The process of choosing “best song” and “best score” for this year’s Academy Awards will be a little more complicated for voters. Revised Oscar rules mandate that the music branch choose 15 pre-nominees in each category, requiring them to see and evaluate all of the eligible works an entire month earlier than usual. This may alter the results and eliminate late-December releases from the race. I discuss this in an analysis story for this week’s Variety. Also this week: individual looks at 13 potential score nominees, including Mary Queen of Scots, A Quiet Place, Green Book, On the Basis of Sex, Widows, Red Sparrow and Fantastic Beasts 2, BlacKkKlansman, Stan & Ollie, Boy Erased, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, If Beale Street Could Talk and Vice.
German-born, London-based post-minimalist composer Max Richter was in town this week to promote his score for the new Mary Queen of Scots starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie. Richter, who divides his time equally between concert music (The Blue Notebooks, Sleep) and media music (Miss Sloane, The Leftovers), is thoughtful and articulate, as he demonstrated during a Q&A I did with him after a screening of the film Tuesday night at Universal Studios. The Society of Composers & Lyricists sponsored the sold-out event.
It’s always fascinating to talk with composers about how they go about scoring a film, what their approach to the material is, how they work with different directors. For this story — that first appeared in last week’s Music for Screens section of Variety — I interviewed seven composers: Marcelo Zarvos (Fences), Carter Burwell (The Founder), Daniel Pemberton (Gold), Max Richter (Miss Sloane), Harry Gregson-Williams (Live by Night), Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (Patriots Day). Many took their cues from the characters at the center of the story and developed themes and sounds specific to them, their goals and desires. And in a second story, I discuss the Academy’s surprising decision to include scores from musicals in its “original score” category for the first time in many years.
I thought that Johann Johannsson’s music for Arrival was one of this year’s most interesting and creative film scores — yet the use of Max Richter’s 12-year-old classical piece “On the Nature of Daylight” (which bookends the film) was startling in terms of its stylistic differences. So it came as no surprise that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ music-branch executive committee disqualified the entire score from consideration in this year’s Oscar race. Having interviewed both Johannsson and Richter about their music earlier in the awards season, I thought it might be instructive to hear what each had to say about the use of this “temp music” in the final version of Arrival. I also talked, on background, to members of the committee who made this decision.