John Powell’s music for How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World is the first genuinely great score of 2019. I found it a stunning, unexpectedly emotional experience, and so asked for time with both Powell and director Dean DeBlois to explore their process and learn about the creation of the music. This, of course, is the finale of the Dragon trilogy; Powell was Oscar-nominated for the first film in 2010 and then penned an equally fine score for the second film in 2014. As you will see in this Variety story, the third film demanded a 98-piece orchestra and 60-voice choir.
The 91st Academy Awards are in the books at last. It was a joy to report on composer Ludwig Goransson’s victory in the original-score category, more than a year after I first called attention to his African-infused music for Black Panther in the pages of Variety. In the days leading up to the awards, we also broke the news about Alexandre Desplat’s inability to attend (recuperating from throat surgery) and about Bette Midler performing Marc Shaiman’s moving song “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns. My story about Sunday’s Oscarcast also discusses the L.A. Philharmonic’s performance of a touching John Williams piece from Superman (an Oscar nominee 40 years ago!) for the “In Memoriam” segment.
On January 24th, we at Variety received word that the Oscar producers had decided to perform only two of the five Best Song nominees on the show (Lady Gaga’s “Shallow” and Kendrick Lamar’s “All the Stars,” by the two most popular recording artists). Within an hour, I had three other solid sources confirming this, so that afternoon we broke the story. (It was the lead story on Variety‘s front page for nearly a day.) The Academy denied it, of course, but the backlash was immediate and the Twitterverse blew up over it. Producers were forced to retrench, and one week later, artists from the other three songs were invited to perform. And in our most recent exclusive, we broke the news that Bette Midler would perform the nominated song from Mary Poppins Returns on the show.
One of my favorite annual Variety assignments involves analyzing the competition in the Best Song and Original Score categories as the Academy Awards campaign winds down and the voting begins. While Oscar pundits debate whether “Shallow” from A Star Is Born will win the song honors or be upset by one of the others, and whether If Beale Street Could Talk is really the favorite among the scores, we look closely at all 10 nominees and provide some historical and statistical perspective. Here is our “Contenders: Best Song” story and our “Contenders: Best Score” story, both of which ran in the Feb. 12 issue of Variety.
Although it wasn’t eligible for an original-score nomination — Kris Bowers’ 20 minutes of score was insufficient by comparison with all the other music in the film — Green Book still managed to be one of the year’s toughest assignments for a composer. That’s because Bowers came aboard early, trained actor Mahershala Ali in how to play convincing-looking piano, then transcribed and performed all of the Don Shirley music that was heard throughout the film. Oh, and then he wrote the original score, too. I discuss all this in a story that ran in the Feb. 12 issue of Variety. The film later won the Best Picture Oscar.