×

Oscar Music Surprises: No Dolly Parton or ‘First Man,’ but Terence Blanchard, Gillian Welch Bust In

Tuesday’s Oscar music nominations produced some of the day’s biggest surprises (yes to Gillian Welch, no to Justin Hurwitz), inevitabilities (Diane Warren is in, like clockwork) and near-inevitabilities that still produced a sigh of relief (Terence Blanchard, un-snubbed at last). Some notes on the shocks and happy affirmations in the Best Original Song and Score fields:

1.  No “First Man.” That was the biggest shocker of Tuesday’s announcement. Justin Hurwitz, who won song and score Oscars for 2016’s “La La Land,” was widely expected to be among the final five for his music for Damien Chazelle’s moon-landing saga. After all, he already won the Golden Globe and Broadcast Film Critics awards. Clearly the film had lost momentum in  the marquee categories, but it was well seen and highly regarded enough to place in four of the Oscars’ technical divisions (production design, sound mix, sound edit, visual effects), leaving Hurwitz’s MIA status all the more mysterious.

2. Terence Blanchard’s first nomination. Sound the trumpets! Blanchard was singled out for his music for Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” and everyone agrees that he’s way overdue for Oscar attention. He’s been scoring Lee’s movies since 1991’s “Jungle Fever,” and his powerful scores for films like “Malcolm X” and “25th Hour” were unjustly overlooked.

3. No Dolly Parton. Parton and her co-writer Linda Perry were also thought to be among the frontrunners in the song category for their “Girl in the Movies” from “Dumplin’.” Maybe music branch members skipped the Netflix movie and never heard it? Or maybe they just decided it was no “Nine to Five,” since awareness was high, with Parton campaigning heavily for the nod.

4. A novelty song makes the cut. Comedy isn’t always appreciated at the Oscars, and that goes doubly for comedy songs. “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” is the hilarious punchline for the first segment in the Coen brothers’ sericomic Western “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” and Oscar voters appreciated rather than eschewed the odd-cowpoke-out qualities of this clever pastiche. Willie Watson and Tim Blake Nelson perform the song by Americana favorites and first-time David Rawlings and Gillian Welch.

5. “Black Panther” for original score. Ludwig Goransson’s African-infused music for the year’s biggest-grossing movie was widely admired, but skeptics wondered if the music branch would actually nominate a Marvel superhero movie. (The only caped-crusader score to be nominated was John Williams’ “Superman” in 1978. None of the “Batman” or other Marvel movies have reached Oscar glory.)

6. Diane Warren’s 10th nomination. The veteran movie tunesmith has been at it for more than 30 years, with previous noms for such movie songs as “Because You Loved Me” (Celine Dion), “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” (Aerosmith) and “Til It Happens to You” (Lady Gaga). She’s become the perennial bridesmaid at Oscar ceremonies, with admired songs that somehow never quite get all the necessary votes.

7. Shortlist shortcomings. The reinstatement, after 39 years, of the “shortlist” — an earlier round in which branch members choose 15 songs and 15 scores from which to draw the final five in each category — remains controversial. It subtracted a full month from the schedule for voters to see all the necessary films, and the results were mixed. Most criticized was the absence of any women composers, such as Jocelyn Pook for “The Wife” or Anna Meredith for “Eighth Grade.” It’s one thing for women to be perennially excluded from the top five, but when the Academy finally puts 15 on view and they’re still MIA, that’s cause for embarrassment.

8. “A Quiet Place,” “Suspiria” fail to make the list. Marco Beltrami’s unsettling music for the hush-the-monster-will-hear-you suspenser “A Quiet Place,” and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s song “Suspirium” from the psychological horror thriller “Suspiria,” were skipped. Music branch voters can be skittish about horror films, and this is the latest example.

9. Only one song from “Mary Poppins Returns.” The only movie that got two slots in the Oscar song shortlist was the long-awaited sequel to the Disney classic, and in the end, voters chose the touching ballad “The Place Where Lost Things Go” over the big dance number “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” (both penned with his co-writer Scott Wittman). It’s another instance of the branch preferring traditional heart-tugging tunes. Happily for everyone involved, submitting two songs didn’t cause them to cancel each other out with voters — something Warner Bros. feared when they chose to only put up “Shallow” for consideration.

10. Marc Shaiman, EGOT? Shaiman has a Tony and a Grammy for his songs for Broadway’s “Hairspray”; an Emmy for writing Billy Crystal’s funny Oscar medleys back in the ’90s; and five previous Oscar nominations. If he wins for song or score, he will join that elite group of 15 individuals who have won all four major show-biz awards (most recently, John Legend, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice).

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • Lil Nas XCMA Fest, Nashville, USA

    Will Grammys' Country Categories Welcome a New Tide of Black Artists?

    Country music has never been known as a bastion of diversity. Even in this era of female empowerment, the genre remains largely a man’s world  —  make that a white man’s world. But things might be improving slowly, in the industry as a whole and, by extension, maybe even with Grammy voters. When the nominees are [...]

  • Leonardo DiCaprio Madonna

    Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna Call for Action on Amazon Wildfires

    As wildfires rage at an alarming rate in Brazil’s Amazon rain forest, celebrities are using their platforms to bring awareness to the deforestation’s impact and to call for action. In the past week, stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Madonna, Cara Delevingne and Ariana Grande have taken to Instagram to express their frustration with the lack of [...]

  • DJ Khaled Bad Boys

    DJ Khaled's Long Tail? Three Months After Release, 'Father of Asahd' Has Legs

    DJ Khaled kicked off the summer with a bang, appearing on the season closer of “Saturday Night Live” in May followed by a performance on the BET Awards a month later — both all-star productions of songs from his latest album, “Father of Asahd,” released by Epic Records on May 17. But since then, he’s [...]

  • EP Review: Missy Elliott’s ‘Iconology’

    EP Review: Missy Elliott’s ‘Iconology’

    To drop all pretense of critical objectivity for a moment, it’s probably safe to assume that a fair number of fellow Missy Elliott fans will also have goofy grins on their faces when they first hear the trademark sass and bounce of “Throw It Back,” the opening track on her excellent but tantalizingly brief new [...]

  • Thom Zimny, Bruce Springsteen and Martin

    Bruce Springsteen's Director, Thom Zimny, on the Move from 'Broadway' to 'Western Stars'

    Director Thom Zimny is due for a big September: Come Sept. 22, he’ll find out whether he’s winning an Emmy Award for directing “Springsteen on Broadway” for Netflix. Ten days before that, he’ll be at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival to premiere a theatrical feature, “Western Stars,” which he co-directed with his muse and subject, [...]

  • Jimmy Lee

    Album Review: Raphael Saadiq's 'Jimmy Lee'

    In an oddly quiet way, Raphael Saadiq has been a towering figure in the R&B of the last 30 years. As a teenager in the mid-1980s, the Oakland native became the bassist in Sheila E.’s backing band and often found himself performing with Prince in the superstar’s frequent small-club jams. He then formed and fronted [...]

  • Warner Music Group Partners With Audiomack

    Warner Music Group Partners With Audiomack

    Warner Music Group announced it has entered a partnership with the music streaming and discovery service Audiomack, marking the platform’s first licensing deal with a major label. According to the announcement, the two companies will work together on content concepts and explore ways to break emerging artists, connecting music fans with rising talent before they [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content