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Oscar's Songwriters Have a Difficult Task in 2013

Glenn here and it's the weekend, which means there is no better time to discuss Oscar's original song category (er, right?). Much like that other much-maligned category, animated feature, The Academy's songwriting branch somehow need to come up with five nominees even if there aren't enough worthy contenders. Last year's introduction of a guaranteed five nominees produced "Academy Award Nominee Ted!", although it did allow for the beautiful song from Chasing Ice (performed by ScarJo!) to come to our attention so maybe it's not such a bad thing after all? I strongly believe that this is their penance for not nominating "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" from Burlesque a few years back. Diane Warren's music branch voodoo doll works in mysterious ways, folks.

At least one song we can all be pretty confident about is "Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen. Apparently the studio will only be submitting this one song from the film despite a wide roster of contenders. They're going for the win it would seem and, at least at this stage, unless reception to the film isn't particularly positive it's probably the best bet for the win based purely on history. The video below isn't the best, but it's all we've got at the moment that isn't a Demi Lovato pop version. 

The Butler, The Great Gatsby, Belgian bluegrass and Tom Cruise after the jump!

Another film with a rolodex of contenders is Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. I continue to be skeptical that someone as maligned and fresh-faced to the pop world as Lana Del Rey could be an Oscar nominee by next February, but her "Young and Beautiful" is nothing if not prominent the film. I'm a big fan of Del Rey and not just because she bares an uncanny resemblance to Karen Black. I think the song is a strong one so I'm all for it. Less integral, but equally possible is "Over the Love" by Florence + the Machine, although I'd figure Jay Z's "100$ Bill" is less likely to be appearing on ballots come phase 2. Lastly, don't tell anyone (sshhh!), but I'd personally get a kick out of seeing "A Little Party Never Killed Nobody (All We Got)" performed at the ceremony, alas it appears it won't be submitted by the studio. Sad face.

Ever since I saw Lee Daniels' The Butler I've had a hunch that a ditty called "In the Middle of the Night" performed (and co-written) by former American Idol winner Fantasia Burrino. If nominated alongside Lana Del Rey then that would make two very unlikely Oscar nominees for the year. The song plays over a civil rights montage that will likely play very well with the branch committee who view these songs in the context of the movie. The film features one more eligible track, "You and I Ain't Nothin' No More" by Gladys Knight, but I don't recall where it sits in the film. Can you help answer this question? Either way, both songs are great and the classic soul sound could certainly help them stand out.


 The underdog of the race will surely be Short Term 12's "So You Know What It's Like" (available on Spotify), right? We've yet to hear as to whether the song will even be eligible - it's not even two-minutes long and the "music" of "music and lyrics" is almost nonexistent - but if it is it would be incredible to see Keith Stanfield nominated. He wouldn't be able to perform it due to its heavy use of expletives, but it'd make for one hell of an Oscar moment if he won!

Foreign films frequently pop up in the category despite lack of attention elsewhere. Lest we forget Paris 36 (I've certainly tried)! A far better candidate I suspect will be Belgium's foreign language submission, Broken Circle Breakdown. I'm not 100% sure on what songs from the bluegrass soundtrack are original and which are covers or adaptations, but multiple sources say there are some original tracks on there and being a musical will surely help any.

One of a very, very small list of musicals in 2013 is Black Nativity and I sadly have to call ignorance on not knowing much about the project. I hear there are three original songs amongst its soundtrack and if it happened for August Rush then it can happen to anything. Still, they skipped right over Mary J Blige's song from best picture nominee The Help so who can tell?

I'm far less convinced by Karen O's "Moon Song" from Her, but maybe that's just because I don't care for that winsome hipster style of music that she's doing. Her songs couldn't make it in for her last Spike Jonze collaboration, Where the Wild Things Are, but "Moon Song" is integrated into the plot and performed by Joaquin Phoenix so perhaps the music branch will be more forgiving this time.

Apparently 12 Years a Slave also includes an original song. The spiritual that plays at the very beginning, in fact so if the music branch wants to go that way - they don't always want to go with songs that are barely a minute long even if they are from a best picture frontrunner - it certainly will look good in the presentation. I doubt they'll go there, but it bears noticing. 

Just like any other year, the eligible song list will likely be full of big names performing in big movies. However, as the category has tended to lean almost exclusively on non-end credits tunes these last few years I don't expect any to make the final cut. Amongst the future Golden Globe nominees that Oscar will ignore are Beyonce with "Rise Up" from Epic, "Happy" and "Just a Cloudy Day" by Pharell from Despicable Me 2, Kings of Leon's "Last Mile Home" from August: Osage County (?!?), Coldplay's The Hunger Games entry "Atlas", and some band called U2 with "Ordinary Love" from Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. I'm falling asleep as I type the words. Still, I'd most definitely be open to "Oblivion" from the titular (terrible) Tom Cruise vehicle performed by French electronic band M83 and Susanne Sunfor. Or how about the highly unlikely "Becomes the Color" from Stoker. Stranger things have happened, I guess. There's even another Diana Warren song, but it's from something called The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, so maybe not.


One end credits song that many seem far more confident in is "Amen" from All is Lost. The Alex Ebert song has curiously gotten a lot of attention for the category despite playing, as far as I remember, exclusively over the closing credits. It's a nice enough song, but if the film goes over well with the Academy they may be actively searching for places to honour it and this could be a perfectly agreeable place to do so. I mean, it's better than "Pi's Lullaby"!

So, readers. What do y'all think of this category? Will the music branch be forced to make some left of center choices or will the lack of standouts from the big movies mean they go decidedly middle of the road? 

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Reader Comments (17)

Nothing about the original song from THE HOBBIT? "I See Fire" from Ed Sheeran sounds like a good song, although there's no telling whether its (purported) end credits use only will help or hurt it.

