An unexpected Variety assignment turned out to be the most fun in weeks: I was asked to interview the director and sound designer for Baby Driver as part of Variety’s “Oscar Innovators” series, which ran in a special issue on Thursday. Director Edgar Wright corrected me at the very start — this wasn’t a film that was edited to music but rather choreographed to it. Sound designer Julian Slater, who is up for Oscars in both sound editing and sound mixing categories, explained what he had to do and why the job was so complicated.
Can composer Alexandre Desplat win a second Academy Award (for The Shape of Water), just three years after his first? Statistically, the odds are against it. But then Desplat has beaten the odds before, winning for The Grand Budapest Hotel the same year he was nominated for another film (The Imitation Game). Yet don’t count out Jonny Greenwood for Phantom Thread or even Carter Burwell for Three Billboards. Here is a look at some fascinating and relevant statistics from the last 25 years of Oscar wins in the original-score category.
Journalism is a funny business, and it’s changed a lot since I started in 1973. I saw Phantom Thread on November 25 and immediately felt that Jonny Greenwood’s score could be a serious Oscar contender. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have gotten an interview with him the very next day. But my story was due the day after that, and there was only room for a short piece in the Variety music section that was published December 11. So I condensed a 1,400-word Q&A down to 400 words. Since then, he’s been nominated; there’s a great deal of talk about it; and he’s coming to L.A. for the Oscars on March 4. So we decided to publish the complete interview, which sheds considerable light on the music and the scoring process with director Paul Thomas Anderson.
Every year Variety asks me to analyze the music races for the Academy Awards — not really handicapping them, as that entails choosing favorites, which I don’t like to do. But examining the five nominees, quoting the composers, hinting at what’s important about each, and subtly suggesting what Academy voters might be thinking. Alexandre Desplat’s The Shape of Water is the current favorite, but I think you cannot count out Jonny Greenwood’s Phantom Thread or Carter Burwell’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk and John Williams’ Star Wars: The Last Jedi are admittedly outsiders at this point… but the Oscars love to surprise us. This story appeared only in print, so please click on the images to read it here.
This was one of my most fun Variety assignments of the year: Interviewing Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson about his music for Marvel’s Black Panther. I’ve known Ludwig since his USC days, which is where he met director Ryan Coogler; this was their third film together (after Fruitvale Station and Creed) and his most ambitious score yet. He spent a month in Africa researching, listening to and recording all kinds of musicians, giving the film an authentic and evocative African sound (coupled, of course, with a massive London orchestra and choir for that “cinematic” finish). The piece is illustrated with photos of Ludwig in Senegal; director Coogler chimes in with comments about the importance of music in the film.
On January 15, I was invited to the recording session for episode 15 of Star Trek: Discovery, the season finale of the CBS series. It was all very mysterious. All we were told was that something special would happen and that we could not give anything away until after the show aired on February 11. It turned out that the Discovery would encounter the USS Enterprise in the closing minutes of the show; that composer Jeff Russo would, appropriately, invoke Alexander Courage’s original Star Trek fanfare; but even more importantly, Russo was going to conduct 74 musicians in a fresh new version of Courage’s famous Trek theme (complete with wordless soprano solo, beautifully performed by singer Ayana Haviv) that would play under the show’s end credits. Here is that story, published in Variety the next day.
It was a shock to receive word on Saturday morning that Icelandic composer Johann Johannsson had been found dead in his Berlin apartment. As Variety‘s resident film-music writer, it was my sad duty to talk with his manager and write the story as quickly as possible. Here is that obituary. I had known him since his Oscar nomination for The Theory of Everything (the photograph of us is from a post-screening Q&A we did together in early 2015; our first interview was in late 2014) and we did a fascinating interview in late 2016 for the Directors Guild magazine that also included his longtime collaborator Denis Villeneuve; that story is here. I was a great admirer of his scores for Sicario (Oscar nominated in 2015) and Arrival (unfortunately disqualified for Oscar consideration in 2016; here is the full explanation of that). It’s been a tremendous loss for the film-music community, and the days since his death have seen an outpouring of emotion.
For this week’s Variety, a week after the Oscar nomination announcements, editors asked me to summarize the nominees and their relative chances for winning. It’s a particularly tough year with at least three of the songs having a good shot and possibly even four of the five nominated scores that could win the category. This was only available in the print version of the magazine, so I’ve scanned it for reproduction here (click on the image).