Variety editors asked me to take an early look at the original-score race at the Oscars, even though it was only November and there are still a number of films yet to be screened. Realistically, at this point there are about 25 legitimate contenders for the five available nomination slots, but at this early stage I think it’s best to present them without making predictions (which is always dicey anyway). Along the way I found room to talk about diversity and gender issues, which are likely to be a factor in the race; and what composers are talking about in terms of time and freedom to write the music that will best enhance their films. Composers quoted include Michael Giacchino (Coco), Dario Marianelli (Darkest Hour) and Tamar-kali (Mudbound).
For Variety‘s first Contenders issue of the year, I profiled four early scores that could be vying for “original score” honors as the 2017 awards season gets underway: Dario Marianelli’s music for Darkest Hour; Thomas Newman’s music for Victoria & Abdul; Carter Burwell’s music for Wonderstruck; and Rupert Gregson-Williams’ music for Wonder Woman. This is just the beginning, of course — there will be other stories about composers and songwriters during November and December, as the season progresses.
Yes, those final moments of Sunday’s Oscarcast were bizarre and won’t soon be forgotten. But, that aside, there were a lot of great musical moments in the broadcast and we recount them all here — the wins by the La La Land team for score and song, the performances of all five nominated songs, the beautiful “In Memoriam” performance, and more. Plus a rundown of Saturday’s always-entertaining Society of Composers & Lyricists champagne reception for Oscar music nominees.
My final two Variety stories for this Oscar season not only recap the nominees but look at the races in historical terms. Four of the five nominees in each music category (song and score) are first-timers to the competition. And in the score category, most of the composers didn’t go the traditional route of simply recording live musicians — they added electronics, processed and modified the score, or otherwise used avant-garde recording or post-production techniques. It’s a big change from the old days of Steiner, Korngold and the classic Hollywood sound. And for the song story, I investigated what Academy voters consider when voting. What is a “best song,” anyway?
British experimental-pop musician Mica Levi is only the fourth woman to be nominated for “original score” at the Academy Awards. Her music for Jackie, bold and even startling as applied by director Pablo Larrain, has won attention throughout this awards season. I interviewed her while she was on tour with her band in Europe, and Variety published the Q&A in this week’s Contenders Extra Edition.
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.
It’s a rare treat to be able to sit down with two of the towering figures of pop music and film music to talk about a collaboration for film. In this case it was songwriter-producer Pharrell Williams and top Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer — along with their friend and musical colleague Benjamin Wallfisch. The three of them produced the score and songs for the new film Hidden Figures, the remarkable untold story of three African-American women were part of the American space program in the early 1960s. Williams served as one of the film’s producers and wrote the songs, which in turn inspired the score penned by Zimmer and Wallfisch. It has an undeniable ’60s vibe infused with gospel sounds, and this story for Variety‘s Music for Screens issue discusses their collaboration.
It was a surprise to discover that 88-year-old songwriting legend Burt Bacharach had decided to score a new movie, and write a new movie song, for the first time in 16 years. It’s no shame to admit that I was thrilled to get the opportunity to sit down with the man who wrote “The Look of Love,” “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and so many of my favorite songs of the ’60s and ’70s. In talking with him (and with director John Asher) about scoring the low-budget Po, I discovered why he wanted to do it; the connection with his late daughter Nikki makes it especially poignant. His song, “Dancing With Your Shadow,” sung by Sheryl Crow, is a real contender for this year’s Academy Awards, as I discuss in a story for this week’s Music for Screens section of Variety.
One of my favorite stories of the past year concerns Michael Giacchino — the composer of Ratatouille, Up and the Star Trek films — who, exhausted from scoring four major films in 2016, was all set to go on vacation when the phone rang, asking him if he might squeeze in a Star Wars film before the end of the year. How he got to do Rogue One, and how he went about it, is the subject of a story I wrote for this week’s Music section of Variety. Along the way I also mention two of my other favorites of his this year: Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Disney’s Zootopia.
While the general public may not be thinking about Oscars this early in the year, the reality is that awards season is already well underway in Hollywood. Screenings of November-December releases are in full swing, awards consultants are emailing and phoning, and Variety has begun its coverage of potential honorees. Here is the backstory of the music of La La Land, certain to be one of the most talked-about late-year releases. I was fascinated by what initially inspired composer Justin Hurwitz and director Damien Chazelle to create this magical movie. Also in the Nov. 1 issue, I explore why so few spring and early-summer films are ever nominated for their music; and offer a detailed look at the unusual South Pacific music of Disney’s upcoming Moana, including an interview with Hamilton composer Lin-Manuel Miranda.