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:
by Jon Burlingame
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. There was only one problem with his supposed shoo-in: “First Man” wasn’t being similarly shooed in any other category. And sometimes a low tide sinks all boats.
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).
More at Variety.com