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5 Days Til Oscar. When Will John Williams Win a Sixth?

John Williams, the cinema's most widely and wildly celebrated composer, is a nominee again this year for The Book Thief (you can download some sheet music from the score here). He is 82 years old but in a delightfully senior twist, he is only the third oldest nominee (after June Squibb and Patricia Norris). IMDb's database for composers is very confusing so I can't share "number of original scores" but his feature film career, starting with Daddy-O (1958) and continuing on through the The Book Thief (2013), is prolific and highly regarded with more presumably to come since the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises are still alive and so is he.

John Williams conducting "The Book of Thief" score in a recording session

His Oscar record is the closest anyone's ever come to total Academy infallibility (if you discount the people who only made one or two pictures). In the past 46 years, starting with the adaptation of the music in The Valley of Dolls (1967) and ending with his original compositions for The Book Thief  (2013) he has been nominated 49 times, winning 5 Oscars. 

with Catherine Deneuve when he won his last Golden Globe for Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)I don't know what kind of a percentage that is -- again, the films are hard to count and some won't have been eligible since he does a lot of franchises (and those are sometimes disqualified for lack of enough new material) but I'd wager that his record is something certifiably insane like 90% of his original compositions being named one of the year's five "Best". 

In other words, if he scores it, they're nominating it. Period.

Strangely, given their crazy-cuckoo devotion, he has only won the statue twice in the past 30 years. His most recent statues were for Schindler's List (1993), E.T. (1982), with his heyday being in the seventies when he won thrice for  Star Wars (1977), Jaws (1975) and Fiddler on the Roof (1972... in the Adaptation category which they no longer have).




Do you think he'll win a sixth Oscar or an honorary* soon?

Oscar Charts for the Sound and Music Categories
Nathaniel's Ballot of the Year's Best in Sound and Music

*in the unique star-subservient logic of the Academy, performers who've already been amply rewarded with gold are sometimes given an extra rather than honoring someone without trophies. See the recent baffling Honorary for 1961's Best Actress Sophia Loren's for her  "memorable performances", instead of taking the opportunity to honor one of numerous classic and respected actresses who've never won and are still living.

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Reader Comments (37)

I wish he would have won for Geisha, especially since Santaolalla won the next year for Babel.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

I'm surprised by the Jurassic Park blow-out but I guess I shouldn't be since it's what I voted for in a heartbeat - I'm not really much of a score listener but I played my Jurassic Park CD in my discman til it turned to dust way back when. Hell I could probably hum the entire score for you right now.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJA

I can't believe the support for Jurassic Park over ET and Raiders. Whatever--TM Meryl Streep.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Star Wars was THE score. Everyone owned the album and played it non-stop. It has to be one of the most important pieces of movie music ever written.

I love the music for Valley of the Dolls too.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

Still upset he lost for Geisha, which was miles above Brokeback's score.

I always hate when people act like he's over-rewarded. For being as prolific as he is, five Oscars isn't a ton.

His score for War Horse is probably the best thing he's done in a decade, and I thought for sure Lincoln would be the one to get him up on the stage again. Oh well.

I doubt he'll win again just because he's not scoring as frequently anymore.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

Also hard to believe that he wasn't even nominated for Jurassic Park!

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

Ryan-we should just rethink giving Santaolalla the Oscar for Babel and keep the Brokeback win, as that is iconic and wonderful and Babel, is well, not.

Some other random Williams Oscar facts:

-He's only missed out on an Oscar nod twice for Score when he was cited by the Globes (Earthquake and Seven Years in Tibet)
-He has missed only twice when he scored the highest-grossing film of the year (Star Wars Episodes 1 and 3)
-In the past 25 years, the only two years where he had an eligible score and missed were 1992 (Far and Away/Home Alone 2) and 2008 (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)

I still think it's odd, considering its overall presence at the Oscars that year, his past performance with the franchise, and the Grammy nod he got for it that Phatnom Menace didn't translate. Then again, as Nathaniel pointed out, it's always weird when Williams misses.

