Oscar disqualifies 'Black Swan' and 'True Grit' music: Why does the Best Original Score category never make any sense?

Black-Swan-True-GritImage Credit: Niko Tavernise; Lorey Sebastian The official list of Academy Award-eligible scores has been released, according to Variety. There are the usual list of big names — James Newton Howard (The Tourist, Salt) has four scores in contention, Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1The King’s Speech) has three — and newcomers. (Pray for a TRON: Legacy upset nomination: can you imagine a ceremony with Daft Punk and The Social Network‘s Trent Reznor?) But the list is just as notable for the names that aren’t on the list. The Academy disqualified Clint Mansell’s Black Swan and Carter Burwell’s True Grit because both scores were deemed to depend too much on pre-existing material. (Mansell folds in themes from Swan Lake, while Burwell built Grit‘s stirring score on 19th-century music.) Two other scores were disqualified because the film was “diluted” by having just too many darn songs on the soundtrack: Farewell to The Fighter, scored by Michael Brook, and The Kids Are All Right, scored by Carter Burwell, who clearly just can’t catch a freaking break from these people. As a film-score obsessive, I have to ask: Why do the rules for the Best Original Score category make no sense at all?

This isn’t the first time the Best Original Score field has knocked out serious contenders because of minor technicalities. Three years ago, the Academy caught some flak (but not enough) when they disqualified Jonny Greenwood‘s majestic, eerie, utterly original There Will Be Blood score. The same year, they disqualified Eddie Vedder’s work on Into The Wild for being too song-based. Are they actively trying to make the category less interesting by eliminating big names? In 2008, the intriguingly bizarre Dark Knight soundtrack fell victim to another technicality: Too many composers!

There are plenty of bizarre bureaucratic technicalities in the Oscar race — witness the annual train wreck of the Best Documentary eligibility list – but what angers me about the fuzzy logic of the Best Original Score category is that it proposes to take such a silly hard line on “originality.” No music is composed in a vacuum — should John Williams be punished for the fact that much of his most famous music wouldn’t sound out of place in a Richard Wagner opera? More importantly, what separates the “unoriginality” of True Grit‘s score from Hans Zimmer’s Academy-eligible music for Inception, the most famous portion of which is actually a riff on an old Edith Piaf tune?

What do you think, PopWatchers? Do you agree with the Academy’s rules, or do you think they’re way off-base? Can we all agree that a category that places Brooklyn’s Finest and Chronicles of Narnia 3.0 in contention but disqualifies The Kids Are All Right needs some sort of overhaul?

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  • Marie

    The one that annoyed me the most was TDK. they just didn’t want to nominate the amazing Hans Zimmer!

    • Ken

      And yet…they nominated Hans Zimmer for Inception…oh well, there goes your theory.

      • davey

        Ummm … have the nominations happened already and I slept through them?

      • Woot

        I think he meant that Hans Zimmer is eligible for a nomination. Or he is an idiot.

    • NFB

      Zimmer has been nominated SEVEN times and even won in 1995 for “The Lion King.” This hardly seems like they “just don’t want to nominate” him.

  • Chris

    God, I wish the Oscars would just go away.

    • Anne

      I second that!

    • Ryn

      Yeah! I love being negative just for the sake of negativity, because that makes the world SO much better! And I hope people respond to this comment negatively since I so OBVIOUSLY love negativity!!!

  • Sue Ann Nivens

    Since film scores have basically become soundtracks for a bunch of songs by current artists which may or may not have anything to do with the movie plot, either eliminate the category or better define it. “Best Song” has become the biggest joke.

  • Jay

    The whole award show thing is totally arbitrary and pointless as it is. I rarely like the movies that win awards, and usually love the ones that lose.

    • Kevin

      That probably says more about your taste (or lack thereof) in movies than it does about the films in question.

      • AltDave

        And Kevin, if YOU think the Academy’s choices are always the best, that says something about your gullibility!

      • subhra

        @altdave: if YOU think the Academy’s choices are always the worst, that says something for your sanity!

  • CAS

    In reading the piece about Jonny Greenwood and There Will be Blood, it struck me that an actor is Oscar eligible if they’re in a movie for eight minutes (i.e., Judi Dench in Shakespeare In Love), but a composer isn’t eligible when his original music is heard for 35 minutes compared to 46 minutes of pre-recorded music. Silly!

    • Amelia

      Good point, CAS.

    • ks

      agree! the key word being ORIGINAL

  • Monty

    They should simply broaden the category. Best Music in a movie. My short list would include Inception, Scott Pilgram, and Kickass, who all incorporated music into their storytelling. In those movies what you were seeing was just as important as what you were hearing.

  • C

    I’ve been listening to the Inception soundtrack since July. I hope it gets the win.

