You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Academy Breaks From Tradition With Latest Oscar Nominees for Score

For years, the Motion Picture Academy’s music branch has been accused of being old-fashioned and out of touch, always nominating the same handful of composers for best original score.

But not this year.

For the first time in nearly a half century, four of the five original-score Oscar nominations have gone to newcomers. The last time that happened was in 1967, when Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones, Richard Rodney Bennett, and Leslie Bricusse — now film-music legends — were Oscar-nominated for the first time.

Most of the 2016 nominees either come from unusual backgrounds or approached their films from surprising musical perspectives.

The big news is the nomination of Mica Levi for “Jackie” — the first woman composer to be nominated since 2000 and only the fifth in Academy history to be named in a scoring category.

“It’s a score where the music was excellent, and prominently featured,” says music-branch governor Laura Karpman, a leading advocate for diversity in the Academy. Levi has drawn critical raves, with Variety critic Guy Lodge noting that her “astonishing score somehow plays the complicated,
colliding feelings of anger, confusion, and cold acceptance that come with personal loss.” Karpman says the nomination shows that, as far as diversity is concerned, the
Academy is making progress.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that most of the nominees have limited experience in film.

In most years, a work by the venerable John Williams would be nominated. Williams has a staggering 50 Oscar noms, and the scores for each of his last five films made the cut. In fact, only once in the past 15 years has he failed to receive at least one nomination in a year in which he has had an eligible work. But the music branch didn’t nominate his score this year for
“The BFG.”

None of this year’s nominated scores would qualify as a traditional symphonic work in the classic Hollywood style. While all use actual musicians, three of the five also employ avant-garde techniques.

“Lion” used prepared piano (a technique involving placing objects between the strings to create odd sounds) and, in another departure from scoring tradition, was recorded in three locations: Düsseldorf, Los Angeles, and Budapest.

“An orchestra is an amazing way to make music,” says “Lion” composer Dustin O’Halloran. “It’s still valid, but there are so many more ways to score a film that can project a totally different kind of feeling. A lot of filmmakers are about my age, so we’ve all grown up listening to a lot of different music — electronic, experimental, indie — so I feel their aesthetics have changed as well.”

The mono-monikered Hauschka,
O’Halloran’s co-composer on “Lion,” finds that films today are more open to the ways they express emotion. “It’s nice that music doesn’t overpower the story,” he says. “It’s more like an addition, underlining the emotions, letting the audience find its own feelings.”

Nicholas Britell, nominated for “Moonlight,” recorded a work for piano and strings in a conventional way but processed the sounds by applying the “chopped and screwed” technique of Southern hip-hop, slowing down the recordings for a richer, deeper texture.

“I still used piano, violin, orchestral textures, but I was also utilizing technology to bend sounds,” says Britell. “There are so many new possibilities to experiment with, and that’s really exhilarating.”

Levi, in only her second feature, composed most of “Jackie” away from the film, seeing just a few scenes, writing about 50 minutes of music, and delivering it to director Pablo Larrain, who then placed it in the film as he deemed appropriate.

Like O’Halloran and Hauschka, Levi’s life isn’t entirely in film. She fronts an experimental pop band called Micachu and the Shapes. (Hauschka has just penned a cello concerto and O’Halloran has released a number of solo piano albums.)

The only veteran among the year’s nominees is Thomas Newman, receiving his 14th nom (so far without a win) for “Passengers.” A hybrid score featuring both large orchestra and a profusion of electronic sounds, it, too, is forward-thinking in its use of both real instruments and cutting-edge technology.

But the most conventional score may well prove the most popular: Justin Hurwitz’s music for “La La Land” takes one cue from pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and his desire to run a jazz club, and another from the songs he and Mia (Emma Stone) sing, expressing their feelings about life, dreams, and each other. There’s lots of jazz being played both before and behind the camera.

And like much of the rest of the field, Hurwitz is a relative newcomer to scoring — “La La Land” is just his third film.

More Artisans

  • Aquaman 2018

    Morocco Lures Filmmakers With Geography, History and Incentives

    At the confluence of Berber, Arabian, and European cultural influences, the North African nation of Morocco boasts a long and sunny Atlantic coastline, the soaring and snowy peaks of the Atlas Mountains, and legendary cities such as Fez and Marrakesh that offer urban landscapes suggestive of eras ranging from Biblical times to the modern age [...]

  • Dynasties BBC

    Bristol Is Home to Production Companies Known for Global Wildlife Projects

    Bristol, two hours west of London and known by toon enthusiasts as the home of Aardman Animations, also happens to be the world center of wildlife filmmaking and home to the top producers, directors and camera pros creating the influx of natural history shows that continue to grow ever more popular on TV screens around [...]

  • Queen of Scots Hair and Makeup

    'Mary Queen of Scots' Hair, Makeup Artist Gave Substance and Style to Battling Queens

    Jenny Shircore has done the makeup and hair of several queens over the years: Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (she won an Oscar for the former) and Emily Blunt in “The Young Victoria.”  In fact, she had to be convinced to do it again for Saoirse Ronan’s Queen Mary and Margot Robbie’s [...]

  • Marvel Studios' BLACK PANTHER..L to R:

    Ryan Coogler on How 'Black Panther' Broke Barriers Below-the-Line, Too

    With more than $1.3 billion at the global box office, “Black Panther” was one of the year’s biggest hits. Though some people expected just another superhero film, the project turned out to be much deeper and more complex than that. Many called it a social turning point because it was the first blockbuster with a [...]

  • Payroll Specialist Cast & Crew Sold

    Payroll Specialist Cast & Crew Sold to Investment Fund EQT VIII

    Payroll specialist Cast & Crew Entertainment Services has been sold by Silver Lake to the investment Fund EQT VIII for an undisclosed price. Cast & Crew, based in Burbank, Calif., and founded in 1976, touts itself as the premier provider of technology-enabled payroll and production-management services to the entertainment industry. Services include payroll processing, residuals [...]

  • Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard

    New 'Star Trek' Series to Shoot in California, Selected for Tax Credit

    CBS’s new “Star Trek” series, with Patrick Stewart reprising the role of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, will shoot in California and receive a $15.6 million production tax credit. The California Film Commission announced Monday that the untitled “Star Trek” series and eight other TV series have been selected for the latest tax credit allocations totaling $90 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content