Diane Warren, John Williams and More Composers Talk Oscar Nominations & Performance Snubs at Pre-Academy Awards Event

Diane Warren and Lady Gaga
Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic

Diane Warren and Lady Gaga attend TimesTalks Presents" "Hunting Ground" With Lady Gaga, Diane Warren, Kirby Dick And Amy Ziering at Times Center on Dec. 10, 2015 in New York City.  

At Saturday (Feb. 27) afternoon’s Society of Composers & Lyricists’ annual pre-Oscar cocktail party, J. Ralph, nominated for an Oscar this year for best original song, was too gracious to blast the Academy Awards for not allowing his co-writer/singer Anohni to perform their song “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction on Sunday night’s broadcast, but composer Carter Burwell -- who's his friend and mentor -- was not. 

“It’s appalling,” said Burwell, who is nominated for best original score for his work on Carol. “I think it’s wrong on all sorts of levels and unfair and dumb. People always say the broadcast is boring. Why not actually do something different?"

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The pair, who have known each other for nearly 20 years, were catching up at SC&L’s annual fete, which celebrates the music nominees for the Academy Awards. Held at La Boheme in West Hollywood on Saturday afternoon, the event drew around 300 people including Burwell’s fellow original score nominees Thomas Newman (Bridge of Spies), Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight), and John Williams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), as well as Ralph’s best song colleagues Stephan Moccio (The Weeknd's “Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey), Diane Warren (Lady Gaga's “Til It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground) and David Lang's “Simple Song #3” from Youth). 

Like Ralph and Anohni (a.k.a. Antony Hegarty), Lang’s entry from Youth will also not be performed on the telecast.  Lang was quick to mention how happy he is that his song, sung by soprano Sumi Jo, has received the respect and recognition that it has, but admitted “I feel pretty bad [about the exclusion] “for a lot of reasons. It’s hard for me to deal with the fact that it’s been decided in advance that I’m unpopular.”

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Lauding Anohni’s statement on her website that detailed why she would not even be attending the ceremony, Lang said he felt worse for Anohni and Sumi Jo than for himself. “Performers live on stage, they need to perform,” he said. “To say, ‘Oh yes, you are loved by millions, just not millions enough, I think that’s a very heartbreaking thing. Here was the chance were everyone could have heard them and fallen in love with them and listened to how powerful their message would be.” In addition to “Earned It” and “Til It Happens To You,” Sam Smith's “The Writing’s On The Wall” from Spectre will also be performed on the show. Nominees Smith and Jimmy Napes missed the SC&L event because they were at Oscar rehearsals.

At Saturday afternoon’s event, every nominee was a winner. Each was called to a podium by SCL president Ashley Irwin, presented with a conductor’s baton, and invited to say a few words. Williams, 84, drew laughs when he noted that he “especially wanted to congratulate a gentleman who has been such an inspiration to all of us younger composers,” calling out the 87-year old Morricone.  The two maestros enjoyed a convivial conversation, with the aid of Morricone’s interpreter, on the restaurant’s patio before the presentations began.

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Williams’ The Force Awakens is his 50th Oscar nomination overall, a statistic that even he finds incredulous. “It’s a thrill that never wanes,” he told Billboard. “I feel so happy that my colleagues think enough of me to continue to put up with me.”

Sunday’s ceremony marks the end of months of campaigning by the songwriters and composers -- first to receive a nomination, and secondly to, hopefully, secure a win. Warren, up for her eighth Academy Award, said running the Oscar gauntlet this go round  “has been the funnest one ever. It’s been so much fun doing it with [co-writer Lady] Gaga.” Vice President Joe Biden will introduce Gaga’s performance on the telecast, and Warren promised that the performance “is going to be amazing.”

First-time nominee Burwell said he won’t miss the campaigning, but he’s enjoyed people from his past “coming out of the woodwork. One of my first jobs out of college was working at a biology laboratory and this guy wrote me and said since we worked there, he’s won a Nobel Prize. He wrote me because I got this nomination and I thought, ‘That’s so sweet.’ You would think he would have something better to do with his time.”

As for what he’ll miss as the awards season draws to a close, Ralph joked “parking validation.”

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