Maestros And Movies: Music & Film Propel Each Other To Oscar-Worthy Glory

66th GRAMMY Awards Show
CREATIVE SYNERGY: Siblings FINNEAS (left) and Billie Eilish, pictured performing during the 2024 Grammy Awards, credit “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig for helping them find a creative spark. The Oscar-nominated film’s box office haul surpassed $1.4 billion, making it the highest-grossing movie of 2023. “Barbie” was a cultural phenomenon and part of its popularity was due to its memorable musical moments, including FINNEAS and Eilish’s somber track, “What Was I Made For?” (Photo by John Shearer / Getty Images / The Recording Academy)

It’s award season, that time of the year honoring the best in arts and entertainment. Though we’re one month removed from a memorable Grammy Awards show that featured stand-out performances from Miley Cyrus, Tracy Chapman with Luke Combs, SZA and Olivia Rodrigo, music will remain at center stage and steal a skosh of the spotlight from what is supposed to be film’s biggest night in the 96th annual Academy Awards, a ceremony taking place at Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, on March 10.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Best Original Song nominees will be performed by their respective artists, a lineup that includes Billie Eilish, Jon Batiste, Becky G, Scott George and the Osage Singers and none other than Ryan Gosling, who will be proving he’s Kenough by doing a rendition of the hilarious “I’m Just Ken” track from the film “Barbie.”

Music’s notable presence at the Oscars is warranted, especially coming off what was a record-breaking year for the industry. Even Taylor Swift managed to shake up the film world by sidestepping studios and dealing directly with AMC Theaters to distribute her “Eras Tour” movie — which became the highest-grossing concert movie of all time after earning $261 million at the global box office — and Beyoncé followed that same playbook for “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé.”

The success of the music industry carried over into the Academy’s favorite films of the year, assisting the visual medium in reinforcing resonating themes and immersing us in other worlds, including one that was very pink and featured mojo dojo casa houses.

“Barbie” may not be the odds-on favorite to take home the major prize, but it was a big winner in the hearts of many around the world and for Warner Bros. with the blockbuster eclipsing $1.4 billion at the box office. Director and co-writer Greta Gerwig deserves much of the credit for pulling off a fantasy comedy with weighty themes of existentialism, feminism and gender norms, but her vision was elevated by a commercially successful soundtrack with several songs that easily reached hundreds of millions of streams on Spotify. Two tunes featured on the album are nominated for Best Original Song, including Billie Eilish and her brother FINNEAS’ “What Was I Made For?”

Eilish will be present at the Academy Awards to perform the haunting hit song that earned her and her sibling two Grammys just a month ago, and she credits Gerwig for helping them recapture their creative spark.

“We had really been writing absolutely nothing before we had that opportunity to write for ‘Barbie,’” Eilish, who took home an Oscar in 2022 for “No Time To Die,” said at the Grammys. “I got really worried; I got nervous. I felt like I was going to be over a little bit. I was in a really dark place … and it’s kind of hard to think back to it. But Greta came to us and she offered us this life-changing thing that we didn’t really realize was going to be life-changing like that.

“Honestly, from then on, we were just creative again,” she added. “I don’t know. It woke us up and got us back on our thing, and it was really special and powerful.”

The 22-year-old recently wrote on Instagram that her new album is mastered, which not only means new music will be dropping soon but that a tour may also be on the horizon. Eilish’s last trek supporting Happier Than Ever was a massive success, grossing nearly $86 million and selling more than 796,000 tickets across 55 shows in 2022-23, according to box office reports submitted to Pollstar. Her star power has only grown since then with the commercial and critical success of “What Was I Made For?,” which begs the question: have Eilish and FINNEAS outgrown arenas?

Gerwig’s film is the perfect example of music and film elevating each other to create an unforgettable experience, but not all songs need words to lend weight to a scene. An orchestral score can be as compelling as what’s on the screen before us, especially from the late Robbie Robertson. His swan song was the “Killers of the Flower Moon” soundtrack, an impressive mood piece that becomes a character itself and honors his Native American roots as well as his rock background.

Robertson’s work will go toe-to-toe with Ludwig Göransson, whose frenetic score for “Oppenheimer” kept up with the film’s quick edits and rapid pace, especially in the tense bomb-testing sequence. Such scores can lead to box office success not only for movie theaters but for the local orchestra. Emily Yoon, a Wasserman Music agent who books non-classical orchestral shows, recently worked on a successful “Oppenheimer: Live in Concert” event at Royce Hall Theater at UCLA in Westwood that featured a 55-piece orchestra led by conductor Anthony Parnther.

These types of experiences tied to films can help orchestras in the right market and introduce the world of classical music to new audiences. Despite having films about conductors in “Tar” and “Maestro” being recognized by the Academy the past two years, concert halls are still struggling, but Yoon says there is potential in some IP-driven concerts that aren’t Star Wars or Disney.

“I would say the orchestras are still struggling in certain ways … but yet they are starting to be more open and exploratory with repertoire, which is starting to cause different types of people to enter the concert hall,” Yoon tells Pollstar. “… By doing these non-classical [shows] where we’re focusing on film music or music from video games or television, music that’s part of our daily lives, … it’s helping [orchestras] realize that they can do other types of music that is still phenomenal. It’s causing people to realize that the concert hall isn’t that pretentious.”

Boasting another diverse list of nominees in the song categories yet again, one could say that the Academy, too, isn’t that pretentious with catchy ear candy like “The Fire Inside” (which was written by Oscars darling Diane Warren for the “Flamin’ Hot” biographical film about Flamin’ Hot Cheetos), a touching ballad from Jon Batiste and a beautiful song honoring the Osage community. Music and film provided the escape that many of us so desperately wanted in 2023, and here’s to hoping that trend continues this year, and the art forms continue to elevate each other.