One of my favorite annual Variety assignments involves analyzing the competition in the Best Song and Original Score categories as the Academy Awards campaign winds down and the voting begins. While Oscar pundits debate whether “Shallow” from A Star Is Born will win the song honors or be upset by one of the others, and whether If Beale Street Could Talk is really the favorite among the scores, we look closely at all 10 nominees and provide some historical and statistical perspective. Here is our “Contenders: Best Song” story and our “Contenders: Best Score” story, both of which ran in the Feb. 12 issue of Variety.
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.
The Academy never stops tinkering with the music rules. The latest addition is actually a throwback to an earlier era: There will now be an Oscar “shortlist” for best song and best score of the year, a 15-film list for each category from which the final five nominees will be chosen. It’s a process the Academy music-branch used to follow, back in the ’60s and ’70s, but long ago abandoned. Academy governors refused to discuss the reinstatement of the concept, but I obtained an in-house document and talked to Academy insiders about what it means and how it will be accomplished for this Variety story.
Another awards season is finally in the books, with Sunday night’s Oscar telecast that saw Alexandre Desplat win for his Shape of Water score, and songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez for their song “Remember Me” from Coco. Variety kept me busy all weekend, writing the winner stories (score story here, including Desplat’s beating the statistical odds for a second time; song story here) and adding a Monday-morning story about Lopez becoming the first-ever double EGOT winner. A complete summary of Saturday and Sunday events — including the annual SCL Oscar reception, always a highlight of the weekend, is here.
Can composer Alexandre Desplat win a second Academy Award (for The Shape of Water), just three years after his first? Statistically, the odds are against it. But then Desplat has beaten the odds before, winning for The Grand Budapest Hotel the same year he was nominated for another film (The Imitation Game). Yet don’t count out Jonny Greenwood for Phantom Thread or even Carter Burwell for Three Billboards. Here is a look at some fascinating and relevant statistics from the last 25 years of Oscar wins in the original-score category.
Every year Variety asks me to analyze the music races for the Academy Awards — not really handicapping them, as that entails choosing favorites, which I don’t like to do. But examining the five nominees, quoting the composers, hinting at what’s important about each, and subtly suggesting what Academy voters might be thinking. Alexandre Desplat’s The Shape of Water is the current favorite, but I think you cannot count out Jonny Greenwood’s Phantom Thread or Carter Burwell’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Hans Zimmer’s Dunkirk and John Williams’ Star Wars: The Last Jedi are admittedly outsiders at this point… but the Oscars love to surprise us. This story appeared only in print, so please click on the images to read it here.
For this week’s Variety, a week after the Oscar nomination announcements, editors asked me to summarize the nominees and their relative chances for winning. It’s a particularly tough year with at least three of the songs having a good shot and possibly even four of the five nominated scores that could win the category. This was only available in the print version of the magazine, so I’ve scanned it for reproduction here (click on the image).
As always on Oscar-nominations-announcement day, I have written a kind of “instant analysis” of the song and score categories — who was nominated, who was not, and a bit about the background of the nominees. The lead of my story — the fact that two major pop names, Diane Warren and Jonny Greenwood — remained intact even though editors chose to highlight a “Taylor Swift snub” in the headline (something I have nothing to do with). But that’s about attracting readers to the story. The story itself is solid and filled with data about John Williams’ 51 nominations, Greenwood’s past history with the Academy, Warren’s failure to win despite eight previous nods, and whose recent wins may be a factor in whether they win again. It’s on Variety‘s website today; I will be writing new stories on the topic for print over the next two weeks.
For another in Variety‘s series of looks at this year’s Oscar-worthy film music, I singled out four films that might be characterized as either fantasy or science-fiction: Alexandre Desplat’s The Shape of Water, Rolfe Kent’s Downsizing, Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s Blade Runner 2049, and Michael Giacchino’s War for the Planet of the Apes. All four are terrific, and while Desplat’s Shape of Water seems to have the best chance at nomination, I wouldn’t count out any of them!
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.