Composer Nicholas Britell earned his second Oscar nomination this year for the intimate, emotional score for If Beale Street Could Talk. This was his second film (after Moonlight) with director Barry Jenkins, who was a close collaborator on the music, Britell says in this video interview taped three weeks before the Oscars. Britell not only discusses the composing process, he performs one of the score’s main themes at the piano.
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.
So far this awards season, a good deal of attention has been paid to If Beale Street Could Talk, the adaptation of James Baldwin’s Harlem love story that is even more relevant today than when it was written in 1974. Composer Nicholas Britell reunited with his Moonlight director Barry Jenkins on that one. But I find Britell’s music for Vice, writer-director Adam McKay’s seriocomic look at former Vice President Dick Cheney’s life, even more interesting and compelling. It required a full London symphony orchestra, and the mix of classically styled, big-band, dissonant and emotional music throughout was the topic of our Q&A after a Society of Composers & Lyricists screening Tuesday night in Westwood.
As part of Variety‘s series of examinations of awards-worthy work in this year’s film music, we looked at four films that depict either historical events (Dunkirk, Battle of the Sexes, All The Money in the World) or were rooted in historical fact (Mudbound). Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk score would seem to have the best chance at an Oscar nomination this year, although Nicholas Britell did a great job with Battle of the Sexes and Daniel Pemberton’s faux-Italian-opera for All the Money in the World is fascinating. And don’t count out Tamar-kali’s chamber-music approach to Mudbound — at a time when diversity matters more than ever, she could easily make the final five.
Justin Hurwitz talks about composing the songs and score for La La Land; Dustin O’Halloran discusses the complexities of writing the music for Lion with another composer on the other side of the world; and Nicholas Britell explains how a hip-hop technique informed his piano-and-violin score for Moonlight. SoundWorks Collection offered a rare opportunity to go in-depth with each of these Oscar-nominated composers, talking about the unique challenges of each film and even playing their key themes at the piano. Here is the Hurwitz video, shot in a unique North Hollywood location; here is O’Halloran, in his Los Angeles studio; and here is Britell, talking and performing in L.A.’s legendary Nightbird studio. The series is called “Road to the Oscars,” and I was delighted to be its host.
For one of its awards-related special end-of-year issues, Variety asked me to inquire of this year’s crop of potential score honorees about the challenges they face in a changing environment for composers in film. It was an interesting assignment, and I asked Johann Johannsson (Arrival), James Newton Howard (Fantastic Beasts), John Debney (The Jungle Book), Nicholas Britell (Moonlight), Alan Silvestri (Allied) and John Williams (The BFG) about time to compose, budgets, temp tracks, synth mockups and the controversial new practice of “striping” (recording different sections of the orchestra separately from one another).
What do the composers of some of this year’s most talked-about films — Nocturnal Animals, Moonlight and Lion — have in common? Fresh and innovative approaches, as I discuss in my latest music story for Variety. Interviews with Abel Korzeniowski (Nocturnal Animals), Nicholas Britell (Moonlight) and Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka (Lion) reveal that each found offbeat musical ways into their respective dramas, and each deepened the filmgoing experience. For Korzeniowski, it was flipping musical genres for the two stories in the film; for Britell, using a hip-hop recording technique; and for O’Halloran and Hauschka, collaborating on a film set largely in India without employing Indian music.
Every year at Oscar time, Variety asks me (and other writers) to talk to score composers who are in the running for awards. This season, it was Alexandre Desplat (for Philomena), Mark Orton (Nebraska) and John Williams (The Book Thief). Earlier in the season I interviewed Henry Jackman (Captain Phillips), Nicholas Britell (the period source music in 12 Years a Slave), Daniel Pemberton (The Counselor) and, of course, Hans Zimmer (Rush and 12 Years a Slave).