The 87-year-old Ennio Morricone, who this year is nominated for his sixth Academy Award, is far from just being Quentin Tarantino's favorite composer ever: He's one of the most influential composers in modern cinema and maybe 20th-century music as a whole. As of this writing, Morricone is credited as a composer on 527 works at IMDb.com.
Morricone played trumpet in jazz bands in the 1950s and eventually became a studio arranger for RCA. He achieved international fame with compositions for Sergio Leone's 1960s string of so-called "Spaghetti Westerns," including the Clint Eastwood vehicle The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, from which you have certainly heard this iconic theme.
The defining sounds of Morricone's scores – electric guitar, handclaps and nonsense vocal syllables – were reportedly borne out of budget constraints for the films, but quickly became the genre's most recognizable sounds.
Morricone's film scores have received praise in the form of covers from artists as diverse as Metallica (who perform a version of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly's "The Ecstasy of Gold" in concert) to the now-defunct prog-rockers The Mars Volta, who used to take the stage to the strains of the score for A Fistful of Dollars.
But it was a non-Eastwood film that would become one of Morricone's greatest successes: The score to 1968's Once Upon a Time in the West has reportedly sold in the neighborhood of 10 million copies globally, with "Man with a Harmonica" becoming one of the Western genre's most remembered themes.
Throughout the '70s, Morricone continued his prolific output with various exploitation films and dozens of scores for the graphic and stylish genre of Italian horror film called giallo.
In 1978, Morricone earned his first Academy Award nod for his work on Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. (He lost.)
In 1984, he collaborated with Leone one last time, on the director's classic Once Upon a Time in America.
Morricone's fertile '80s period continued with scores for Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, which was again nominated for an Oscar …
… and what might be his dramatic triumph, the score for 1986's The Mission. (He was again nominated for an Oscar, and lost … again, a wound that was bothering him at least as recently as 2001, when he told The Guardian that "I definitely felt that I should have won for The Mission.")
His score for Cinema Paradisio earned him a BAFTA Award in 1991, and Morricone's legend kept growing throughout the '90s, as directors like Tarantino, raised on the genre fare that Morricone first cut his teeth composing for, resurrected and repurposed many of the composer's prior works for use in their films. Tarantino used seven of Morricone's various works in Kill Bill: Vol. 2; another eight in Inglourious Basterds and nine in Django Unchained, before apparently just giving up and convincing Morricone to compose the entirety of The Hateful Eight's soundtrack.
Accepting the Golden Globe for best original score for The Hateful Eight on Morricone's behalf, Tarantino called him "my favorite composer," adding, "When I say 'favorite composer,' I don't mean movie composer ... I'm talking about Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert. That's who I'm talking about."
In 2007, Morricone was given an honorary Academy Award "for his magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music," but he has yet to win an Oscar for any of specific compositions: 2016 – and The Hateful Eight – could be his first. We'd put more than a fistful of dollars on it.