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?

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