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.
French composer Michel Legrand — the genius behind such unforgettable movie songs as “I Will Wait for You,” “The Windmills of Your Mind,” “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” and others — died Jan. 26 in Paris. I adored his scores as much as his songs, ranging from classics like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Summer of ’42 to less well-known but no less stunning scores for films like Peau d’Ane, Wuthering Heights, The Go-Between and The Three Musketeers. Few composers could boast as many familiar movie themes as Legrand. I was lucky enough to interview him, I think, three times over the years, and to see him in concert (whether with a full orchestra or just a small jazz combo) was never less than a complete joy. My obituary in Variety was followed by a collection of memorable moments from his career visible on YouTube.
I was honored to be asked to pen the program notes for the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s four-day series of concerts paying tribute to the great John Williams. Gustavo Dudamel conducted a thrilling greatest-hits collection of music that included four of his Oscar winners (Jaws, Star Wars, E.T., Schindler’s List), popular movie hits (Close Encounters, Raiders, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter) and more. I’m also delighted to be able to announce that I have written the liner notes for Deutsche Grammophon’s upcoming 2-CD recording of those concerts. Click on the image at left to read the L.A. Phil program notes.
Waking up on Oscar morning to find out the nominees is exciting enough — racing to be the first online with a thoughtful, historically informed analysis can make the heart beat even faster. This year was no exception, and our initial breakdown of the nominees was up within an hour of the announcement. It took another couple of hours for all of it to sink in and follow up with 10 surprises and a few cogent observations about the race.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Nick Redman, a close friend for nearly 30 years and a collaborator on dozens of film and record projects, died on January 17. He was only 63, and while he had been battling cancer for the past two years, we all thought he’d be around much longer. He was a major presence on the film-music scene, having produced hundreds of albums (including first-ever releases of such classics as Laura and Dirty Harry and many of the brilliant scores of Jerry Fielding); and he was a formidable filmmaker too, earning a 1996 Oscar nomination as producer of The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage. He was best man at my wedding and many of the DVDs and CDs pictured on this website (projects I’ve contributed to over the years) were his productions. Writing his obituary for Variety was one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever faced.
One of the world’s great jazz trumpeters has a secret desire: to set aside the instrument and transition into a new career of writing music for movies. Arturo Sandoval recently wrote the underscore for Clint Eastwood’s The Mule — for which he also played the trumpet and penned the delightful Latin-infused source music. We visited with Sandoval at his studio for Variety and talked with him about his odyssey from Cuba to America, his collaboration with Eastwood and his hopes for a new career (we were reminded that he’s already won an Emmy for scoring his own life story in HBO’s For Love or Country).
Every December I review the top 20 “classic soundtrack” albums: expanded reissues, first-time releases of great film music of the past, and re-recordings. This year, for the first time, Variety agreed to publish it. It’s a bounty of great movie music, including four John Williams scores, three by Jerry Goldsmith, more by Dave Grusin and Nino Rota, and two from the new Universal Heritage series. Here is the list, with commentary about each.