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.”
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.”