Monday, December 20, 2010

Oscar's Music Branch Might Need Some Fine Tuning.

As you may have heard the Academy's music branch has made some rulings about this year's original score eligibility issues. Variety reports that Clint Mansell's Black Swan score (too much Tchaikovsky), Carter Burwell's True Grit score (too many Protestant hymns), and The Kids Are All Right and The Fighter scores (too many pop/rock songs) are officially out of the running.

All of these rulings make sense if you skim the surface, but as is usually the case with eligibility rulings, they make less and less sense the more you think it over or the more you notice the inconsistencies in Oscar rulings. The King's Speech, which has an original score by the brilliant Alexandre Desplat, but uses a lot of Beethoven for its finale was not ruled ineligible. And a few years back Gustavo Santaoalalla won the Oscar for Babel despite quite a lot of music used in the film that he didn't write.

The larger problem is simply that film scoring has changed quite a lot over the years and it's rare now to hear a movie, that doesn't use a mix of pre-existing and new material. Oscar might want to think of a way to incorporate the changing aural landscape of movies into their awards. Should Mansell and Burwell be penalized for doing right by their film's? Should Jonny Greenwood, who wrote one of the best and most innovative scores of the past decade  (There Will Be Blood) have been ruled ineligible because he was smart enough to use some previously written stuff of his own with new stuff that worked so perfectly for the movie?

But back to this year: How exactly do you do a psychological riff on Swan Lake without using Tchaikovsky and why on earth wouldn't you use Protestant hymns for True Grit. We suspected when we broke the news online that Burwell was planning on hymns for the score, that it would feel just right in the movie and it does.

One score that might be snubbed (Eek!). One that just might win.

So where does that leave this year's Oscar race for Best Original Score? It was never a done deal that Clint Mansell would be nominated for Black Swan despite the critics awards. Oscar's music branch is notoriously insular and Mansell, one of the movie's most provocative composers, has been shunned before for brilliant work. Who is to say whether his luck would have changed this year? The other film winning "best music" awards is Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's The Social Network but that's always felt like a long shot for a nomination, however deserving. It will be quite a shocking new time in AMPAS history if they embrace it. It's so very different than what they embrace.

Score prizes for far this year.
  • The Social Network won 4 prizes (Boston, LA, St. Louis, Vegas) 
  • Inception won 3 prizes (D.C., Houston and Golden Satellites)  
  • The Ghost Writer won 2 prizes (LA, EFA)
  • Black Swan won 2 prizes (New York Online and Chicago)
  • Never Let Me Go won 1 prize (San Diego)
  • films that have been precursor-nominated: The Fighter and True Grit (both now disqualified), I Am Love, Burlesque, The King's Speech, How To Train Your Dragon, Alice in Wonderland, Tron Legacy and 127 Hours.
What kind of future do you see for Oscar's Original Score category?


Robert said...

Hm, I was really rooting for Black Swan - the melding of Tchaikovsky and Mansell was simply masterful and worked so well for the movie. Kind of like Nina's own transformation, you never knew where reality (Tchaikovsky) ended and fantasy (Mansell) began. Haunting work that really lasts.

But now I'm just hoping for The Social Network to get a nomination - so subtle, and yet so essential. Just what a film score should be.

Ruth said...

Desplat is a master, his score was one of the few, few things I enjoyed about New Moon...
Nominations for film scores always seem to be convoluted. I've not seen Black Swan yet (Australian release in January) but from what I've read I agree with what's been said here. Maybe the academy's being a little too...hmm, uptight? For want of a better word...

Jorge Rodrigues said...

The music branch always creates such a huge stir every year with these disqualifications. To add to their poor taste in music sometimes. And to their general habit of giving preference to previously nominated composers.

With this, this year is shaping up to be a huge battle between Alexandre Desplat and Hans Zimmer. And since Zimmer hasn't won in quite some time and Desplat's "overdue" status is becoming harder to ignore... It will be brutal.

Probably Zimmer wins (if INCEPTION is not deemed ineligible as well - on account of, you know, being based on "Je ne regrette rien"), even more so because Desplat has "The Tree of Life" in 2011 (and judging by the first track leaked online... WOW).

