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.)
Billie Eilish and Hans Zimmer take on James Bond! Those were the headlines for weeks in early 2020 as production on No Time to Die, the 25th 007 film, was winding down. A year later, Eilish and her brother, co-writer Finneas O’Connell, won the Grammy for her title song even though the film had not yet been released. When we finally saw No Time to Die in October, we discovered that Zimmer had incorporated “We Have All the Time in the World” as part of the dramatic score, and I wrote a Variety story explaining the references to John Barry’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service score (including that song). In December I had the pleasure of interviewing Billie & Finneas about their title song, and in January it was a special honor to interview the entire Bond team — producer Barbara Broccoli, director Cary Fukunaga, composer Zimmer, songwriters Billie & Finneas, and associate producer Greg Wilson — for a 40-minute Zoom conversation on music in No Time to Die. And of course Billie & Finneas won the Oscar in March.
Variety was first out of the gate with an instant analysis of Monday morning’s Oscar nominations for original song and score. The early readings suggest that Hildur Guonadottir’s Joker score and Elton John’s Rocketman song have the inside track, but I am being cautioned that Oscar voters can be unpredictable in these categories and not to count out newcomer Cynthia Erivo for her Harriet song or Thomas Newman (a 15-time nominee so far without a win) for his 1917 score. Voting actually doesn’t begin until Jan. 30, and the Oscars are almost a month away. The original Monday stories, containing more statistical detail, can be found here for score and here for song; the slightly truncated print versions are pictured above.
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).