The only thng as odd as Phantom Menace is his Earthquake miss: Globe-nominated, scoring a film that got five Oscar nominations, and he got snubbed for Alex North's Shanks, a film that has never been released for home video in any format.

Oh, and I also voted for Jurassic Park-that main theme is sublime.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

The man is a movie music god. He deserves all this acclaim, and I wouldn't be surprised if he won this year, which seems to be a weak category but I'm not sure, not having seen all the movies (I wish Nebraska's score had been nominated). My favorite Williams' scores: Star Wars, Schindler's List, and The Towering Inferno.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

The first one that popped into my head was Superman but Raiders is a close second.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjoel6

Brookesboy-I would be stunned if he won this year-Price seems to have that thing wrapped up. It's interesting to note that he has only won for Best Picture nominees, so Lincoln and War Horse were probably more likely.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Not that complicated. Composer: Movie (115 credits)

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

104 if you don't count shorts.

I voted for Raiders and tomorrow I'll go with ET

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

peggy sue -- still complicated. that doesn't differentiate between original scores, versus music by, versus "shorts" versus... still very complicated to get the right numbers for stats.

February 25, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

(I tick the show by job option)

Answering your question, I would say that accumulating Oscars is not my thing. I would rather see winning other people like Deplat, Newman, Iglesias or Nyman, just to name a few.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

i'm doing "show by job" as well, and there's still a mix of "types" of credits. music by being different than whole scores and all of that. anyway. moot point. they almost always nominate him unless there is a freak occurence like jurassic park.

February 25, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

It still baffles me that JURASSIC PARK wasn't even nominated. But, then again, neither was THE PIANO so I'm not sure what the music branch was up to that year.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I greatly admire the Star Wars score. Gets me pumped every time. Having said this, if I want to talk of a score of his that I truly cherish, then I must absolutely say it's Jurassic Park. A commenter called it sublime, and damn right it is. It captures the wonder and adventure of that film with mastery. Every chord, progression, pause is acutely imprinted in my memory. Raiders of the Lost Ark would be my second choice. ET, third. But, I mean, it's freaking John Williams! He's done no wrong.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJones

It's surprising that nearly any of the iconic scores are winning, but if you're talking about s single piece that I enjoy most, that honor goes to the title theme of Catch Me If You Can. It's Williams in pure Mancini mode and it's magic. Captures the breezy nature of the film and is just a really cool piece. That single piano cue that goes into the bridge towards the end is just swoon worthy.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVal

His work with Spielberg and Lucas is great and iconic, but I love his scores for Oliver Stone just as much. JFK and especially Nixon. Gorgeous scores. I also love his work on Revenge of the Sith. That music is epic, tragic, emotional, profound.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

I echo the general sentiment of being surprised that "Jurassic Park" won even though I'm not sure why I should be surprised since I voted for it myself. "Star Wars," "Raiders," "Jaws" themes are iconic, "Schindler's List" heartbreaking, and the opening credits of "Catch Me If You Can' delightful - but beat for beat, note for note, nothing conveyed that sheer wonder and awe, tinged with fear, that "Jurassic Park" did. Incredible stuff. Can't believe it wasn't even nominated!

I also wonder if for most of us this goes with the territory of watching "Jurassic Park" as a child, or at least at a really impressionable age, when it first premiered in theaters? The music was definitely an integral part of that total, all-immersive, holy-s**t experience, so much so that it was one of the first movie soundtracks I ever purchased.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

how is JAWS not dominating this? grrrrr

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertommy Z

tommy z -- if it means anything to you i also voted for Jaws. :)

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I'm wondering if a person's choice has to do with their age when they first encountered a movie in relation to its score? I mean, really cognizant of the influence of score on film? For me, it is Jaws; for my mate, who's a few years younger, it's Star Wars.