These exclusions will probably mean Rachel Portman will get her expected return to the Kodak Theatre (oy, I did like NEVER LET ME GO a lot, but her score... So lovely and yet SO freakin' loud... So badly-adjusted to the film... It reminded of Desplat with CHÉRI).

And while I dream that the amazing score by John Powell for HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON gets a nomination too, I fear it will go to someone more well-known and previously nominated: aka A.R.Rahman. (I guess they could go for James Newton Howard but does anyone really like THE LAST AIRBENDER? - the score is great though).

My ultimate dream: Sylvain Chomet nominated.

My ultimate nightmare: Danny Elfman nominated. OMG that would be SO bad.

It would be interesting if Desplat got a double nomination too.

My prediction (as of now):

- 127 HOURS

Jorge Rodrigues said...

A win for Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor would be interesting, especially because no one can imagine the Academy going there (it would be like in 2003 when "Lose Yourself" won Original Song) and the score is really amazing, supporting the film beautifully.

As is INCEPTION's. "Mombasa", "Time", "Dream is Collapsing" are amazing pieces of music that are as deserving of the win as THE SOCIAL NETWORK's.

Dean said...

The Score and Song categories' rules are such a mess. I'd rather just see something along the lines of "Best Use of Music" so that every film has a chance (even if the Academy members would be no more likely to recognize the best use of music in films). Do away with "Best Song" and include song scores or mixes in this general music category.

TB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arkaan said...

I'm annoyed that The Social Network is eligible. Now they might actually nominate it. Which would be awesome, but really, if the music branch is awesome, how do we get to complain about them?

It's much more fun when they do their bullshit inconsistent rulings. Plus it allows us the hope that they might have nominated it... if only they had the chance! Sigh, my childish musings.

TB said...

The music branch has been dead to me ever since Jonny Greenwood's score for There Will Be Blood was disqualified. I don't know why I was expecting different for Mansell.

Jorge Rodrigues said...


For me, they are making serious mistakes since 2007.

First, Johnny Greenwood's THERE WILL BE BLOOD in 2007.

In 2008, Zimmer/Newton Howard's THE DARK KNIGHT.

In 2009, Korzeniowski's A SINGLE MAN.

2010: If Reznor gets snubbed... there you have it.

The Pretentious Know it All said...

I think we're likely to see Never Let Me Go get in there. It's so completely what the Academy goes for in this category (remember "best" equals "most").

Broooooke said...

I'm suprised they havent DQed Inception yet, but I'm stoked it hasn't so far. I wouldn't mind if King's Speech or Social Network wins, but I really think this should go to Zimmer this time.

I've noticed some backlash against it, but the opening theme is the most distinctive since LOTR, and definatly my #1 score for the year, thought I haven't seen Black Swan yet (Tonight!!!!!) and I do love Mansell.

Unknown said...


cal roth said...

The score for The Last Airbender is GREAT, one of the best of the year, but I don't remember such an ill-received movie getting Oscar attention besides of make-up.

Glenn Dunks said...

Silly stuff, but I don't think anybody is claiming Black Swan shouldn't have used Tchaikovsky, just that the movie used it too prominently for Mansell's original music to be... something. I dunno. It's all stupid though.

Nevermind, even without them this year has been the year of the film score and any Oscar combination made up of How to Train Your Dragon, The Illusionist Inception, Monsters, Mother, Red Hill, The Social Network or TRON: Legacy would be enough to hail it as the best Oscar original score lineup ever, surely. Of course, the Academy will stuff it up my nominating The King's Speech, Alice in Wonderland and Never Let Me Go instead of most of those.

The Illusionist is probably the best score I've heard since Birth. *sigh*

Deivith Coast said...

I really hate those stupid roles, they manage to quit the best scores from the race. 2007 was a great year for music in movies with masterpieces from Greenwood, Cave, Desplat... Specially Greenwood. The snub of A Single Man and Bright Star last year still hurts, and I love love LOVE Mansell and Tchaikovsky is maybe my fave classic composer, so that score is going to be amazing, and I also like Burwell quite much... Those rules only limit creativity and innovation, and there ´s no place for experimentation.

