Movie Music 2009: Oscar-Nominated Scores Tucked in among the Oscars for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Picture is a lesser-known category: Best Original Score. Film-music specialist Andy Trudeau has come to discuss the nominees every year since the 68th Academy Awards.
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Movie Music 2009: Oscar-Nominated Scores

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Movie Music 2009: Oscar-Nominated Scores

Movie Music 2009: Oscar-Nominated Scores

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LIANE HANSEN, Host:

At the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles tonight, the Academy Awards will be announced. Tucked in among nominees for Best Actor, Actress and Best Picture is our favorite category, Best Original Score. Our guide to the nominations is WEEKEND EDITION commentator Andy Trudeau.

ANDY TRUDEAU: This year's music alphabet begins with the letter C for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." The score is by Frenchman Alexandre Desplat.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM SCORE, "THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON")

TRUDEAU: We last heard from Alexandre Desplat two years ago, when he was nominated for his soundtrack to "The Queen." As a painter in sound, he applies his colors with great care. In almost every cue, you can hear each of the various thematic threads he's weaving together. And when a melody is called for, well, he can melt your heart.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM SCORE, "THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON")

TRUDEAU: For a film about a man whose body grows younger as he grows older, Desplat wrote melodies that could be played both forwards and backwards.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM SCORE, "THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON")

TRUDEAU: After a second listen to "The Dark Knight," it was determined that Zimmer and Howard wrote enough to make the score eligible for nomination. But it wasn't - nominated, that is. No problem, though, for James Newton Howard, who made it on his own for the picture, "Defiance."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM SCORE, "DEFIANCE")

TRUDEAU: Now, since a pair of Jewish freedom fighters are at the heart of the movie, there's writing for solo violin. Unlike the John Williams score for "Schindler's List," where the fiddle is strongly spotlighted, Howard usually blends it into the texture.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM SCORE, "DEFIANCE")

TRUDEAU: Two of Elfman's three previous Oscar nominations were for "Big Fish" and "Good Will Hunting." "Milk" gives them another opportunity to show he's not a one- trick pony.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM SCORE, "MILK")

TRUDEAU: Composer Danny Elfman admitted that scoring the film "Milk" was a tough challenge. He had to create an equivalent in music for the determination shown by the film's subject, California's first openly gay politician, Harvey Milk. He gave it his best effort in a cue titled "Harvey's Theme."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HARVEY'S THEME")

TRUDEAU: Danny Elfman's score for "Milk" is traditional in the sense that the music charts an emotional course. There's very little that's traditional about this year's fourth Oscar nominee, "Slumdog Millionaire," with music by A.R. Rahman. Here's a soundtrack that just wants to rock.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM SCORE, "SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE")

TRUDEAU: A.R. Rahman is a performer, producer, sound mixer and composer who's got quite a following for his work in India. Not unlike soccer, he's hugely popular everywhere in the world but the United States. "Slumdog Millionaire" is very much a song score, where the tunes provide atmospheric backdrop, and the lyrics sometimes move the plot along.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "O SAYA")

TRUDEAU: (Singing) They can't touch me, we break our friends so fast, they can't even touch me. Been that, touch me, I'll show you my zig-zag quickly. Pick up that pack of my journey, don't run, they start to follow me. I'm in a luck, some days they suck. We live by the buck we get for the family. One day I want to be a star, so I get to hang in a bar. I go to Vegas to get the payoff, just to forget my scar.

TRUDEAU: Usually, a film score set in exotic places tries to blend West and East. A.R. Rahman delights in just letting them collide.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM SCORE, "SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE")

TRUDEAU: Oh, did I mention that besides Best Score, A.R. Rahman has two songs nominated, as well? Count on hearing a lot of his music tonight.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM SCORE, "SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE")

TRUDEAU: This run-through of the 81st Oscar soundtrack alphabet ends at W, with Thomas Newman's music for the Pixar science-fiction tale "Wall-E."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM SCORE, "WALL-E")

TRUDEAU: Set in a galaxy far, far - well, actually pretty close to home, "Wall- E" is Thomas Newman's first science-fiction score. Now, he's not lacked for previous Oscar nominations, including "The Good German," "Lemony Snicket," "Finding Nemo," "Road to Perdition" and, one of my favorites, "American Beauty." "Wall-E" shows off his wonderful ability to make music out of weird vocal sounds, off-kilter tunings and melodic fragments.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM SCORE, "WALL-E")

TRUDEAU: Just about everything's in this soundtrack, including the kitchen sink. Here's what sounds to me like a nod to Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther." Can you say robo-muki(ph)?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM SCORE, "WALL-E")

TRUDEAU: Now, call me old-fashioned, but if I had a ballot, I'd go for a score with strong melodies, crystalline orchestration, one that takes us on an emotional journey. So, I'm casting my one, non-official vote for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," by Alexandre Desplat.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM SCORE, "THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON")

HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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