For Variety‘s final roundup of potential award nominees in the music categories, I covered nine scores and broke them down into three categories: Suspense (Michael Abels’ Get Out, Patrick Doyle’s Murder on the Orient Express, Carter Burwell’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri); films that centered on families (Jon Brion’s Lady Bird, Randy Newman’s The Meyerowitz Stories, Marcelo Zarvos’ Wonder); and music for animation (John Powell’s Ferdinand, Mychael and Jeff Danna’s The Breadwinner, Michael Giacchino’s Coco). It certainly was a diverse and fascinating year for original music in films.
The two most likely candidates for Best Song nominations at the Oscars come from very different movies: “Remember Me,” the musical centerpiece of Disney/Pixar’s Coco, and “This Is Me,” the outcasts anthem from the P.T. Barnum biopic The Greatest Showman. They also happen to be the work of four of America’s current greatest songwriters, all previous Oscar winners: Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen), who wrote “Remember Me”; and Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land), who wrote all the songs in The Greatest Showman. I chronicle the creation of both songs in this week’s Variety: Here is the “Remember Me” backstory, and here is the one on “This Is Me.”
Variety editors asked me to take an early look at the original-score race at the Oscars, even though it was only November and there are still a number of films yet to be screened. Realistically, at this point there are about 25 legitimate contenders for the five available nomination slots, but at this early stage I think it’s best to present them without making predictions (which is always dicey anyway). Along the way I found room to talk about diversity and gender issues, which are likely to be a factor in the race; and what composers are talking about in terms of time and freedom to write the music that will best enhance their films. Composers quoted include Michael Giacchino (Coco), Dario Marianelli (Darkest Hour) and Tamar-kali (Mudbound).
This piece, the lead Artisans story in this week’s Variety, was both complicated and a joy to write. Disney/Pixar always goes to great lengths to find the right score (and often songs) for each of its films, but on Coco they went to extremes. Coco, which opens next week, is set during Mexico’s “Day of the Dead” celebration, and is about a boy who desperately wants to be a musician — something his family is dead-set against. The filmmakers hired the ever-reliable Michael Giacchino (Ratatouille, Up) to compose the score, but added Mexican-American composer Germaine Franco to orchestrate and co-write several of the songs. And they arranged for many of Mexico’s top musicians to perform much of the background music you hear. Oh, and not incidentally, they asked Frozen songwriters Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez to pen a key song heard several times in the movie.
The Disney-Pixar film Coco is going to be a big hit during the post-Thanksgiving period, and critics are already calling it one of the best animated films of the year. It was an honor to be asked to interview the entire Coco music team Thursday night after a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening at the Pacific Design Center. L to R in the photo: co-director, co-songwriter and writer Adrian Molina; songwriter and orchestrator Germaine Franco, whose Mexican-American heritage became a big factor in achieving an authentic sound for this “Day of the Dead”-themed story; composer Michael Giacchino, whose previous five Pixar films include Ratatouille (an Oscar nominee) and Up (an Oscar winner); songwriters Bobby Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, whose “Remember Me” is certain to be short-listed for awards this season; and yours truly. A memorable evening.