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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Tonight is Oscar night. So it's time for our annual preview of the nominees for Best Film Score. Five composers have their eyes on the prize during the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony.

WEEKEND EDITION commentator Andy Trudeau handicaps the field and selects his favorite for the golden statuette.

ANDY TRUDEAU: "How to Train Your Dragon" is a DreamWorks 3D animated adventure and the first time to the dance for composer John Powell. His credits include "Shrek," "United 93," and "Green Zone." The budget here allowed for a full-size orchestra and Powell knows how to use it.

(Soundbite of movie music theme, "How to Train Your Dragon")

TRUDEAU: Some of the Celtic flavor and just one of the four principal themes that Powell weaves throughout this score. Hes something of a fearless orchestrator as well; in one spot he combines a penny-whistle and dulcimer.

(Soundbite of movie music theme, "How to Train Your Dragon")

TRUDEAU: At its core this film is a romantic adventure. And in John Powell, the director has found a composer who could convincingly deliver a grandly heroic theme.

(Soundbite of movie theme music, "How to Train Your Dragon")

TRUDEAU: Fourteen bagpipes playing some of the Oscar-nominated music by John Powell for "How to Train Your Dragon."

Next nomination is by Hans Zimmer for the sci-fi suspense film "Inception." We talked about him last year when his "Sherlock Holmes" score was a contender. And he won an Oscar for his 1994 "Lion King."

(Soundbite of movie music theme, "Inception")

TRUDEAU: With "Inception," the composer says that he was not allowed to see a rough cut of the picture, but had to write his first draft based solely on the script. He then worked with director Christopher Nolan to fit his ideas into the film.

With Hans Zimmer scores of late, you cherish the little touches, like this piano solo in a sea of electronic sound.

(Soundbite of movie music theme, "Inception")

TRUDEAU: Hans Zimmer manages the neat trick of writing techno-electronic scores with a soul. For "Inception," he does this - at least to my ears - by at times channeling the late John Barry.

(Soundbite of movie music theme, "Inception")

TRUDEAU: Oscar nominated music by Hans Zimmer for "Inception."

If you like delicate, sophisticated soundtracks expertly scored, its hard not to like Alexandre Desplat. His three previous nominations have been real favorites of mine: "The Queen," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," and "Fantastic Mr. Fox." This time around, its "The Kings Speech," how Englands King George VI overcame a stuttering problem.

(Soundbite of music theme, "The Kings Speech")

TRUDEAU: You got to love those sinewy melodies. This music was recorded at EMIs Abbey Road studios, where they found and used three vintage microphones owned by the British royal family.

To characterize the kings struggles, the composer wrote what he described as music thats not going forward. Director Tom Hooper's first cut of the film used Beethoven's music in places; something that Alexander Desplat felt he just couldn't ignore.

(Soundbite of music theme, "The Kings Speech")

TRUDEAU: Oscar-nominated music by Alexandre Desplat for "The Kings Speech."

Composer A. R. Rahman won Oscars for both Best Score and Best Song for his 2008 work on "Slumdog Millionaire." This years nomination is for "127 Hours," a psychological survival drama. Its a mostly moody and melancholy, largely electronic score with an interesting thread running through it. Heres the beginning.

(Soundbite of music theme, "127 Hours")

TRUDEAU: The composer said that he connected the films main character with the sound of the guitar an instrument that was new to him as a composer. Heres that guitar lick in a hallucinatory sequence.

(Soundbite of music theme, "127 Hours")

TRUDEAU: Each of the soundtrack cues containing this guitar music is tagged with the word, Liberation; Liberation Begins, Liberation in a Dream and finally, just Liberation.

(Soundbite of music theme, "127 Hours")

TRUDEAU: Past Oscar-winner A. R. Rahmans nominated music for "127 Hours."

The last of this years nominees for Best Score is a tag team headed by Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor, working with Atticus Ross on the film "The Social Network." Its a first Oscar consideration for both composers. Director David Fincher really wanted Reznor and wouldnt take no for an answer. What he got is a predominately bleak ambient soundtrack with faint traces of humanity.

(Soundbite of music theme, "Social Network")

TRUDEAU: For one sequence thats controversial for both cinematic and musical reasons, the composers were told to take Edvard Griegs "In the Hall of the Mountain King" and give it a Wendy Carlos treatment. I suspect that some of you are going to have to Google that name. Heres some of the result:

(Soundbite of music sequence, "In the Hall of the Mountain King")

TRUDEAU: "The Social Network," Oscar nominated music from composers Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, rounding out this year's roster for Best Original Score.

Also in the hunt are "How to Train Your Dragon" by John Powell, "Inception" by Hans Zimmer, "The Kings Speech" by Alexandre Desplat, and "127 Hours" by A. R. Rahman.

Great films dont come with an expiration date, and I continue to believe that Oscar winning film scores should be held to the same standard. So this year, voting for the score that I think shows that level of skill and inspiration, Im casting my ballot for "How to Train Your Dragon" by John Powell.

(Soundbite of music theme, "How to Train Your Dragon")

HANSEN: Andy Trudeau has been sampling Oscars Best Score nominees on our program for 15 years. The 83rd Annual Academy Awards will be given out tonight in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music theme, "How to Train Your Dragon")

HANSEN: This is Weekend Edition from NPR NEWS. I'm Liane Hansen.

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