Oscars Watch 2017: The Less-Depressing Campaign: Best Original Song

This was supposed to be Best Screenplay this week, but I kinda feel like getting ranty today.

The Best Original Song category is mostly crap.

Let me qualify that. The Best Original Song category is WAY too often not actually about the Best Original Song as it’s used in a movie. Rather, it’s often about the production values and the prestige, this is one of those categories that more often ends up being about who’s willing to pump money into selling things more than actual artistic achievement.

Best Original Song is a category that makes a whole lot of sense when you remember that the Musical used to be one of the dominant modes of Hollywood filmmaking when this category first started being awarded in 1934. When so many films actually had original songs written for them, it made sense to reward the best of them.

But as the musical has slowly faded out of the public love, the category has stuck around. Not for no reason. In the 80s, we had winners and nominees from the “Original Soundtrack” that accompanied every film. You know, that thing when you hired Kenny Loggins to write a few songs for your movie that we really don’t do much of anymore. In the 90s, this was the Honorary Disney Musical award, as they won 6 out of 10 in the years from 1989-1999.

These days though, it’s pretty rare to have either an original soundtrack or a major musical, so where do these nominations go? Well, the rules state that the song either needs to play during the film or be the first song during the end credits.

It’s that latter rule that pretty much seals up the majority of the nominations here. A lot of films (especially documentaries) get a famous performer to put a song together that plays over the end credits. No real thematic work integrating it into the film, just playing over the theater speaking as everyone is thinking about leaving.

It annoys the living hell out of me because it’s one of the laziest ways to get Award Prestige. Pay enough for a decent song connected to the movie and plaster it over the credits then call it done. Even when the song is great (“Glory” from Selma), it’s still a reward for the least well-put artistic part of a movie.

This year is looking a little different, but there’s plenty of potential slap-ons to get awarded this year.

SURE THINGS: 

“Audition (The Fools Who Dream) – La La Land
City of Stars” – La La Land
“How Far I’ll Go” – Moana

The fortunate thing about all my ranting is that first and foremost, the Academy is almost universally willing to award the songs of actual musicals. The Academy will always be a sucker for musicals and rewarding the songs of actual musicals comes first.

This year, the musical showdown is between La La Land and Moana.

La La Land‘s jazz-influenced numbers are already getting raves from the people who love the film and the worst the few detractors can say is that they aren’t total earworms. Set up largely as either individually sung or duets between Gosling and Stone, who don’t have traditional musical voices, we can already count on some love for the idea of getting Gosling and Stone to perform these live. If this one is a total darling as the expectations are, we can actually probably count on two nominations. My guess is the catchy “City of Stars” that is the forward push of this film and “Audition” because it’s apparently the emotional climax.

Moana has a bit different weight. Besides the fact that everyone loves the Disney musical, this actually could be a big deal. With this win, Lin-Manuel Miranda would become the youngest person to ever EGOT (the winning of an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony, signifying success in pretty much every area of entertainment) which would cap off his ascendancy into one of our great modern artists. “How Far I’ll Go” is the “Let It Go” of Moana (without the mind-numbing ear-burrowing of “Let It Go”) and something is gonna get nominated given the current love for Miranda and the general love for Disney. This one wouldn’t surprise me.

MAYBE THINGS: 

Runnin'” – Hidden Figures
We Know the Way” – Moana
Faith” – Sing
“I’m Still Here” – Miss Sharon Jones
A Letter to the Free” – Selma

So, from here on, a few groups of songs that get nominated.

First, let’s address two more from actual musicals. “We Know The Way” depends on how much love the voting body is looking to heap on Moana. I wouldn’t put it as likely to get nominated over “How Far I’ll Go,” but the potential of actually having Miranda performing this one is an undeniable attraction, plus the more unique Polynesian flavor of this track. Then “Faith” is one of the few original tracks from jukebox animal musical Sing, so if that thing is a crowd pleaser, I see no reason it might not make the journey on that goodwill. Think “Happy” from Despicable Me 2.

Which, speaking of, we have another category: Well-known people making songs for issues pictures. Pharrell is now a mogul of the songwriting world and his work on Hidden Figures marks his first major soundtrack. The love for him and for the film could coalesce, especially if he gets to perform at the Ceremony. Common is a thinking man’s favorite and already has his first Oscar for “Glory.” A second nomination for him wouldn’t seem out of place.

Finally, we have the memorial songs. These are rare, but we have one in “I’m Still Here.” Sharon Jones’ unfortunate recent passing may motivate a second and harder look at the documentary and the song she wrote for it.

DREAM THINGS: 

Drive It Like You Stole It” – Sing Street
“Finest Girl (Bin Laden)” – Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

Now, for two that won’t ever actually get nominated, and that’s part of why this category sucks.

This really is a “Pay to Play” category, where it’s all about the weight of the name and the money anyone is willing to throw. Songs from non-Oscar pictures tend to have a harder time, and songs that aren’t from big names tend to be up the creek. Even if they work better in the actual movie or are just more enjoyable to listen to.

These two are case in point. Both are thematically better and more enjoyable as part of a movie than most of the ones I’ve listed that I’ve heard. Because they’re actually part of the movie. But no major names and no prestige or category navigation or money means they won’t be thought about.

So, rather than complain, I’m just going to leave you on those two. Have fun.

Next Week: Best Screenplay, Original and Adapted

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