Oscars: Academy Disqualifies ‘Arrival,’ ‘Silence,’ ‘Manchester’ Original Scores (EXCLUSIVE)

Courtesy of Paramount

Three original scores — “Arrival,” “Manchester by the Sea,” and “Silence” — were conspicuous by their absence from the list of eligible contenders released by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Tuesday. That’s because they were disqualified by the organization.

On “Arrival,” the Academy’s music branch ruled unanimously that voters would be influenced by the use of borrowed material in determining the value of Johann Johannsson’s original contributions to Denis Villeneuve’s alien invasion psychodrama.

Per Rule 15 II E of the Academy’s rules and eligibility guidelines, a score “shall not be eligible if it has been diluted by the use of pre-existing music, or it has been diminished in impact by the predominant use of songs or any music not composed specifically for the film by the submitting composer.”


‘Arrival,’ ‘Jackie’ Composers Push Boundaries of Music and Sound Design

The most prevalent pre-existing music in the film is an emotional piece by composer Max Richter called “On the Nature of Daylight,” which also featured prominently in Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island.” It was determined that there would be no way for the audience to distinguish those cues, which bookend the film, from Johannsson’s score cues.

A Paramount source said original compositions constitute 86 percent of the film’s soundtrack. There is no appeals process and the branch’s decisions on these matters are final.

Richter is actually eligible himself for two original scores, “Miss Sloane” and “Morgan.”

Johannsson has been nominated twice, for “The Theory of Everything” and “Sicario.” His original contributions to “Arrival” are noteworthy as part of an increased blurring of the line between music and sound design in film music. For “Arrival,” he told Variety in an interview that he recorded to a 16-track tape loop for a vaguely analog quality, capturing acoustic sounds from cello, piano, and wind instruments, along with vocals.

“What you’re hearing is very old-fashioned, in a way,” Jóhannsson said. “It’s layers and layers and layers of piano — but without the attack. It’s like piano wire. You’re hearing just the sustain of the piano.”

Pre-existing music also diminished Lesley Barber’s original contributions to Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester by the Sea”: The film’s soundtrack features a number of classical compositions throughout.

“It certainly comes as a disappointment to learn that my score to ‘Manchester by the Sea’ was deemed ineligible by the Academy,” Barber said in a statement to Variety. “In the making of this film, our director decided early on to use certain pieces of music from the classical repertoire as part of the music blend in the film. While I understand that this might be confusing to Academy members in their consideration of what is mine, it was obviously not the basis upon which music was chosen for the film. While I accept the Academy’s decision, I also support my director’s decision to use these pieces and I’m also very proud of the substantial contribution (referenced correctly in many reviews) that the original score made to the film as well.”

It’s a pointed choice of words, as Barber’s work was deemed not “substantial” enough by the branch, as were Kim Allen Kluge and Kathryn Kluge’s compositions for Martin Scorsese’s “Silence.” The Academy, in its rules and eligibility guidelines, specifically defines an original score as “a substantial body of music that serves as original dramatic underscoring and is written specifically for the motion picture by the submitting composer.” There is, however, no objective metric by which to determine what is and is not “substantial,” beyond the collective opinion of branch members.

This year’s original score Oscar winner was Ennio Morricone for Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.”

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  1. There have been many times where I’ve seen a movie and haven’t told the original and non-original pieces apart. What I do is, after seeing the movie, go through its wiki page (not the most reliable source, I know). That’s how I also find out if there were any technological achievements and, in the case of adaptations, how different it is from the source material. It takes me less than 10 minutes to do that. Can’t voters do that? Or can’t the submissions include a disclaimer that non-original music will be used at some point (I don’t think explaining the scene in the disclaimer would be necessary)?

  2. S. A. Young says:

    “This year’s original score Oscar winner was Ennio Morricone for Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” And I would have gone with Johannsson’s score for Sicario, “a substantial body of music that serves as original dramatic underscoring and is written specifically for the motion picture by the submitting composer”, but Morricone had been annointed (and won for every other soundtrack he’s ever done, and not the one for which he’d been nominated). Just another arbitrary Academy rule which means that the “best” doesn’t always win the award.

  3. JJohnson says:

    How did the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross -Social Network get nominated, let alone win? Much of it was certainly pre-existing NIN music that didn’t make it on an album. Not to be a stickler but it was film cut to music not the other way around. Were those rules around in 2011?

  4. mike says:

    EM’s cues from The Thing that were used in Hateful 8 never actually made it to the original film. But yes, still pre-existing. AFAIC, EM, Alberto Iglesias and Cliff Martinez should win every year. I can’t bother with much else. Nothing but drones and overly sentimental and derivative efforts for the most part. Much like films in general, scores have been dumbed down to reflect attention spans.