Considering its generally effective use within the story I'm surprised LAST year's "Song of the Lonely Mountain" from the first film didn't make it, but last year was a really fantastic field of potential nominees although I'm probably the only person that was mostly unexcited about the eventual winner and the nominees (with great songs Karen-O and Nick Cave going unnoticed).

Maybe great eligible songs will pop up before the year is out.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

The buzz for the song from All is Lost baffles me. You spend two hours watching a film with (mostly) ambient noises and then, when it ends, this random, sullen song with seemingly no relevance to what you've just seen pops up on screen and jars your ears out of the naturalistic zone they've been in. I'll pass. The rest of the soundtrack is nice though.

I also must admit that I'm not sold on "Let It Go" either. Maybe it plays better in context, but the chorus ends funnily to my ears and the lyrics seem so cliched ("go away and close the door"?).

I have a little more confidence than you in "Moon Song"'s chances. As you say, Glenn, it's integrated into the film and it's really a nice encapsulation of the mood in the movie at that point. I wonder if this will be a consolation nomination for the film if it looks to be shut out in other categories.

My pick of the year, however, remains the Gatsby songs, particularly "Over the Moon," which I felt were the best part of their movie.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

* "Over the Love," of course.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Pulling for my girl Fantasia, but I would settle happily for a Lana win. If that Frozen song wins, that'll be the moment I give up on this category forever.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTB

Andrew K, I was lead to believe the songs from THE HOBBIT were adapted from Tolkein's book. The song submitted for THE HOBBIT was a Tim Finn credits tune, I believe. And, no, I wouldn't expect much to come of an Ed Sheeran song to be honest.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

This category: alwasy a mystery. It would be 10 times a better category if musicals still existed or if filmmakers would understand the value of a musical sequence in a drama.... i mean one of the most touching moments in August: Osage County is a sung number by Benedict Cumberbatch (for the life of me i can't remember if it was in the play but it's great in the movie) that gets interrupted by angry moms (what doesn't in August: Osage County?)

I think it's weird for Frozen to only submit one song when the field is looking so weak. Having two nominees from the same film has not hurt other Disney films chances of winning this category.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

Lana del Rey for the win! That song is the best part of Gatsby.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Oh, I can't believe I forgot to include Mariah Carey's "Almost Home" from OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. Alas, I feel like I remember it being the second cue of the credits and, thus, ineligible.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I'm echoing Evan on the support for (unlikely) "Over the Love" which wins for my favourite song from THE GREAT GATSBY (with the best references to the novel). I think "Young and Beautiful" is more likely (but similarly maybe not *that* likely) because its lyrics were co-written by Baz.

Glenn: Aaah, my bad. I guess the report I read was incorrect. The song last year from THE HOBBIT did use some of Tolkien's poetry, but the rules allow for it because of new orchestrations/musics or something of the sort. (I like the Sheeran song actually, which also gains points for acknowledging its text with the lyrics.)

Nathaniel: Wasn't this "submitting one song" thing the fallout of DREAMGIRLS and ENCHANTED getting three losing nods in the category? I agree that it's a silly thing to only put your bets on one song, especially annoying when TANGLED pushed the lovely but blander "I See the Light" instead of submitting the perfect and delightful "Mother Knows Best".

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

Remember when HAIRSPRAY submitted their end credits song instead of "Ladies Choice"? Who knows what goes through the mind of the people making these decisions.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Andrew, exactly- Over the Love is so obviously specific to Gatsby. I also loved how it was used in the film... Not as overtly as Young and Beautiful, but haunting at just the right time.

Also after just seeing The Broken Circle Breakdown, it has some great songs but I think all the best (or most prominently featured) ones were pre-existing.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Evan, having listened to the soundtrack and done google searches on each song I sadly came to the came conclusion re BROKEN CIRCLE, but I keep reading there were in fact originals and if there is indeed one that appears at all relevant then it could get nominated.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

The Coldplay song is beautiful, and this is coming from someone who hasn't love their recent stuff. It's very much back to their traditional sound, and I think it has a pretty good shot(?) Then again, this branch is always all over the place, so who knows. I mean the fucking song from RIO got in... and as one of two nominees, no less.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJordan

Keep in mind that THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN is adapted from a play. So even if a song seems original, it might have been written for the play first.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpatrick

The song from Ted was really good and set the tone for the entire film. I actually liked the film more than I expected to and take pleasure in knowing some crazy completionist in the future might stumble on a surprisingly heartfelt (if incredibly crass) romantic comedy because it's Academy Award nominated Ted instead of Seth MacFarlane's talking teddy bear movie.

Now, what would be an incredible surprise is if the Academy went for any of the beautiful Thai-styled karaoke songs in Only God Forgives. I know the film is bad. The music (and cinematography, for that matter) is stunning. Score should be a given (it won't be). Let's just say they went for the final song in the film: it's lovely and heartbreaking and really shows off the power of the perfect song written for a film.

November 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

All this talk about multiple song choices or whether the song is adapted or not - why doesn't the Academy just re-introduce the Song Score/Adapatation category?

Films such as Great Gatsby, Frozen, Broken Circle Breakdown could get noms in this category if it was re-introduced.

Heck - didn't films like Funny Lady, The Wiz, and Sting 2 get noms in this category in the past?

November 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBette Streep

Robert, no kidding, I have ONLY GOD FORGIVES on my own personal ballot! That final song was rather incredible. Hasn't a hope in hell - I doubt it'll even be submitted - but good call. At first I figured it was an old song, but I think the song credit clued me in.

Bette Streep, I've long been in favour of that. It would certainly help moves like BLACK SWAN, TRUE GRIT, and any musical.

November 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

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