With Italian maestro Ennio Morricone arriving this week in Los Angeles, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce decided to give him a star on its Walk of Fame just two days before the Oscar ceremony — where he might just walk away with the award for his music for The Hateful Eight. Variety asked me to profile the 87-year-old legend, which meant calling him in Rome for some thoughts on his career, and reaching out to directors including Barry Levinson (Bugsy), Roland Joffe (The Mission) and Warren Beatty (Bulworth). Here is the main story; there is also (at least in print!) a sidebar listing “10 essential Ennio Morricone soundtracks” that allowed me to cite some of my favorites among his nearly 500 scores for film and television.
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.
It was a whirlwind four days, beginning with the first-ever Oscar concert at Royce Hall, then a really fun Oscar music reception (sponsored by the Society of Composers & Lyricists) and finally the Academy Awards themselves on Sunday. A roundup, with lots of colorful photos, is here.
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).
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.
Post-Oscars but pre-Grammys, I interviewed composer James Horner about the Titanic experience, how he felt about it and the impact it was having on his life and career. The online version doesn’t indicate this, but it was a big front-page Calendar story with a nice photo of James.