  5. Joshua Crane says:

    I love that Max Richter piece, but it actually distracted me in Arrival, seemed like an odd choice as it has been used in so many other films in the last 10 years (‘Stranger Than Fiction’, ‘Disconnected’, ‘The Face of an Angel’, ‘Shutter Island’ and I believe variants appear Richter’s own score for HBO’s ‘The Leftovers’.)
    That always takes me out of a film unless it’s used in a more purposeful or anachronistic way (HBO’s ‘Westworld’, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’.) + they’re peers, isn’t it a little like hiring Schubert to write a symphony and insisting that the trailer and titles use Beethoven’s Symphony No 7 Allegretto (which makes an appearance in at least one film, episode, or commercial per year.)?

  6. bd says:

    I’m still pissed that these rules kept Last of the Mohicans from an award way back when.

  7. Gustavo H.R. says:

    Please explain how Babel won this award? Lots – and I mean lots – of non-original tracks there, including some from Santaolalla.

  8. Rafa Afonso says:

    Ugh, this rule has always been one of the most abhorrently stupid and unspecific rules of the Academy. Some of the greatest soundtracks from the last years (and from the History of the medium itself), like Jonny Greenwood’s “There Will Be Blood” have been disqualified because they used just the tiniest flinch of music not composed purposefully for the film. Well, I might not have seen the film (and I’m so eagerly waiting to see it), but “Moonlight”, while having a gorgeously delightful soundtrack from Nicholas Brittel, ALSO uses a lot of preexisting music (like Boris Gardiner’s “Every Ni*** Is A Star”). So, while I like to see it in this list, I think it is a little obtuse to disqualify Johansson’s or any other soundtrack, while leaving a “Star Wars”, or a “Moonlight”. Talk about double standards, huh?

    • teriekwilliams says:

      You don’t seem to understand the distinctions here. Use of lyrical songs such as “Every Ni**** is a Star” does not disqualify a score because its a soundtrack song, rather than a musical piece composed and used for scoring. It could be argued that Britell’s use of Beethoven might be disqualifying, however, its only in the film for a brief period of time and is completely distinguishable from the rest of the original score. Arrival prominently uses “On the Nature of Daylight” throughout the film in a scoring-like context exactly like it was in in Shutter Island, and Johannson’s score takes cues from it, which cannot be easily distinguished. Jonny Greenwood’s score was disqualified because all of the music had been performed prior to 2007. The drum track “Convergence” was part of Greenwood’s 2003 Bodysongs score, while he composed the rest of the score for the BBC under the title “Popcorn Superhet Receiver,” which was played by an orchestra. John Williams’ score for Star Wars has loads of original music that segue into the classic cues from the 1970s film. Ultimately, the comparisons you use are not truly equivalent.

    • Rafa Afonso says:

      *Nicholas Brittell

  9. marian says:

    “The only pre-existing music” – is that your quote or theirs? Because there was definitely Dvorak also in the score, and substantial pre-existing pieces from an avant-garde composer called Joan La Barbara, woven and adapted into Johannsson’s music. Possibly her vocal music is what they mean by ‘borrowed’?

    Scores are changing, and perhaps, as with screenplays, there should be more than one category.

  10. michael says:

    And yet, a few key cues from Morricone’s HATEFUL EIGHT score previously appeared on the soundtrack of John Carpenter’s THE THING.

    • Beth says:

      Arrival’s score was disqualified, are you KIDDING me? No. Not okay. Yes, the unoriginal violin piece is the standout, but the other *90%* of the score obviously should get the recognition it deserves. I take umbrage. :(

  11. Guest says:

    Interesting RE Nino Rota. And yet, last year Star Wars – The Force Awakens was nominated in this category (bizarrely) despite leaning so heavily on previous SW movies for the music…

    • Edmund Meinerts says:

      There’s a difference between tracking in existing music from a totally separate source (what Arrival did) and using themes from earlier in the franchise but which are arranged in mostly different ways (what The Force Awakens did). I see no contradiction there.

  12. millerfilm says:

    Nino Rota famously was ineligible for “The Godfather” because he reused one of his own themes as the Main Theme for that film.

    • Nauls Palmer says:

      Yet Ennio Morricone’s HATEFUL EIGHT score last year won despite cribbing a good 40 percent from 1982’s THE THING (also from Morrricone).

      • Corey Witte says:

        There was exactly two cues from THE THING soundtrack CD (which, as someone else pointed out, weren’t even used in Carpenter’s film), hardly 40% of THE HATEFUL EIGHT’s score. Plus, those cues were added by Tarantino, not Morricone.
        Morricone wasn’t “cribbing” because Tarantino took the existing cues from the 1982 THE THING soundtrack album. It’s not like Morricone used themes he wrote for a different film in a slightly different way (as he’d done before, e.g. THE UNTOUCHABLES and RAMPAGE).
        I agree the rule is vague. But, in this instance, I think Academy voters honestly voted from the original music Morricone wrote for the film (even if they were also swayed by the fact that he’d never won a competitive Oscar).

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