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Best Original Score Oscar preview: Alexandre Desplat’s ‘Philomena’

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'Philomena' soundtrack

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Alexandre Desplat has an unmistakable gift for creating whimsical atmospheres through creative instrumentation and a very European understanding of music. With sinewy, Herrmann-esque strings (otherwise reserved for thrillers) and Calliope-styled pipes, he introduces the listener to the multi-faceted, and nonetheless fascinating world of Philomena Lee.

Desplat yields an uncanny ability to imbue his film’s characters with larger-than-life personalities while simultaneously expressing their humanity – and often frailty. He can subtly pluck the viewer’s heartstrings, one cue at a time. A simple two-minute cue like ‘Reminiscence’ takes the listener through a field of mystery, desperation, fear and tension with uneasy comfort.

“Philomena” is a spirited adventure offering emotional prompts at both ends of the spectrum, with hope, loss, resentment, and serenity as the linchpins. There is no doubt an imaginative presence to the “Philomena” score that, although set in reality and based on a true story, the musical characterization is near-fantastical – as though a bit of Terry Gilliam-ness is nudging the film just slightly left of center. Of course, this is one of those special qualities that keeps an audience on its toes.

Desplat is also among the few linear composers on the playing field, where his scores echo the film’s story track-by-track. The listener can gain a sense of rising action, tension, climax, repose, falling action, and conclusion without actually seeing a frame of film.

Although he has been nominated for an Academy Award only six times in his 30-year career, Desplat has earned every one of them. And it is amazing that he has been passed over every time, because his work is nothing short of inspirational. Even his scores that don’t receive nominations or accolades are worth more than a tertiary listen.

Some have referred to Desplat as the next John Williams, but I like to refer to him as the first Alexandre Desplat. His scores command attention, not because they are over-the-top, but because they are well-orchestrated, full-bodied, and grab the viewer’s/listener’s attention without being overbearing. It is as though the spirit of the Golden Age of Hollywood lives within him.

BUT CAN HE WIN? With a Golden Globe (for “The Painted Veil”) and a Grammy (for “The King’s Speech”) already under his belt, it is only a matter of time before the diverse composer is destined for Oscar gold. But it is possible the Academy deem his work too idiosyncratic for recognition. And that’s okay, because it will allow him to take out his frustrations with the upcoming “Godzilla” score!

Do you think Alexandre Desplat will win?

The soundtrack to “Philomena” is currently available at iTunes, Amazon, and Amazon Digital.

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