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.
I have to watch a lot of media for my job, and very often there isn’t time to watch multiple hours of television before having to interview a composer about their work. But in the case of Andor, the latest addition to the Star Wars universe, I was hooked and did in fact watch all 12 hours of the compelling backstory of Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna). I interviewed composer Nicholas Britell for two Variety pieces — one announcing his involvement, the other discussing his approach to this unusually novelistic saga — and finally interviewed both Britell and showrunner Tony Gilroy about their years-long collaboration on the project for an SCL event.
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.
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.