The Real Reason Jóhann Jóhannsson's 'Mandy' Score is Ineligible For an Oscar

We reached out to the Academy for clarification on the disappointing technicality.

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Film fans were aghast this week after news broke that several musical scores have been disqualified from being nominated for the 91st Academy Awards. Casualties include Kris Bowers‘ music for Green Book, Michel Legrand‘s score for the long-lost Orson Welles film The Other Side of the Wind, and John Williams and John Powell‘s Solo: A Star Wars Story, the last of which was left out because someone forgot to register the film before the November 15th deadline for entries.

The elimination that is the biggest sore point for most of us is that of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, whose score for the Nicolas Cage psychedelic horror Mandy has been hailed as one of the best of his career and a fine swan song. According to Variety, it wasn’t technically disqualified but “ran afoul of Academy rules — the movie was released on VOD before it completed its qualifying run, a knowledgeable source said. Hence Johannsson’s score was never considered.” IndieWire asked for further confirmation from a representative for the film, who advised that the “qualifying run means the film is released in one week in Los Angeles with a minimum of three screenings per day.”

This is where it gets interesting, however: the Academy guidelines mention nothing about completing the run. Rule Two, per the list at Oscars.org, simply states that to be eligible a VOD film must meet the following relevant criteria:

  1. Be shown for a qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily, with at least one screening beginning between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. daily, in an LA county theater.
  2. Not receive nontheatrical exhibition before the first day of the qualifying run.

In fact, there’s a specific question in the Oscar guidelines FAQ that deals with this:

Q: What about same day and date VOD?

A: VOD can occur simultaneously with the first day of the qualifying theatrical release but not before.

Mandy was released on VOD on Friday, September 14th. On the same day the film began showing at the Laemmle Monica Film Theater in Santa Monica, LA County. It ran for seven days, finishing on Thursday, September 20th. So from this, it would appear that Mandy would have been eligible, at least according to the online guidelines. But the reality was apparently contained in the comment on IndieWire, where it was stated to be eligible the film needs to have been “released in one week in Los Angeles with a minimum of three screenings per day.”

To get further clarification, we spoke to Natalie Kojen of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, who shed further light on what actually happened with Mandy.

“In order to be eligible for Academy Awards consideration,” she told me, “a feature film must be publicly exhibited for paid admission in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County, for a qualifying run of at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily, with at least one screening beginning between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. daily. (Rule Two, Paragraph 2d.)

Mandy opened at the Laemmle Monica Film Center on September 14, 2018, the same day it became available on VOD. This initial theatrical engagement did not meet the requirements for a qualifying run because the film was only shown twice daily (at 1pm and 7pm). Subsequent engagements with more screening times at other theaters did not qualify because the VOD release had already occurred.

“The provision regarding the number and schedule of daily screenings has been in effect since the 2016 (89th) Academy Awards.”

So while Mandy was released day and date with the initial theatrical run, that run did not qualify the film because it didn’t meet the three-showing criteria.

This is obviously hugely sad for fans of Jóhannsson, not least because this was his last film, but also because his score is incredible. Unfortunately we could not obtain any comment from the film’s representatives on the decision, but rumor has it that they were pushing a small campaign based on the score. Regretfully, speculation over whether it would have been able to garner a nomination is now a moot point.

But while this has been cleared up, the rules regarding these situations are something that will surely be privy to further scrutiny. As day and date VOD steadily becomes a more viable channel of distribution for independent films, awards bodies must eventually keep up with the changing times. I imagine if there was ever a thought of a category specifically for nontheatrical released films, there would be an immediate schism (look at the recent polarized reaction to the apparent need for Roma to be seen theatrically).

Beyond awards, this still ties into larger discussions about the evolution of film distribution. The mainstream exhibition side has made itself clear, refusing to exhibit any films which are released day and date theatrically and through VOD. Many believe a welcoming of day and date into mainstream exhibition would signal a death knell for films being shown theatrically.

In any case, Jóhannsson’s score for Mandy is a treasure we still have, regardless of awards status (we included it in our best scores of 2018). But it would have been nice to have said goodbye with an award or nomination at least.

Freelance writer and podcast from the home of Tom Jones. Loves film music, cuddling, and the cinema of Lucio Fulci.