The Oscar nominations for 2022 were announced on January 24, and four of the five best score nominations went to previous winners or nominees. I spent some time analyzing the races, and here is a pair of Variety stories that look in depth at the five song and five score nominations with a few words from each nominee included. I also covered the Songwriters Hall of Fame get-together in which four of the five nominated songs were represented, and that story is here. An analysis of the song race, and another of the score race, also ran in Variety. Finally, Volker Bertelmann’s Oscar victory story is here.
At 91, composer John Williams is still so busy that it’s hard to pin him down for an interview. But I was able to do that on Thursday morning and on Friday Variety posted the story. He talks about reuniting with director Steven Spielberg for The Fabelmans, loosely based on the filmmaker’s childhood; about eight months of off-and-on work on Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, which is due out in June; and about new classical commissions (including one for pianist Emanuel Ax and another for cellist Yo-Yo Ma) and his surprising conducting schedule for 2023, which will see him jetting to Chicago, New York, Tokyo and elsewhere.
Gerald Fried was the first composer I ever interviewed, back in 1974. I had been a huge fan of his work on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and he gave me a wonderful half-hour. He went on to collect an Emmy for the landmark miniseries Roots and even greater fame for his iconic Star Trek battle music (and his silly stuff for Gilligan’s Island, which he later confessed to me generated his biggest royalty stream because it reruns constantly everywhere in the world). He was a highly articulate, very witty and super-talented composer who could write in any genre. Here is my obituary, with a detailed look at his career, for Variety.
Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, who took the business by storm a couple of years ago — earning an Emmy for Chernobyl and an Oscar for Joker — was back in town recently to discuss her music for Tar and Women Talking. It was a rare opportunity for me to write a cover story for Variety, and while she ultimately missed out on Oscar nominations for both scores, she remains a fascinating personality and a talented composer. Along with the profile, I wrote a sidebar on the role of conductor John Mauceri in helping Todd Field get the musical details right for his Tar screenplay.
Ninety-year-old John Williams, who has hinted that his music for Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans and the forthcoming Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny will be his last for films, still can’t seem to slow down. In December, he recorded a new three-and-a-half minute piece for ESPN’s coverage of the College Football Playoff National Championship, airing Monday. I broke the story for Variety on Thursday and it quickly became one of my most-read pieces of recent months.
Once in a while my editors at Variety will commission an essay on a topic of current interest. They asked for two in December, and I found both fascinating: A long piece looking at the progress, or lack thereof, that women composers have been making in film and TV music; and a second, somewhat lighter in tone, about the current popularity of television themes — mostly on the streaming services — and how they seem to be more memorable lately.
The rest of the music world may have gone digital, but the record labels that cater to movie-music fans continue to produce first-rate soundtrack albums (actual physical product!) that focus on classic scores or previously unreleased ones. And many contain detailed liner notes that go into greater depth about the music than has ever been written elsewhere.
Hats off to this year’s best, alphabetically:
Amistad (La-La Land Records). For the 25th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s historical drama about a 19th-century slave-ship uprising, John Williams’ evocative, Oscar-nominated score – filled with vocal chants and African percussion, culminating in the Mende-language “Dry Your Tears, Afrika” – here expands to two full discs.
Black Patch / The Man (Intrada Records). Two Jerry Goldsmith scores that have disappeared have been meticulously reconstructed and nicely re-recorded (by conductor William Stomberg and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra): Goldsmith’s first feature, a 1957 western starring George Montgomery, and his 1972 TV-movie with James Earl Jones as the first Black American president.
The Bourne Identity (Varese Sarabande). John Powell, among the most respected of today’s film composers, has assembled a new edition of his 2002 score for the Doug Liman spy thriller that launched Matt Damon as hero of a new action franchise; featuring strings, electronics and solo bassoon, it marked a fresh approach for the genre.
Conan the Destroyer (Intrada). Basil Poledouris’ Conan the Barbarian stands as a sword-and-sorcery masterpiece, which makes this 1984 sequel of automatic interest, as the composer adapted and developed the original themes for a new story.
Frenzy (Quartet Records). Ron Goodwin’s music for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1972 suspense film gets its first release, but this album contains a “wow” bonus: Henry Mancini’s only rejected score, heard by Hitchcock and then dumped for reasons that remain unclear. Their different approaches make for fascinating listening.
The Godfather (La-La Land). Fifty years after its 1972 release, Nino Rota’s Sicilian-flavored classic gets a remastering that includes more than 20 minutes of music that was recorded but went unused in the final cut and is heard here for the first time; the rest has never sounded better.
Goldsmith at 20th, Volume V (La-La Land)*.This enterprising label’s fifth compilation of Jerry Goldsmith’s work at 20th Century-Fox consists entirely of his rarely heard music for Fox TV series and movies, 1968-75, including such “lost” series as Anna and the King and fine TV-movies including A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and A Girl Named Sooner.
