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Tune deaf

Eye on the Oscars: The Music

It wouldn’t be Oscar season if the Academy’s music branch didn’t drum up some kind of controversy. This year the group invited more bad press for its collective decision to nominate only two songs (from “Muppets” and “Rio”) — the lowest number since Oscar started rewarding songwriters in 1934.

Reactions ranged from disgust (studio music chiefs) to outrage (music critics) to mystified (John Q. Public). And following on a series of widely perceived missteps (snubbing, among others, the Cher song from 2010’s “Burlesque,” the Springsteen song from 2008’s “The Wrestler” and a clutch of Eddie Vedder songs from 2007’s “Into the Wild”), the branch now faces a crisis.

Many observers — including some high-profile songwriter members — are calling for a re-thinking of the rules to eliminate the 7-year-old grading system and simply nominate the five top vote-getters. Says one top music exec: “Let’s get a branch and a rulebook that knows how to nominate awards with integrity and that can be respected as the pinnacle of the craft, not as an irrelevant punchline.”

There were plenty of candidates. Thirty-nine songs were deemed eligible this year, among them award-worthy tunes from “Gnomeo and Juliet,” “The Help,” “Albert Nobbs,” “Winnie the Pooh,” “Captain America,” “Hugo” and “Footloose.”

Only two (“Man or Muppet” and “Real in Rio”) received the necessary 8.25 average among voters who chose to participate in the song balloting — and if you’ve entered a song of your own, you’re not allowed to participate, another rule with which some members have a problem.

There was far less controversy in the score category, although the early disqualification of scores that included Cliff Martinez’s talked-about “Drive” music and Conrad Pope’s well-liked “My Week With Marilyn” themes caused a stir in December.

The big news when the noms were announced Jan. 24 was the crowning of five-time Oscar winner John Williams with a new all-time mark of 47 noms, which topped Alfred Newman’s 45, a record that had stood since 1970. Williams is now the most-nominated living individual and second-most overall (behind Walt Disney).

Most of the score noms were predictable, as veterans Williams, Howard Shore and Alberto Iglesias were joined by first-timer Ludovic Bource for his wall-to-wall score for the mostly silent “The Artist.”

It’s also an international crowd: the U.S.-born Williams joined by Canadian-born Shore, Spanish-born Iglesias and French-born Bource.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t surprises, however. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won last year for “The Social Network,” were overlooked for their edgy synth score for “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”; Thomas Newman wasn’t nominated for “The Help”; and the prolific Alexandre Desplat missed out despite 2011 scores for “The Ides of March,” “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” and the “Harry Potter” finale.

There are 232 voting members in the music branch, according to Acad execs; they are all composers, songwriters or music editors. Studio music execs and music supervisors are generally excluded from the process.

Eye on the Oscars: The Music
Tune deaf
The nominees:
Score | Song

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