    • Fred

      I second the (radical) notion! Zimmer’s work for “Inception” is definitely the best film score I’ve ever heard, I really hope it wins. I also agree with Franich; it seems strange that they’d disqualify “Black Swan” and “true Grit” when “Inception” is based around a pre-existing song. Seeing that I’m a big Zimmer fan,I was also bothered that “Dark Knight” was disqualified. It was just ridiculous and Zimmer and Howard deserved the nomination and probably the win; it was better than “Slumdog”‘s score. At least they got the Grammy.

  • Ray

    How about the fact that Ennio Morricone has never won the Oscar? This has been going on forever. It’s insane.

    • William

      Well actually he’s been nominated 5 times and was given the honorary Oscar in 2007. And keep in mind that when Morricone was doing his (now famous) western music, westerns weren’t even considered forms of art let alone great films like they are today. So that could easily have influenced the awards at the time. And he’s also won to Grammy’s and two Golden Globes so he hasn’t gone unseen.

  • tracy bluth

    I’m still mad that Joan Rivers’ documentary is disqualified.
    While I would LOVE a Daft Punk/Trent Reznor showdown, I’m not holding my breath. I’m also still upset that the Blade Runner score wasn’t even nominated (which I found out months ago)

  • DavidJ

    Completely agreed. If a movie has a truly memorable and effective score, it shouldn’t matter HOW that score was put together.

    In fact some of the scores mentioned were just as important in setting the proper mood and tone of those movies as anything ELSE the director did.

  • PJ

    What’s so difficult to understand? Either the score is original or it’s not. If you borrow from other scores or don’t create something original, you won’t get nominated.

    • therealeverton

      The point they’re making is that a lot of this kind of music, (if not most) is influenced somewhere along the line by other music. The William Wagner line was pretty good, on top of that listen to the soundtracks for Star Wars, Raiders of The Lost Ark and Superman one day and they will soon start to blur.

      More to the point how can inception be nominated given it’s neccessary use of “existing” music and True Grit, amongst othersd not be?

      Even more galling, surely a masterfull adaption of an existing piece, to audibly tell the story, as in Black Swan – Swan Lake, be seen as an achievement.

      Finally there’s a reason we have best Screenplay and Best ~adapted Screenplay. We don’t penalise writers for “simply” adapting existing material for the screen. Have a best “adapated or partially adapted” score and a best “original” score if we must be so picky.

      • Rachmaninoff

        I agree with therealeverton completely, I mean a transcription of a Symphonic piece to piano by a famous composer such as Franz Liszt is considered music. So how could taking an existing piece by Tchaikovsky and adapting it not be considered music as well? Is it just because Liszt was from the 1800’s so therefore his music is valid. But Clint Mansell is not? It really is stupid to say music that’s “original” there is no such thing as “original” music every single piece is based on something even if subliminally.

      • Byte19

        “how can inception be nominated given it’s neccessary use of “existing” music and True Grit, amongst othersd not be?” Because it’s easier to crap on Zimmer at the show, than it is to not having him there or replacing him with other talent… Zimmer has been nominated seven times, sure, but to have some of his best work not win, or worse, not nominate much or his more original work (Pirates 3, Backdraft, The Ring, many others getting pissed on)would you want your favorite composer in a position like that?

    • Rachmaninoff

      I think every single piece of music is based or influenced by someone or some other form of music. Even Chopin based his music on Polonaise dances of his homeland. So if your theory holds true we should exclude all music from eligibility.

    • ks

      Rachmaninoff-You nailed it! I love soundtracks and music is pulled from every where. I loved the composed soundtracks. I also get irritated that to be classic it has to be from 2 to 3 hundred years ago? Think not

  • PJ

    Also, stop with the cheerleading for The Kids Are All Right. It’s a nice movie, but EW, you are seriously overrating it. I understand you like it and all given it’s gay theme, but come to reality. It’s good, but not great.

    • RyRyNYC

      I completely agree… its not a great film. Its a good film with great performances. The plot turning point is very much out of a porno. (How ironic…)

      • lettergirl

        TOTALLY agree! good, but not worth all the falling down that EW is doing over it.

    • Julie

      I’m tired of EW’s over-the-top cheerleading for Black Swan, myself.

  • mdm

    True Grit had music that relied heavily on Christian hymnody and anything Christian simply has no place in the eyes of Hollywood.

  • S.O.

    Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood, Eddie Vedder for Into The Wild & the score for The Dark Knight set the tone for these movies & were well done. As did this years nominees: Trent Reznor for The Social Network & Hans Zimmer for Inception.

  • S.O.

    You could also say WTF didn’t a song from Eddie Vedder on “Into The Wild” & Bruce Springsteen from “The Wrestler” didn’t make it in the Best Song categories from a few years ago?

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