Here, in two succinct stories with bullet points, are the basics of all 10 nominees in the Oscar “best song” and “best original score” categories for 2016. Variety annually asks me to discuss each nominee, listing their past Oscar record (and this year, it’s mostly newcomers) plus the general vibe of the music, and a relevant quote or two from each nominee. There is an intro section that talks in general about this year’s music races. Both stories ran in this week’s Extra Edition: Contenders issue specifically devoted to music and animation. Here is the song story; here is the one devoted to scores.
My last Variety story during the 2015 Oscar campaign examines each of the five nominees for Best Original Score: music by John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Thomas Newman, Carter Burwell and Johann Johannsson. Here is the link to the score story; also here is a second story, about this year’s Best Song category, that draws on my original interviews with nominees Lady Gaga and Diane Warren (“Til It Happens to You”), Sam Smith (“Writing’s on the Wall”) and J. Ralph (“Manta Ray”).
This week, Variety publishes my rundown of nominees in the original-score and original-song categories. I interviewed all four score nominees (Alexandre Desplat has two) and at least one of the songwriters for each of the five song nominees, along with providing their Oscar track records. For the first time in Academy history, none of the five score nominees is American, a fascinating statistic that underscores the increasingly international nature of music-making for movies.
The intro to the song story was truncated. One of the points I had hoped to make was about whether music-branch voters actually watched the song DVD. I suspect not, since Begin Again was no. 15, Selma no. 59, Glen Campbell… I’ll Be Me no. 67, The Lego Movie no. 72, and Beyond the Lights last at no. 79. They skipped lively, fun songs from animated and kids’ films like Rio 2, The Book of Life and Muppets Most Wanted. Voting results suggest that the nominees continue, for the most part, to be those with substantial publicity budgets — and that campaigning matters.
The music categories at the Academy Awards are an easy target for criticism. (As Alfred Newman famously said, “Everybody knows their job and music, too.”) Everybody has an opinion. And over the years the Academy has endlessly tinkered with the music categories, always in the hopes of muting the criticism but also hoping to help voters make the right choices in honoring songs and scores. Here’s a look at some of Oscar’s strange choices over the years; a rundown of changes in the music rules over the years; a more recent lament over the demise of the “adaptation” category which, if reinstated, would offer a home for scores that don’t easily fit the other categories; and a look at classic songs that probably should have been nominated but weren’t.