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Arrival disqualified from Oscar for Best Original Score because it's 'diluted' by old music

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has released a list of 145 films that will be eligible for this year’s Oscar for Best Original Score. That list doesn’t include Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic Arrival, which has an original score by Jóhann Jóhannsson.

The decision to disqualify Arrival was unanimous, Variety reports, due to the fact that it contains some borrowed music, including pieces of Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight,” that are played at pivotal moments at the start and end of the film. The Academy’s music branch says most voters can’t be expected to differentiate between these unoriginal pieces and Jóhannsson’s work. That decision is in keeping with an eligibility guideline that says a score can be disqualified if it’s “diluted by the use of pre-existing music.”

While the decision is understandable, it’s a bit of a shame — Arrival has a stunning score that’s also integral to the film’s broader sound design. Jóhannsson has been nominated for the Academy Award twice before, for his work on Villeneuve’s Sicario last year and James Marsh’s The Theory of Everything in 2014.

Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea, which has a mostly original score composed by Lesley Barber, also features several classical music compositions and was disqualified on the same basis. When reached for comment via email Barber told The Verge, “In the making of this film, our director decided early on to use certain pieces of music from the classical repertoire as part of the music blend in the film. While I understand that this might be confusing to Academy members in their consideration of what is mine, it was obviously not the basis upon which music was chosen for the film. While I accept the Academy’s decision, I also support my director’s decision to use these pieces and I’m also very proud of the substantial contribution (referenced correctly in many reviews) that the original score made to the film as well.”

The Verge is among the group of publications that Barber references here, and in his review of Manchester by the Sea, Chris Plante noted that “Lesley Barber’s operatic score supports the cast’s performances, mercifully turning up the soundtrack dial to cover a couple excruciating scenes that would otherwise play out as a cacophony of bloodcurdling, scenery-chewing screams.”

Martin Scorsese’s Silence, the score for which was written by Kim Allen Kluge and Kathryn Kluge, was also disqualified.

Jóhannsson was reached for comment, but had not responded at the time of publication.


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