Film Composer and Professor Discusses Original Score Oscar Nominees

Kubilay Uner, who leads Columbia's top-ranked music composition for screen program, on his favorite Academy Award-nominated score and his best bet for this year's winner.

It’s Academy Award season, that refreshing time of year when people debate something other than politics. And while almost everyone has thoughts on best picture and best actress, not all feel equipped to opine on best original score — that key musical component in movies that helps create the film’s atmosphere and emotion while supporting the storytelling on screen.

But at Columbia College Chicago, home to a film composition program currently ranked as the best in the world by “The Hollywood Reporter,” we have movie score experts like Kubilay Uner to offer their informed opinions. Uner, associate professor and director of Columbia’s Music Composition for the Screen program, has composed several scores himself, including those for the Al Pacino historical drama “American Traitor: The Trial of Axis Sally”; the Mel Gibson action film “Force of Nature”; the Lionsgate Western "Gone Are the Days" starring Lance Henriksen, Tom Berenger and Danny Trejo; and "Big Sur," based on Jack Kerouac's novel.

We talked to Uner to give us some insights on this year’s nominated scores, his personal favorites, and his best bets for which film and composer will take home the statuette on March 10.

About This Year’s Nominees

“An Oscar-nominated score supports and serves the film at every single step of the way as well as ends up being a compelling artistic statement on its own as people listen to it,” Uner says.

This year’s contenders accomplish those objectives, but vary in their styles, according to Uner. The scores for “Oppenheimer” and “Poor Things” are both experimental, but they are completely different from one another. “American Fiction” features a jazz score, while “Killers of the Flower Moon” embraces American folk. And the most familiar and traditional of film scores gets an update in “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.”

Below Uner’s comments on this year’s nominees:

American Fiction

Laura Karpman 

“I love jazz scores. This film itself is a chamber piece, and the small-ensemble score is sublime. But just like with movies and acting performances, I think understated scores often have a harder time getting awarded.”

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

John Williams

“It’s a bit different from the other 'Indiana Jones' films, a little more dramatic, perhaps? But the classic style of the music is similar as in the previous Indy films. It's a masterful orchestra score that fits the character, it fits the movies.”

Killers of the Flower Moon

Robbie Robertson

“The score is very much like Robbie Robertson’s Band music — acoustic folk and roots rock, of course with Native American influences. Like Laura Karpman’s score for 'American Fiction,' this is a smaller ensemble that makes for a more intimate, personal reading of the story.” 


Ludwig Göransson

“Ludwig Göransson has been doing this at the highest level for quite a while now. This score is maximalist and as custom tailored as you can make it. Throughout the film he uses a lot of violin recordings, among other musical elements, layered using experimental techniques.” 

Poor Things

Jerskin Fendrix

“‘Poor Things’ sounds unlike any other film music. It's the composer's first score, very unique and extremely expressive, and its surreal nature and charming fearlessness fit the character of Bella like a glove.” 

And the Winner Will Be …

Uner’s personal favorite this year: the jazz score for “American Fiction.”

But will it win?

“I love that score, and the film is outstanding, but it is also rather understated,” he says, acknowledging that understated doesn’t always translate into an Academy Award.

Not one to be influenced by the musical nostalgia of the “Indiana Jones” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” scores, Uner leans toward “Oppenheimer” and “Poor Things” as possible winners.

“Both take your breath away in very unexpected ways,” he says. 

In the end, though, he thinks “Oppenheimer” gets the most votes.

“The size and impact of ‘Oppenheimer’ make it the favorite. I was absolutely floored by it,” he says. “And I think a lot of people will have been as well.”