Also, I wonder about the impact of score to someone who only sees movies at home.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Pam... i guess it must. the JAWS theme terrified me in childhood, long before i actually saw the movie so maybe it was one of my first ideas about what a score was in a movie.

February 25, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

His score for Prisoner of Azkaban is a seriously underrated work of his.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Munich score was awesome. That's the reason he did not win, Memoirs and Munich divided votes. That year he won everything, except the Oscar.
Tintin score is fun also!
Minority Report is underrated too.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterQO

Of those choices (but also in general), I have to go with his work on Star Wars (Original & Prequel trilogies) with Superman: The Movie a very close second (well ahead of the Prequels but below the Originals). The scores for A.I, Jurassic Park, Catch Me If You Can and Harry Potter and the Prisoner Of Azkaban are also pretty high up there. He is truly one of the greats.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel Armour

Jaws is such a good... everything.

PS Does Joe know that you Young and Beautiful was snubbed by The Film Bitch Awards? ;)

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I've voted for Star Wars, in a close win over Jaws and Superman. I agree: I think age might be something to do with it. I was seven years old when I first saw Star Wars (on UK TV in 1982) and I was overwhelmed by it!

Jaws is, however, such a clever use of music to heighten the mood.

Superman is a great theme and one of my favourite opening credits sequences of all time!

His Harry Potter theme is underrated. I think it's perfect for the material. There was a little too much music in the first film, perhaps, but still, excellent work.

E.T. is cheesy and manipulative in many ways, but the ending slays me every time - the rainbow in the sky and final drum beats under the final chord.

The only times I can't abide Williams' music is when he gets out the trumpet for one of those oh-so-worthy white-credit-on-black-background openings (usually directed by Oliver Stone or Steven Spielberg post-1993).

It would be nice to see him win another Oscar.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Close Encounters only a 3%, even under Memoirs of a Geisha? Really? I think is truly one of his masterpieces!

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoel

a) I voted Close Encounters of the Third Kind, though really, any number of his would be my "favourite"

b) He won't win a sixth oscar simply because all of his current nominations are so rote.

c) Competitive oscars: for a single achievement. Honorary oscars: for lifetime achievement and body of work. Someone can have both and if they do, they should be honoured. I don't quite get the idea that honorary oscars are for the oscarless only.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Matt - the difference between PoA and the previous two movies is night and day. In the first two it feels like he's coasting, deriving from his old work and cranking up the sweeping music to 11 to make up for those movies' deficiencies, whereas in the third movie he seems to actually be taking the job seriously. Which says as much about the difference between Cuaron and Columbus as it says about Williams...

I voted for Star Wars in this poll, but paused over Jurassic Park for a sec. I do wish JFK had been an option.

February 25, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterjessica

arkaan -- too each their own. it just feels so stingy to me. I mean I like Sophia Loren well enough, but one Oscar was plenty to remember her by. She's not appreciably better than many actresses who only got one or didn't get any. So many classic Hollywood actreses didn't even get one so that's a great thing to honor with "body of work" I guess it's because the Academy is so heavily old male and white that they don't honor actreses very often with the honoraries.

February 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I voted for Superman today. I must say I miss Accidental Tourist and Born on the 4th of July.

You're so right! Even today lots of old men will salivate if you say the words Sophia Loren.

February 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I personally would've included "A.I." and "Harry Potter" over "Memoirs of a Geisha".

February 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterIrvin

I really like a lot of these - but the Superman score is ridiculously awesome. Really surprised to see it in the cellar of these votes.

February 26, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

It's Star Wars all the way for me. Is there anything more iconic in movies than those first stirring symphonic beats as the equally iconic "A Long time ago... "crawl begins only to fade to the starry spacescape perfectly complimented by the twinkling of the score. Then of course there's Vader's Death March, the Cantina Band, Luke theme as he stares out into the twin sunset and the sublime Leia's theme http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HoMfL2MYIa8

February 27, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne

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