A handful of branches in the Academy (primarily crafts) have gained some reputation for functioning a bit like a club- that is, there are those folks who are out of the club (who admittedly still might be nominated here and there), and there are those who are decidedly in the club (who reliably get nominated no matter the scale of the work). Predictors and pundits often refer to the practice of voters simply checking the box beside the name they know and recognize rather than a pure meritocratic vote for something they have seen and appreciate. While this is a cynical point of view to take on something like Oscar voting, some patterns are too hard to ignore.
The music branch of the Academy has a relatively strong history of this, at least in recent memory. When filling out predictions early on in the season, you often would have pretty fair luck looking at the bigger movies of the year and then filtering by the repeat nominees/winners of the past- those folks who are “in the club.”
Regarding folks who are clearly “in the club” within the music branch, there may have been no surer bet than two-time Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat before last month’s nominations. By now, Desplat is one of the best-known working film composers, leading the more contemporary era of orchestration as the generation of Oscar favorites like James Horner, John Williams, Alan Silvestri, Danny Elfman, and the like passes the torch. Still, it can feel like Desplat’s reign at the Oscars is underappreciated. Let us recall: Desplat was nominated eleven times in fourteen years between 2007-2020, from his first nomination for “The Queen” to his most recent nomination for “Little Women.” Talk about being an established member of the club! There were only four years in that entire time frame (nearly a decade and a half) where Desplat’s name wasn’t read before the envelope opened.
He fits the typical pattern of “club members,” too. Before his first nomination, he had been producing substantial work as his name recognition continued to rise for the first time; his first credits came in 1998. After a period of consistent work establishing himself, that first nomination finally came in 2007, and the seal was broken. He then went on to score seven nominations in seven years between 2009-2015, a feat rivaled only by the giants of the industry. He was double nominated in 2015 for “The Imitation Game” and for his work with frequent collaborator Wes Anderson on “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” for which he went home with his first Oscar statuette. He took the stage humbled and beaming and even acknowledged his own particular run of awards success, saying, “It’s been a beautiful decade for me in Hollywood.” He was top of the modern orchestration world, and what could be more beautiful than an Oscar on the mantle? Two. When his next nomination came just two years later for Guillermo del Toro’s Best Picture winner “The Shape of Water,” a second win confirmed his status even more.
Desplat kept the train rolling in 2019 and 2020 with nominations for “Isle of Dogs” and “Little Women,” and looked primed to march into the 2020s ready to replicate the dominant decade he enjoyed just before. However, since then, the train has begun to slow.
It’s 2020; the industry is thrown into disarray amid COVID-19. We’re all looking for the familiar in the world, and while we’re all shut inside, Netflix drops a middle-scale sci-fi flick, “The Midnight Sky,” to lukewarm reviews but evergreen praise of Desplat’s work. In a thinner year, who could blame the many prognosticators who had Desplat in their predicted five? Despite being as close to a lock as they come after nominations at the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards, Desplat’s name was not called on nomination morning. Chalk it up to the mixed reviews.
Roll into 2021, and Desplat is back in the mix in a significant way. Teaming up with Wes Anderson, who delivered him three nominations and one win before, Desplat’s score for “The French Dispatch” is as classic as they come. Reminiscent of his past work, especially on “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” but never repetitive, this is his kind of bouncy and sharp score that the Academy so clearly admires. But yet, this score- and Anderson’s film altogether- are shockingly blanked on nomination morning. He’s on a two-year losing streak at this point, but 2022 looks primed for a comeback that would put those snubs behind him.
If he can’t get nominated alongside the director that earned him his first win, what better chance than to re-team with the director who got him his second? He and Guillermo del Toro are back in the saddle for “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.” He’s earned two of his nominations for stop-motion animated films before, and his music has so fittingly resounded in del Toro’s worlds. Combine that with a confident contender in Best Original Song with “Ciao Papa,” and this looked like a straightforward path for Desplat to rejoin the awards scene in a fast and major way. After all the major precursor nominations at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards, and BAFTA, you would have been hard-pressed to find a handful of folks not predicting him in both categories. But again, shockingly, he was not nominated.
At what point do we start to raise eyebrows, if not already? Desplat has gone from the modern king of the Original Score to someone who has spoiled many folks’ ballots three years in a row now. And what are we to make of these?
If we’re looking for possible foundational reasons, there are a couple. First of all, none of these recent snubs have been attached to Best Picture nominees. Desplat hadn’t missed out on a nomination for a Best Picture contender since “Zero Dark Thirty” in 2012 when he was still nominated for eventual Best Picture winner “Argo.” Like 2022 nominee Carter Burwell, despite remaining busy and not being a totally perennial nominee, he typically doesn’t miss when it comes to Best Picture-nominated movies. Also, whenever a recent trend emerges or breaks, we have to ask ourselves if it can be attributed to the Academy’s rapidly changing makeup. As it becomes larger and more international, is there something about the chords Desplat’s music is striking that registers more with the older-school Academy?
Or maybe these three are all explainable flukes. “The Midnight Sky” was a smaller profile film that wasn’t exactly adored (though it did manage a Visual Effects nomination at the Oscars). “The French Dispatch” was harshly ignored by the Academy, but it wasn’t clearly personal to Desplat. Even the red flags could be seen for “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio” if you listened closely: anecdotally, there were a lot of folks who properly loved the movie but were hung up on the music and original songs for a variety of reasons, whether they disliked them, thought they didn’t fit in with the film’s overall tone, didn’t advance the plot, etc. If you disliked the songs, it’s easy to imagine voters failing to distinguish Best Original Song and Best Original Score and blanking Desplat’s work entirely.
Only time will tell what will be made of these consecutive snubs of one of the world’s most iconic living composers. There is a situation out there where Desplat is attached to a couple of Best Picture nominees in the next couple of years, easily gets nominated or wins, and we’ll have been fools for ever doubting him as he continues an impressive lifetime of work (looking at you, “Barbie” and “Asteroid City!”). But three points supposedly make a trend- a fourth could be enough to confirm Desplat’s residency within the “club” is worth really questioning.
Do you think Alexandre Desplat has hit a wall with the Academy or will they eventually let him back in with another nomination? Do you feel he should’ve been nominated for “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio?” Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account, be sure to check out our latest Oscar nomination predictions here.
You can follow Cole and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @CurtissOnFilm