×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Music Contenders Span Many Genres and Styles

There’s a new wrinkle for Academy members voting in the music categories this year. For the first time in nearly 40 years, music-branch members are returning to the “shortlist” procedure, choosing 15 scores and songs that will ultimately be whittled down to a final five in each category.

The problem for voters is, can they possibly see and evaluate the music of dozens of films prior to the voting deadline of Dec. 11? Results of that first-round balloting will be announced Dec. 17.

The work of past Oscar winners tends to be on most members’ must-see list. This year that crop includes the quirky score for Wes Anderson’s animated “Isle of Dogs,” by last year’s winner Alexandre Desplat (“The Shape of Water”); the stirring music for the Ruth Bader Ginsburg biopic “On the Basis of Sex” by Mychael Danna (“Life of Pi”); the orchestra-plus-theremin sounds of the moon-landing saga “First Man” by Justin Hurwitz (“La La Land”); the propulsive score for the heist thriller “Widows” by Hans Zimmer (“The Lion King”); and the lively music of “The Incredibles 2” by Michael Giacchino (“Up”).

The wild card in this batch is 86-year-old, three-time Oscar winner Michel Legrand, who composed the jazz score for “The Other Side of the Wind,” the long-awaited final film by Orson Welles.

“Incredibles 2” isn’t the only Disney film in the running; an even bigger favorite is likely to be the tuneful “Mary Poppins Returns” by Marc Shaiman. The lavish, Tchaikovsky-inspired symphonic score for “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” by James Newton Howard may also figure in the mix — although a nom for the 12-minute, original ballet Howard composed for a Fox film, the Jennifer Lawrence spy thriller “Red Sparrow,” could be a better bet.

Scores for period films have historically had an advantage with music-branch members, as they often require more research and generally more work to accomplish. A pair of London-based composers, both better-known for their classical music, are likely to figure in the race: Max Richter, who composed “Mary Queen of Scots” with its 16th-century setting and use of both orchestra and choir, and Thomas Adès, who did the honors for “Colette,” with its warmly melodic, small-ensemble pieces true to the 1890-1910 period.

Period scores of a different sort are represented by Carter Burwell’s classic-Western sounds for the Coen brothers’ “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” and by Rolfe Kent’s lighthearted musical romp for the Laurel & Hardy story “Stan & Ollie.”

Several 2018 releases contributed greatly to cultural conversations about race and gender. Topping the list is Marvel’s “Black Panther,” for which Ludwig Göransson spent a month recording music in Africa.

Terence Blanchard, in his 14th feature score for Spike Lee, reflected the 1970s period of “BlacKkKlansman,” while Nicholas Britell collaborated again with his “Moonlight” director Barry Jenkins on a melancholy, string-based score for “If Beale Street Could Talk,” based on the James Baldwin book.

Kris Bowers (“Dear White People”) contributed a jazzy backdrop for “Green Book,” the story of a black pianist’s travels through the 1960s South. And “Boy Erased,” which is generating a lot of buzz for its frank depiction of gay-conversion therapy, earned a sensitive piano-driven score by the composing duo of Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans.

Horror-film scores are rarely cited, but “A Quiet Place” by Marco Beltrami (“The Hurt Locker”) could be an exception for its unique storyline: a terrorized family needs to remain silent to remain alive, and Beltrami’s scary detuned-piano approach may attract notice.

Not to be forgotten: John Powell’s fast-moving, orchestral “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (with, incidentally, a theme by John Williams, his only contribution to the movies this year).

Longshots include offbeat work by a pair of veterans who have never been nominated: composer Brian Tyler’s jazz-inflected score for the box-office hit “Crazy Rich Asians” and Theodore Shapiro’s dark and edgy music for the Nicole Kidman crime thriller “Destroyer.”

Still to come, with no inkling of whether the branch will see or seriously consider them, are the Peter Jackson-produced “Mortal Engines,” with score by Tom Holkenborg (“Mad Max: Fury Road”), and Robert Zemeckis’ “Welcome to Marwen,” with music by his longtime collaborator Alan Silvestri (“Forrest Gump”).

(Pictured above: Composer Michael Giacchino, right, with director Brad Bird during a scoring session for “Incredibles 2”)

More Artisans

  • Sir Lionel Frost (left) voiced by

    Why 'Missing Link's' Title Character Was One of Laika's Biggest Challenges

    Stop-motion studio Laika pushes design boundaries in every film it makes, and the lead character in “Missing Link” is no exception. “It became pretty apparent that [the character] Link was going to be the cornerstone,” says director and writer Chris Butler. “I did this rough drawing many years ago, and it was basically like a [...]

  • Missing Link Laika Studios

    New 3D-Printing Technology Was 'Missing Link' for Laika's Latest Stop-Motion Project

    For the upcoming animated comedy adventure “Missing Link,” stop-motion studio Laika set the bar very high. To execute the designs created by director and writer Chris Butler, artists would have to speed up their 3D printing of character faces — and those faces would have to be the most complex they’d ever created. “Missing Link” [...]

  • The Old Man and the Gun

    Ohio’s Midwest Locations and Flexible Tax Credit Lure Producers

    With its small towns, rolling farmlands and industrial cities, Ohio embodies the American Midwest. Other location lures for filmmakers include the shore along Lake Erie, the campus of Ohio State University, the striking skyline of Cincinnati and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The Buckeye State also provides producers with a 30% [...]

  • Nancy Schreiber Mapplethorpe Cinematographer

    DP Nancy Schreiber Captures Life of Artist Robert Mapplethorpe in Grimy Gotham

    Don’t tell cinematographer Nancy Schreiber that she’s having a renaissance. That would imply there’ve been slumps in her long career, and she won’t have any of that, even if for a time she was taking smaller jobs as the gaps widened between larger gigs. “It’s never been about the money, for me,” says Schreiber over [...]

  • What Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga Share:

    LeRoy Bennett Keeps Top Acts Like Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande in the Spotlight

    You might say that LeRoy Bennett is a shining light among lighting and production designers for pop music. Doing double duty creating both touring sets and their illumination, he started out with a 14-year run as Prince’s collaborator, went on to work with Nine Inch Nails and Madonna and has counted Beyoncé’s and Bruno Mars’ [...]

  • Us Movie

    How 'Us' Pulled Off Subtle Differences in Costumes, Design, Music for Parallel Characters

    “Us,” Jordan Peele’s second outing as a director, following his 2017 critical and box office success “Get Out,” revisits similar psychological horror-thriller territory. But this time the stakes are, well, doubled.  In the new film, to be released by Universal on March 21, Adelaide Wilson, played by Lupita Nyong’o, returns to her childhood beachside home [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content