The Academy music branch returned to the “shortlist” concept for the first time in nearly 40 years, and for the most part, it seems to have worked. The 15 scores and 15 songs chosen by the composers, songwriters and music editors — from which the final five in each category will be selected — in large part align with the choices of most observers and pundits.
The preliminary songs list allows for an eclectic assortment of singer-songwriters from the pop, rock, country, R&B and hip-hop worlds, including Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Dolly Parton and Troye Sivan — all of whom were already nominated for a Golden Globe this month — along with Thom Yorke, Sade, Gillian Welch and the Coup.
In the score category, all five Golden Globe nominees were cited among the top 15: Ludwig Goransson for “Black Panther,” Marco Beltrami for “A Quiet Place,” two-time Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat for “Isle of Dogs,” Marc Shaiman for “Mary Poppins Returns” and another two-time winner, “La La Land’s” Justin Hurwitz, for “First Man.”
“Shallow,” the Lady Gaga song from “A Star Is Born,” remains a frontrunner — and it won’t be competing against any other numbers from the movie, since Warner Bros. chose to enter only one song. That’s in contrast to Disney’s “Mary Poppins Returns,” which entered two from the songwriting team of Shaiman and Scott Wittman and achieved spots on the shortlist for both: “The Place Where Lost Things Go” and “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” which are big numbers for Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, respectively.
Neither of the “Mary Poppins” numbers had picked up a Golden Globe nomination this month, to the shock of many. But the surprises run both ways. One song that got a Globe nomination failed to even make the shortlist for the Oscars: the theme for “A Private War,” from previous Oscar winner Annie Lennox.
The other four Globe song nominees — Gaga’s “Shallow,” Lamar’s “All the Stars” from “Black Panther,” the Sivan-Jonsi collaboration “Revelation” from “Boy Erased” and Parton’s “Girl in the Movies” from “Dumplin'” — all made the preliminary Oscar list, as predicted.
Nine-time nominee Diane Warren has a shot at being up for a 10th nomination, since her Jennifer Hudson-sung “I’ll Fight,” from the documentary “RBG,” made the shortlist. However, the other song from a Ruth Bader Ginsburg-related movie, Kesha’s theme for “On the Basis of Sex,” did not make the top 15.
Among the longer shots that made it through this round: song nominations for Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, for “Suspirium,” from the supernatural horror fantasy “Suspiria”; the amusing faux-folk song “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from the Coen Bros.’ “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” written by Americana favorites Gillian Welch and David Rawlings; the Sampha song from “Beautiful Boy,” “Treasure”; Arlissa’s “We Won’t Move” from “The Hate U Give”; Sade’s “The Big Unknown” from “Widows”; and, on the notably edgier side, “OYAHYTT” by the Coup from “Sorry to Bother You.”
Eighty-five-year-old Quincy Jones earned a spot, too, for “Keep Reachin’,” which he co-wrote and produced with Mark Ronson and Chaka Khan for the documentary on his life, “Quincy.” And another Disney song rounds out the top 15: “A Place Called Slaughter Race,” by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken, from “Ralph Breaks the Internet.”
Among scores, the biggest surprise was the inclusion of the music for the science-fiction-horror film “Annihilation,” a collaboration between Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and British film composer Ben Salisbury. Less surprising to careful observers was the political satire “The Death of Stalin,” whose Russian-flavored score by Chris Willis has been the talk of musicians for months.
Two Marvel movies made the cut, one highly expected — “Black Panther” — and one less so, “Avengers: Infinity War,” by Alan Silvestri. Silvestri, a well-respected veteran (“Forrest Gump,” “Back to the Future”), took a second slot for his music for Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One.”
Nicholas Britell (“Moonlight”) also managed two nods, for the much-lauded “If Beale Street Could Talk” and the still-to-be-released “Vice.” Brian Tyler, who tends to do popular commercial films but is regularly passed over for awards, earned a spot on the list with his music for “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Rounding out the list are Carter Burwell for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” Terence Blanchard for “BlacKkKlansman” and James Newton Howard for “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”
Any headlines about inclusivity among score contenders will have to wait for another year. While 16 of the 156 qualifying scores were written by women (including “The Wife” by Jocelyn Pook,” “Eighth Grade” by Anna Meredith and “Tag” by Germaine Franco), none made the final list. The only hint of diversity was the presence of African-American composer Terence Blanchard.