Nevertheless, I am crazy about Social Network score, I listen to it everyday, to me is Ross and Reznor are much responsibles of the result of the movie than it seems. I think Inception´s score is wonderful, what Zimmer has made is amazing. And one of my very favourites is Io sono l´amore ´s score, but is it original?? Aren´t the tracks previous work by John Adams?? If it´s original then not nominating it should be penalized! I also love the one of How to train your dragon, and the music of Winter´s Bone in general, so great...

And I thought Desplat work in Ghost Writer was masterful (though I prefer him in Benjamin Button, Lust Caution and specially in Birth), but I´ve heard that King´s Speech score is not very good, I haven´t heard it, what do you think??

Deivith Coast said...

Where I´ve written "stupid roles", I meant "stupid rules", and "much responsibles"= "much more responsibles". Excuse me, obviously English is not my language.

Oh! And I love Tron´s score by moments, but some tracks are too generic/ disappointing to me... Just like the film. Well the film has an incredible amount of horrible moments, the score is one of its rare jewels, really, when it´s good is really good. It wouldn´t be a bad nominee... Now that Mansell and Burwell are out.

Mike said...

It might not make the cut but I think Desplat's score to HP and the Deathly Hallows was amazing. It was so gorgeous and dark, fitting the movie's many tones. I am, however, a larger fan of this HP installment than most. I just think that Desplat's bravery to break away from William's HP score and create his own work that really sounded better and more lush than any of William's score. I feel like Desplat is so prolific that his HP score should be getting more attention than it is.

Nathaniel I would love to here you talk more about this HP feel. I noticed you saw it and graded it, but never really talked about it. You grade is so average that I'd love to here your thoughts.

OtherRobert said...

Here I was thinking Carter Burwell would get a make-up nomination for Where the Wild Things Are when they go and bump him for using Protestant hymns.

They still haven't disqualified a popular recording artist, but that doesn't happen until after the nomination ballots are in so they can really screw up the category. I'm betting on Daft Punk being eliminated from the running as I doubt the Academy is going to fall for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score.

What they need to do is bring back the Adapted Score category with similar rules to Original Song. The music branch screens and rates the potential nominees, then issues 2 to 5 nominations if there are enough quality scores to go around. Obviously, there would be a very small field for the screening (say, 12 to 15 films). I, frankly, don't understand why they eliminated the category. It was a good award to give. The Academy doesn't seem to mind the screenplay being adapted from other material, so why the score?

Anonymous said...

I noticed you don't write anything about Rahman. The Academy brach is not THAT insular. They awarded Santaolalla and Rahman, two outsider composers, far away from traditional film music tastes.

I don't see how The Social Network is a long shot. It is the Best Picture Winner. Remember last year when Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders (a sound engineer!) were nominated by the music branch for Original Score? I don't think that's insular (...)

I wish they rule Inception's score ineligible but not just because Edith Piaf's song at the end of the score. But just because the main theme comes from the trailer's theme that Zimmer didn't write by himself.

I hate The Social Network's score.That's just very cool music but it doesn't fit the images. It's not a score, these are samples session joined together, there's no structure, not consistency. But this is elegible, no doubt about it and should qualify. And this will win the Globe and the Oscar.

The King's Speech can have a shot to win it's a pity considering this is a minor effort from Desplat. The Ghost Writer is a much better score.

And talking about good scores it's a shame the Academy is not going to nominate The Last Airbender, How to Train your Dragon. Two masterful scores that are not in Academy's radar.

And it all comes to the same conclusion. The music branch doesn't listen to the scores. They just nominated because the "think" this is good or not. But it's a shame film music fans know more than this people.

And please. No way 127 is a good score: that was a short compendium of noise and effects. How that is one of the best scores of the year?

Kyle said...

As long as the "Never Let Me Go" score doesn't get awarded I'll be happy...I've never seen a score literally drag a film down like that, but somehow Portman pulled it off...


