Spotlight is the current undisputed frontrunner (though The Big Short is making a run) in the Best Picture race. It has a shot at being one of the most-nominated movies this year. However, one of its diciest nomination possibilities is Best Original Score.
Entertainment Weekly, when writing about Spotlight (they picked it as their #1 movie of the year), wrote the phrase, “The story is the story.” It was a perfect line to sum up what works so well about Spotlight. Though the actors are uniformly excellent (especially Liev Schreiber, who subtly steals every scene he is in) and the camera surprisingly spry, what makes the movie so compelling is its true life story. The screenplay, by writer-director Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer, is propulsive, though it was no right to be so exciting as the majority of scenes are of two people knocking on doors or two people talking or one person waiting for another person to talk to. McCarthy smartly realized that the events were the star of the movie. As Michael Keaton and his crack journalist squad (dubbed Spotlight) unpeel layer after layer of the Catholic priest abuse story, the audience is more and more enthralled and terrified, just like the characters.
But to simply notice the beauty mentioned above is to miss the movie’s secret weapon: Howard Shore’s exquisite score. Like the movie, Shore’s score is not melodramatic. It’s quiet, it’s just another part of the ensemble, and yet, it’s haunting. Most of the cues within the movie are very short pieces, between one minute and two and a half minutes. They sneak into scenes, at first seeming almost secondary, perhaps there to provide ambience, before they simply and gorgeously add just the right amount of emotion. As a non-musician (and that’s an understatement), I am always amazed by the way composers can put random notes together in a way that triggers similar emotions in so many different people. To me, honestly, it’s voodoo magic. And the Spotlight score is a particularly effective form of voodoo magic: like the efficient, fascinating movie, it seeps into the audience’s unconscious, burrowing itself deep into their minds, ready to reappear days, months, and even weeks later to remind us of the chilling moments within Spotlight. Though Shore’s score is by no means assured of an Oscar nomination, for me, it was one of the best scores of the year.