. Let's talk about some of the other scores and the role that they play in the movies that they were a part of.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I think the conventional wisdom right now is that the score that is likeliest to win is Ludwig Goransson's score for "Oppenheimer."


THOMPSON: "Oppenheimer," which is also the frontrunner to win best picture, is such a classic Oscar best picture winner. It's a historical drama. The Oscars love historical dramas. It is an extremely well-made and well-told story. Christopher Nolan does a beautiful job with it. And it incorporates music in really impressive and dramatic ways.


THOMPSON: I don't know if six or eight months after seeing "Oppenheimer" the first time, I'm necessarily, like, humming the theme from "Oppenheimer."


THOMPSON: But Ludwig Goransson, who won the Oscar for "Black Panther," which is a score I do still summon in my brain all the time, he's doing marvelous work here. I mean, everybody's work in this film is really elevated. And I think this is likeliest to win, and I'm not going to complain when and if it does.

DETROW: Who are the other nominees we should be thinking about? And more importantly, who are the other nominees whose music has been stuck in your head since you've seen the movie?

THOMPSON: Well, my favorite score in this field we haven't even talked about yet, which is Jerskin Fendrix's score for "Poor Things."


THOMPSON: "Poor Things" is a very weird movie. It is very polarizing. Some love it deeply. I'm one of those people. Some people hate it intensely, and I understand where those people are coming from. And the world that this film is evoking is a very idiosyncratic place. It has a literal mad scientist. It is a very, very strange film, and this score has the eccentricity to match and magnify that world. And so I really came away from this film loving the visuals, loving the acting, loving the just deep weirdness. But also, just - I loved marinating in the sound bed that Jerskin Fendrix creates.


THOMPSON: I'm loving the way film scoring has evolved somewhat from these kind of classic orchestral Hollywood productions to something that's coming from a place that isn't that classic movie score. Jerskin Fendrix has worked with art rock bands like Black MIDI and Black Country, New Road that are very weird, very eccentric, very sprawling, very kind of abrasive. And he's taking some of those ideas and putting them into film scoring in ways that feel revolutionary to me.

DETROW: And I'll just point out that that composer Jerskin Fendrix is really young. He's only in his late 20s.

THOMPSON: Yeah. And, Scott, by the way, just quickly, we haven't talked about the two other nominees.


THOMPSON: Robbie Robertson from The Band is posthumously nominated for his work on "Killers Of The Flower Moon." That is a terrific score, a very versatile score for a very long film. And Laura Karpman did the score for "American Fiction," and that score has a lightness to it that really matches the film's tone. I loved the music in that film, and I'm thrilled to see her nominated here.

DETROW: That's Stephen Thompson, a co-host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. Thanks so much.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)

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