@Kyle -- i agree but notice that NEVER LET ME GO is winning attention already, despite the score being totally bad for the film (even if, as music, it's fine)

@anon -- but they are insular. If you look at their nomination history they are very very slow to give people their first nomination... and composers that are super well regarded by music types (like Angelo Badalementi for example) are often never nominated at all.

and previously unnominated composers usually have to be writing for some major major major best pic nominee film (and not just making great music for some random film) in order to break through. which is not the case in some of the other craft categories where if you do exceptional work they'll sometimes notice even if you have nothing to do with the best picture race.

@OtherRobert - agreed. wasn't it called "Best Adapted Song Score" though? as in it was usually for musicals?

Ian said...

I'm eagerly anticipating this branch screwing over Trent Reznor for "The Social Network." Just wait for it. It's coming. Then I can totally disregard this category and take a bathroom break during this part of the show.

OtherRobert said...

Nathaniel, it was Best Score: Adaptation or Treatment, meaning both scores adapted from other sources and scores for big screen musicals were eligible. It replaced the split between Dramatic/Comedy Score and Musical Score. A few years after it debuted, it was folded into Original Score.

Vn (sorry for Anonymous thing) said...

@Nathaniel I still think they WERE insular, but not anymore. The Academy focus has shifted in the past six years and the music branch has changed too. I've got the feeling that this is not the same people that nominated The Village as Best Score of the Year. The new members this past years has A LOT to say in this change that I'm talking about. You just have to see U2 members entering the music branch last year. Christopher Beck was the only "traditional orchestral" composer entering the Academy. As I've said, Rahman and Sataolalla's win are quite indicative that the music branch would never nominate such things as The Last Airbender which is the same case as The Village was.

Anonymous said...

Not at all surprised by Black Swan's disqualification. It's beautiful crafted, but it is largely an adaptation score and ever since the Academy did away with their adaption category, they've largely ignored it. (Except when they don't.)

And completely agreed with Never Let Me Go's probably nomination and the gripes about it. I loved the movie, I liked the score, I hated the score in the movie (though I think I largely blame the sound designers for mishandling the score.)

I would be very surprised to see The Social Network make it in (the score was one of the few things I actually liked about the film). A Social Network vs. Inception race would be slightly more exciting, though King's Speech vs. Inception is more likely... I guess I'm rooting for Inception to win.

Cal Roth -
Best Score has had score from stinkers in the past... Patch Adams spring to mind. One year even had Lemony Snicket AND The Village, both of which lost to Finding Neverland. (God, 2004 was a bad year for Score.)

emmanuel ramos barajas said...

Do you know if the I Am Love score was disqualified? From what I know, it is not original at all, they just choose the best John Adams songs that fit. They did a great job, but I don't know if it even qualifies.

Billy said...

I cannot express how furious I am over the decisions made by the Oscars. Honestly, in the case of Black Swan, how would anyone have gone through a movie, centralized around the ballet by Tchaikovsky, and leave that part out. The decision to make use of that was brilliant, and the things that Mansell chose to do with that score was pure genius. It fit perfectly with Nina's own mental inconsistencies, and isn't that what a score is supposed to do? Convey the images on screen through music? The Oscars really need to check themselves at the door because this is getting a bit ridiculous. Yet another year that a brilliant composer gets screwed out of recognition for their hard work.


moror -- i actually know nothing about that john adams score for I AM LOVE. just what people have told me here that it's not original.

but i'm no music expert. i wish someone would link up to some sort of article or something about what it's not an original score. cuz i know nuthin ;

Billy -- they need an adapted category fo' sure (since that's what most scores are these days)

Torrent Download said...

The music branch always creates such a huge stir every year with these disqualifications. To add to their poor taste in music sometimes. And to their general habit of giving preference to previously nominated composers.

Volvagia said...

They need Adapted Score, for one, and they probably also need to have a 3 wide "original non-classical" field for at least five years as well. (So what's currently called Best Original Score would temporarily become Best Original Classical Score) This year the category would, most likely, be:

Mastodon, Jonah Hex
Daft Punk, Tron Legacy
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, The Social Network

(And also: If you don't want the original performers performing, why even have the song category.)


volvagia -- let's not get crazy. this isn't the grammys. they don't need dozens of categories. they just need to be open minded about what constitutes a good score.