Hollow Man (Intrada). Jerry Goldsmith’s last film for Paul Verhoeven, a modern-day “Invisible Man” story starring Kevin Bacon in 2000, sported an energetic, wall-to-wall score that probably should have been Oscar-nominated. This 2-CD set gives us the full score for the first time.
The Iron Giant (Varese Sarabande). One of the late Michael Kamen’s most beloved scores, for Brad Bird’s animated modern classic (1999) about a boy and his giant robot during the Sputnik era, certainly merited this expanded album.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown / A Charlie Brown Christmas (Craft Recordings). During the pandemic, the family of Peanuts producer Lee Mendelson discovered many reels of Vince Guaraldi’s original music that had been hidden away in vaults for over 50 years, enabling them to issue fabulous new soundtracks for these perennial TV favorites.
L.A. Confidential (Varese Sarabande). One of Jerry Goldsmith’s last great scores was this Oscar-nominated piece for Curtis Hanson’s noirish crime thriller set in 1950s Los Angeles. Combining period touches with contemporary writing, Goldsmith created a kind of musical sequel to his undisputed masterpiece Chinatown.
Lifeforce (Intrada). One of Henry Mancini’s most powerful yet unheralded works was his dramatic score for Tobe Hooper’s practically forgotten 1985 tale of space vampires. His main-title theme still ranks as among his most thrilling compositions; this 2-CD presents and preserves the entire score.
The Magnificent Seven Collection (Quartet). Elmer Bernstein’s music for the 1960 western classic was rearranged and augmented for three sequels – Return of the Seven, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, The Magnificent Seven Ride – all of them collected for this 4-disc set (that even includes a Marlboro Country album recorded by the cigarette manufacturer that used Bernstein’s theme in its commercials).
Mary, Queen of Scots (Quartet)*. John Barry’s Oscar-nominated score for this 1971 film about 16th-century English history has been out before, but only in the 26-minute, original LP format; this expansion includes Barry’s complete 50-minute score with choral interludes and gorgeous orchestral passages.
Red Sonja (Quartet). Ennio Morricone’s lavish symphonic accompaniment is a good deal better than this 1985 fantasy epic (starring Brigitte Nielsen and Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Conan-like role) probably deserved; the choral material, as always with Morricone, is worth the price of admission.
Scarface (La-La Land). Giorgio Moroder’s legendary score for Brian De Palma’s 1983 cocaine classic starring Al Pacino has long been desired by collectors (the original LP was mostly songs). This 2-CD set fulfills every wish; it’s more than two and a half hours of vintage Moroder from his Cat People–Flashdance period.
Scream 1-4 (Varese Sarabande). If you liked Wes Craven’s Scream movies, you’ll love this 6-CD box set of Marco Beltrami’s creepy, sophisticated scores that helped reinvigorate the horror genre back in the 1990s.
Seconds (Quartet). This classically styled Jerry Goldsmith score for John Frankenheimer’s unsettling 1966 sci-fi film undergoes a major sonic upgrade for the new release, including more music than the previous issue.
Tomorrow Never Dies (La-La Land). David Arnold’s first of five James Bond movie scores is arguably his best, inspired by John Barry’s 007 style but updated with a contemporary flair. This lavish presentation contains nearly two and a half hours of music for the 1997 Pierce Brosnan adventure.
Willow (Intrada). James Horner’s popular, grand-scale symphonic music for Ron Howard’s 1988 fantasy feature arrives in expanded form, just in time for the new Disney+ series also starring Warwick Davis.
* Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for these two albums.
A few years ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ music branch — the approximately 400 composers, songwriters and music editors who decide the Oscar nomination slate for songs and scores — returned to an old practice: the “shortlist,” a way of winnowing down the vast number entered (this year, 147 scores and 82 songs) to a manageable few. I follow this process closely and chronicle it for Variety. Here is an early prediction of the score lineup, looking at 22 possibilities; here is my exclusive on the score and song disqualifications; here’s a full list of the songs that were eligible; and here is a quick analysis of the shortlists themselves, announced on Dec. 21. (I had earlier investigated the idea that the Doja Cat song in Elvis might be disqualified — and it was.)
Every year, mostly in November and December, Variety asks me to see a nonstop barrage of new movies and interview their composers. This year’s crop included Justin Hurwitz for Babylon, Marcelo Zarvos for Emancipation, Chanda Dancy for Devotion, Nicholas Britell for She Said, Ludwig Goransson for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Hildur Guonadottir for Tar, Terence Blanchard for The Woman King, Michael Abels for Nope, Benjamin Wallfisch for Thirteen Lives, and Michael Giacchino for The Batman.
This year the Recording Academy finally added a category for game music soundtracks. It’s a far more important issue in the composer community than ever before, considering the vast number of games being played and the high quality of music now being composed for them, by some of the most talented people in the industry. I discussed the upcoming Grammy competition in a Variety story here, previewed the possible nominees here, and unveiled the actual nomination slate (along with all the other Grammy nominees in the visual-media field) here.