By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com December 21, 2010 at 2:40AM
The trouble with the Academy awards, and indeed in putting too much stock in them, is that you're relying on the decisions being made by a relatively small, aging group of people. In many ways, things are improving -- Academy membership is getting younger, and it's starting to show: we can't imagine "The Hurt Locker" winning Best Picture even a decade ago. But in some categories, and some branches, there's still a frustrating conservatism at work; the Foreign Language branch, for instance, have a long history of picking safe choices over other, more worthy films.
As much as anywhere, this is true in the composer's branch: nominations for Best Original Score of late have ended up disqualifying and/or overlooking some celebrated scores with Johnny Greenwood's "There Will Be Blood" and Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard's "The Dark Knight" a couple of the more notable works to be deemed ineligible in recent years. And that won't change this year.
Variety report that the scores for four major awards season contenders, "Black Swan," "True Grit," "The Fighter" and "The Kids Are All Right," have been disqualified by the Academy music-branch executive committee. The former two were counted out because the scores are based, at least in part, on pre-existing material -- namely Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" and 19th century Protestant hymns, respectively. The latter two, meanwhile, were deemed to have scores "diminished in impact by the dominant use of songs."
The scores for "The Fighter" and "The Kids Are All Right" were unlikely to be major players in the category in the first place, however well-liked the films. But, Carter Burwell's work on "True Grit" and Clint Mansell's on "Black Swan" number among the most distinctive and effective scores of the year and, while their disqualification had been expected for some time, the category will certainly be the weaker for their exclusion. However, awards front-runners, "The King's Speech" seems to have been deemed eligible -- not a certainty by any means, as it also includes a certain amount of pre-existing compositions.
While we understand the logic of trying to keep the purity of the Best Original Score race, well, original, and the ruling out of "Black Swan" seems fair, when you're disqualifying the best work in the category, it suggests you need to rethink your rules. Maybe it's time for a Best Adapted Score category? We'll be delivering our verdict on the best scores and soundtracks in the next week or so, so look out for that in the meantime.