'Soul,' With 3 Credited Composers, Ruled Eligible for Best Original Score Oscar

Jon Batiste
Noam Galai/Getty Images

Jon Batiste performs outside NYU Langone Health hospital on June 13, 2020 in New York City.

The last score by three credited composers to receive an Oscar nomination was 'Mulan' 22 years ago.

This article has been updated to reflect Variety as the source of information and analysis about the score contenders.

Disney-Pixar’s Soul has been ruled eligible to compete for an Academy Award for best original score, as first reported by Variety.  The unusual collaboration by longtime collaborators Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste is vying to become the first score by three credited composers in more than two decades to receive an Oscar nod.

Reznor and Ross composed a new-age score for the metaphysical segments of the animated film, while Batiste composed a number of original jazz songs for the film’s New York City-based segments.

Soul’s eligibility was by no means certain. Reznor and Ross’ dramatic score constituted less than 60 percent of the total music in the film, which is the Academy standard, and Batiste’s jazz contribution could have been considered “source music” and not “dramatic underscoring” as defined under Academy rules, Variety's Jon Burlingame explains. The executive committee of the music branch, which has the final say on these matters, decided that Batiste’s music played a key role and should be included in any nomination for the film’s music.

The last score by three credited composers to receive an Oscar nomination was Mulan (1998), in the now defunct category of best original music or comedy score. Matthew Wilder and David Zippel collaborated on the songs; Jerry Goldsmith composed the orchestral score. The previous year, Anastasia was nominated in the same category. Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens collaborated on the songs. David Newman composed the orchestral score.

The last time three composers won an Oscar for scoring was 33 years ago when The Last Emperor took the 1987 award for best original score. Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Byrne and Cong Su collaborated on the score for that film, which won swept all nine Oscars for which it was nominated – including best picture.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences qualified 105 songs in the best original song category and 136 scores in the best original score category, according to an Academy spokesperson. From those lists, voters from the Academy’s 376-member music branch will choose 15 songs and 15 scores for the shortlists, which will be announced Feb. 9.  From those shortlists, members of the music branch will vote to determine the nominees, which will be announced on March 15. All Academy voting members vote to determine the winners, which will be revealed on April 25. 

One of Thomas Newman’s two 2020 scores, Let Them All Talk, was declared ineligible because his score constituted only 40 percent of all the music in the film, according to Variety. Newman, who has received 14 Oscar nominations for best original score without a win, had better luck with his other score, The Little Things, which was ruled eligible.

Also missing from the score list are films that were not entered because the scores are comparatively minimal. Among them, according to Variety: Terence Blanchard’s piano score for One Night in Miami and the Mark Isham-Craig Harris score for Judas and the Black Messiah.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was ruled ineligible. Composer Branford Marsalis’ original music was overshadowed by the period songs he was adapting.

The Ma Rainey song “Baby Let Me Have It All,” for which Marsalis was credited as composer and two long-dead figures -- playwright August Wilson (who died in 2005) and Delta blues musician Charley Patton (who died in 1934) -- were credited as lyricists, was also ruled ineligible. Oscar rules demand that a song be “written specifically for the motion picture” and the “songwriters engaged to work directly on the motion picture.”

Award shows struggle with how to handle eligibility on deceased figures. Poet T.S. Eliot won two Tony Awards – book (musical) and original musical score -- for Cats, which premiered on Broadway in 1982, more than 17 years after his death.

But the Grammys didn't allow Nat King Cole to share in two wins (record of the year and best traditional pop performance) for "Unforgettable," his from-the-grave 1991 collab with daughter Natalie Cole. The elder Cole died in 1965.

Also missing from the list of eligible best original song contenders was Reznor and Ross’ “(If Only You Could) Save Me” from Mank, which lasts barely a minute in the film and is hard to hear, said Burlingame, who added, it was declared ineligible by the Academy committee, likely for failing to be “a clearly audible, intelligible, substantive rendition” as demanded by the rules. The Society of Composers and Lyricists Award were more accepting. They gave it a nomination earlier Monday (Feb. 1) for best original song.