Oscar Analysis 2014: Breaking Down The Best Original Song Race

By Gabe Toro 2014-01-30 08:31:02discussion comments
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The Best Song category at the Oscars has always seemed isolated from others. Frequently, films wouldn’t gain a foothold in this section if the movies otherwise steamrolled the nominations, like frontrunners American Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years A Slave. As such, not only are those three films not participants among these five selections, but there is only one Best Picture honoree represented here.

This is one of the better years, however, particularly considering at some points the category would have only two to three nominations overall. There was a field of 60-plus contenders for Best Song, and even with that variety, Academy members often find themselves doubling down and including multiple songs from the same film. That wasn’t the case in 2013, as the voters truly spread the wealth, resulting in five very diverse, unexpected selections.

DARK HORSES
That being said, what the hell is Alone Yet Not Alone? In the biggest example of how sometimes Oscar voters aren’t at all paying attention, they lavished a nomination on songwriter Bruce Boughten (one previous nomination for the score to Silverado) for the title track to this Christian film that had to have been seen by zero Academy members. Songs from Inside Llewyn Davis were deemed ineligible because they contained the DNA of earlier, similar folk songs, but that was a film that focused primarily on music and used songs to advance the narrative. Why should something as funny and free-flowing as Please Mr. Kennedy be pushed aside for a song nominated strictly via friendly favors?

Academy rules suggest that a film needs to be released for one week in Los Angeles, and this film complied, though it did so with one daily showing over those seven days. There’s no real public record of the film’s overall release, apparently in the "heartland," though it did amass a $13k plus per-theater average. If that was in only one theater, then that box office tally is decent, if unremarkable. There’s also the public matter that Boughten, a former head of the Academy’s music branch, apparently cold-called voters, pushing them to vote in this direction. And if we must: the song is dreadful church-hymn garbage, the sort of Sunday afternoon pabulum you’d hear on Bible Belt radio in between pledge requests. The nomination is the win for this film, which opens in wider release later this year. If it garners enough support to take the category… well, if you take any Oscar voting seriously, that’s the sort of thing to make you want to stop.

The Weinsteins gambled hard on Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniels’ The Butler and Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, hoping that there was a narrative that Oscar voters could support. And the Oscars responded with a resounding LOL NOPE and awarded them one nomination between the three movies, for Irish rock sensation U2’s sprawling Ordinary Love from Mandela. And as far as U2 songs, it doesn’t even sound like Coldplay, but rather tepid Coldplay soundalike Keane in its emphasis on a piano backbeat. U2 has contributed to several soundtracks, but this is one of their weakest additions, and it doesn’t even play during the movie, laid out in the end credits instead. Because voters are no longer watching the film, end credit songs tend to suffer, particularly when the film is as dry and pedestrian as Mandela, a check-the-boxes biopic that runs well over two hours. The combination of end-credits placement and a forgettable movie means that there’s no visual imagery to associate with the song other than Bono, which likely means the song’s chances are kaput.
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