I'll start with a simple idea: Academy Awards are given to recognize achievement in a certain category. How do you define "achievement" then? Is it the amount of work? A quick glance at IMDb will tell you Zimmer has scored 145 titles. Is it for using groundbreaking techniques? Zimmer is known for being a pioneer in combining classic symphonic composition with electronic synthesizing (put that in your pipe and smoke it).
I would argue that it's more important than all those things. To me, when you listen to a piece of music, you should gauge its power or beauty or strength or whatever by how you feel when you hear it. And when you pair a powerful piece with an incredible bit of film (by the way, I feel like I'm going to have to do a post sometime on how underrated film editing is) and you get those chills and your eyes widen and your heart races and your whole body vibrates with excitement that you can't explain-- THAT is what it is about. And that is how achievement should be measured.
Example One: Inception. Hopefully you've seen it. If you haven't, drop dead. Just kidding. The track I'm using as an example is called "Dream Within a Dream," and occurs in the film during that incredibly action-packed, nerve-wracking, and very emotional sequence towards the end (unless I'm mistaken, but it doesn't really matter). You can watch the scene I'm talking about here (okay, so the music isn't exactly the same throughout I don't think, but you get the idea). Here it is. Please actually listen to it so you know what I'm talking about, or if only because it's awesome and worth listening to. And make it nice and loud:
If you consider the music in conjunction with the scene from the film, it's a little more obvious to see the point I'm about to make (again, the film editing is also very crucial). In the piece, you can hear the intense emotion that the characters are feeling in the film, and hear the progressive press of time pushing in on you! I remember going to see Inception in the dollar theatre for the first time. The seats were completely jam-packed. I was by myself, but the people next to me and I had this energizing connection for the last 30 minutes of the movie. Zimmer's music is a progressive, emotional ride, and mirrors perfectly the message the movie gives.
Example two: Sherlock Holmes. I have two examples (I mean favorites?) here, "My Mind Rebels at Stagnation" and "He's Killed the Dog Again."
What I like most about Zimmer's interpretation of the Sherlock Holmes soundtrack is that he uses instruments that you could imagine being period-appropriate, with the addition of course of the synthesizers to add that sort of mystical (as in the unknown, not necessarily "magic") quality. I also love that the beat brings you through the inner workings of Holmes' mind as he solves the mystery. And Holmes is really quite present in the music, as in the times when the violin becomes persistent (because we all know the violin is kind of a symbol of Sherlock Holmes). But one thing I really love about the soundtrack is that persistent throughout the whole score, you hear elements in the music that remind you of the setting. England is in the Industrial Revolution, and you can hear heavy industrial sounds at times. It's awesome. I know that a lot of composers, if they're worth their salt, are certain to do their research in composing a score, but many of them just go off what they imagine (which is fine). I greatly appreciated it when I read in movie news that Hans Zimmer had spent some time amongst Gypsies in order to obtain a new and accurate sound for the music in Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows (which movie is a whole other story-- you can hear Romani elements throughout, as well as hear and feel the desperation the characters are feeling from the utter darkness at times, and hear the impressive global scale of the conspiracy; my favorites here and here).
Okay, I won't bore you with any more, but just think about it. Thanks to Hans Zimmer, we have awesome soundtracks (which I've linked my favorite pieces to, so they're all worth clicking on) not only from Inception and both Sherlock Holmes movies, but also some of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Gladiator, Pearl Harbor, Prince of Egypt, the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, Lion King, Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, The Holiday, Madagascar, Spirit, and on and on!
I tip my hat to him. Since I have no vote in the Academy.
Oh, and for the record, the reason I'm able to analyze this so annoyingly is because I've been involved in music for 13 years, and spent probably 6 or 7 of it seriously thinking about composition and what went into it (never enough to do it myself though). I also am freaking obsessed with movies, and constantly think about what goes into it in order to make the viewer connect with the film. I was pre-film at Cal State Long Beach before I transferred, too, if anyone cares. There's your explanation.
One more thing, then I'll stop talking. He's not like my all-time favorite film composer ever. He's definitely in the top 3. I don't have a #1.