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.
Again this year, NPR’s newsmagazine Here and Now asked me to discuss this year’s Oscar-nominated songs. Host Jeremy Hobson and I enjoyed playing, and talking about, the surprisingly diverse crop. Here is a link to the segment, which aired on Feb. 22, just two days before the Academy Award telecast.
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.
Just a week before he won two Grammy Awards (one for Song of the Year, one for Original Score), I interviewed Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson about his acclaimed, Oscar-nominated score for the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther. We shot it for Michael Coleman’s SoundWorks Collection at Goransson’s studio and incorporates on-location footage of him recording musicians in Africa. The day after the Grammy Awards, I discovered that Ludwig’s wins set a record for a musician working in two vastly different genres and wrote about it for Variety.
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.
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.
On Dec. 17, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences released its “shortlists” of movie songs and scores that will be eligible for nomination for this year’s Oscars. It’s the first time since 1979 that they’ve used this process — narrowing voters’ choices from the 156 qualified scores and 90 qualifying songs down to a more manageable 15 scores and 15 songs from which to make their final five choices in each category. Here is my instant analysis for Variety, written in just an hour or two after the lists were revealed. And, interestingly enough, most of the scores were included in my top-10 list written weeks earlier but published that day in Variety‘s Ultimate Awards Guide publication (click on the image to the left). My later, somewhat more detailed, look at the shortlists — and their shortcomings — is here.
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.
This week, Variety published its first “Contenders” section designed to inform award voters (and watchers) about worthy work in 2018 releases. It may be a record for the earliest one yet (it’s still only October!); there’ll be another at the end of November. We started with three really interesting stories: Michel Legrand scoring Orson Welles’ final film, The Other Side of the Wind; British classical composer Thomas Ades doing his first film, Colette; and perennial favorite Alexandre Desplat, who has three scores in contention (most likely to gain attention: Isle of Dogs). Also in this issue: a preview of my composer panel at the inaugural Variety Music for Screens Summit, which was Tuesday, Oct. 30 in Hollywood.
On Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Motion Picture Academy joined forces to present an evening-long celebration of film music, highlighting this year’s five Oscar-nominated film scores. But that was only the second half of the concert (featuring conductors John Williams, Alexandre Desplat, Carter Burwell and Thomas Wilkins). The first half took a fascinating look at various literary ideas (love, fear, courage, the chase, etc.) and how composers have musicalized those ideas over the years. Here is an overview of the concert; I was privileged to write the program notes for the evening.