Name that tune

Veterans are likely to compete for best original score, but newcomers could dominate when it comes to original songs.

It's part of a long-standing dichotomy in the movie business: Anyone can write a great song for a movie, but it takes a lifetime of craftsmanship to create a timeless score. That might explain why so many familiar names are vying for a nomination in the Golden Globes' best score competition, including Clint Eastwood for Paramount/DreamWorks' "Flags of Our Fathers," Danny Elfman for Paramount's "Charlotte's Web," Philip Glass for Fox Searchlight's "Notes on a Scandal" and Howard Shore for Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Departed."

Veteran Gustavo Santaolalla -- who delivered noteworthy scores for 2004's "The Motorcycle Diaries" and last year's "Brokeback Mountain," which was nominated at the Globes and took home an Oscar -- returns with another contender, his original score for Paramount Vantage's "Babel" from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.

Santaolalla says the most challenging aspect of composing music for "Babel" was trying to write something that would bring together the various elements of a story that takes place in several locations around the world without it turning into "a National Geographic documentary." That task was complicated further by the fact that he wrote most of the music without having seen a frame of the film; he worked solely from conversations he had had with the director. In the end, Santaolalla turned to the oud -- an ancestor of the lute -- which "sounded global" to him.


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For Sony's "The Da Vinci Code," Hans Zimmer says he took a more traditional approach. "I torture myself," Zimmer says. "With 'The Da Vinci Code,' I went back to school and started reading books and discussing with scholars, and the more I learned, the more I realized I was getting into an impossible situation. At the end of the day, I came back to the old thing: invent."

In general, the resumes of composers like Zimmer -- or other Globe contenders such as Craig Armstrong for Paramount's "World Trade Center," Alexandre Desplat for Miramax's "The Queen," Mark Isham for MGM/The Weinstein Co.'s "Bobby" and John Powell for Warner Bros. Pictures' animated entry "Happy Feet" -- afford them a great deal of autonomy. But Armstrong says that Oliver Stone did pick through his musical ideas for "WTC" and discarded a lot of them. "We focused on what worked," Armstrong says. "But I didn't feel hemmed in."

As Zimmer puts it, "Here's the job: Do the thing that the director can't even imagine because otherwise he would be doing it himself."

While experienced composers might dominate the best score category, it's largely fresh-faced newcomers who are most likely to be recognized in the Globes' best song race, with potential nominees ranging from big-name roots-music stars such as Tim McGraw (Fox's "Flicka") and Sheryl Crow (MGM's "Home of the Brave") to alternative rock icons such as Paul Westerberg (Sony's "Open Season") and Spoon's Britt Daniel (Sony's "Stranger Than Fiction").

Glen Ballard, who co-wrote "Ordinary Miracle," the original song featured in "Web," with Dave Stewart, says that the duo set out to write "a summation of the whole moviegoer's experience, to translate what they've been through intellectually and emotionally."

"Miracle" joins such songs as Westerberg's "I Belong" and McGraw's "My Little Girl" as contenders from family movies. Ballard thinks songs from movies for children might do better at award shows because they're more open and "uninhibited in a way that I think is liberating."

The same could be said of songs from musicals, like the trio of originals that Henry Krieger collaborated on for Paramount/DreamWorks' "Dreamgirls," any one of which should be considered a front-runner for the best original song prize. But if the members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. are feeling particularly adventurous, they could wind up nominating "Fiction's" catchy number "The Book I Write."

For Daniel, who also created the film's unique score out of original material and repurposed Spoon songs, the stakes are a little different than they would be for a top-echelon composer. "I've always been affected by the music in movies, but I've never really concentrated on it, and it's not like I've done tons of research on how it's done," he says. "Just to see my name in the credits is pretty cool."
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