Gold Standard: Oscar Watch: ‘Selma’ scores with academy

“Selma”: Ava DuVernay’s powerful civil rights drama has been winning standing ovations since its AFI Fest premiere.
(Courtesy Paramount Pictures)

Oscar Watch, charting the ups and downs of award season, arrives every Monday. This week we're looking at movies that have been going over big and running afoul, as well as wondering why Chris Rock's "Top Five" can't find a foothold with voters.

'Birdman' score outrage

Look, we love Antonio Sanchez's percussive "Birdman" score as much as the next drum major, but rules are rules, and the academy's are crystal clear on this count: "Scores diluted by use of tracked themes or other pre-existing music, diminished in impact by the predominant use of songs, or assembled from the music of more than one composer shall not be eligible."

And "Birdman" uses a lot of preexisting music, classical pieces by Gustav Mahler, John Adams and Tchaikovsky, among others, and often in key moments. The inclusion of these pieces does not lessen the effect of Sanchez's clanging, tension-amping work. It's perfect. But it does clearly make it ineligible, which was the case with Clint Mansell's "Black Swan" score (which adapted Tchaikovsky’s "Swan Lake") and Jonny Greenwood’s "There Will Be Blood" music (which incorporated pieces by Brahms and Arvo Part). 

You want to go the sackcloth and ashes route? Fine. But maybe the ire would be better directed at revising the music branch's existing rule instead of wailing every time some inventive piece of work gets shafted.

 'Wild Tales,' left, and 'Ida'

'Top Five'

Chris Rock's romantic comedy killed at the Toronto International Film Festival, leading to a bidding war and a prime December release date that had many thinking the film and its writer-director-star might win some love this award season. But even with separate categories for comedies, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. didn't give the movie one Golden Globe nomination. And the film is probably too funny to win favor with Oscar voters, who tend to reward more LQTM, Woody Allen-style humor. Wait ... you say "Top Five" has been repeatedly compared to Allen's comedy style? Hmmm ... well, why hasn't it been winning more favor then?


Angelina Jolie's dutiful portrait of Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner and Air Force bombardier who spent two years in Japanese prison camps, currently boasts a 44% approval rating at movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. "Unbroken" opens Christmas Day, so that number may change as more reviews arrive. The lowest Rotten Tomatoes score for a best picture nominee? Stephen Daldry's 9/11 tear-jerker, "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," at 46%.

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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