Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars Predictions 2014: Original Song

Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange.

2014 ACADEMY AWARDS PREDICTION:
BEST ORIGINAL SONG

spike-jonze-her-joaquin-phoenix-576x365

1. “The Moon Song” (HER)
Music by Karen O
Lyrics by Karen O and Spike Jonze

2. “Let It Go” (FROZEN)
Music & Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez

3. “Happy” (DESPICABLE ME 2)
Music & Lyrics by Pharrell Williams

4. “Ordinary Love” (MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM)
Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton & Larry Mullen
Lyrics by Paul Hewson

Nominated Yet Not Nominated*: “Alone Yet Not Alone” from Alone Yet Not Alone

First, let’s discuss the scandal of the week: The Academy has rescinded its nomination of “Alone Yet Not Alone” from the faith-based film of the same name because its composer, Bruce Broughton, had emailed some of the 239 members of the Academy’s music branch to make them aware of his submission during the nominations voting period. Broughton is also a current music branch executive committee member, which basically means he should know better than to throw his weight around, so to speak (here is the Academy’s official statement regarding the revocation). And so, bye-bye nomination. Such a revocation of a nom — or a win — has happened only a small number of times (you can read more about those cases here), and of course, ironically, those pieces are probably all the more well-known because of such scandals. So it looks as though Broughton got his wish after all: Folks will now listen to his simple church song out of pure curiosity.

Getting back to business: How is it that two songs sung by Scarlett Johansson — who decidedly cannot sing — have been nominated two years in a row? It’s one of life’s little mysteries. Unlike last year’s over-the-credits diddy in the little-seen doc Chasing Ice, however, “The Moon Song” perfectly captures the emotional breadth of Her. Karen O’s acoustic guitar composition creates a spareness and intimacy that her and Spike Jonze’s heartrending lyrics gently float over: “Your shadow follows me all day / Making sure that I’m okay / And we’re a million miles away.” If that isn’t exactly the emotional takeaway of the entire film, I don’t know what is. Gorgeous stuff.

Frozen’s “Let It Go” pretty much has this one in the bag, though. The Disney song’s got the “you go girl!” oomph of any good female-empowerment ballad and the melody is damn catchy — even if the lyric is a bit simplistic. It’s no Alan Menken tune (sigh), but it’s the only nominee with a lyric that truly develops character and progresses the narrative — as opposed to playing over credits, or over a montage — and it’s one of the highlights of the tremendously popular film. (Though, c’mon, I can’t be the only one who thinks Idina Menzel’s voice does not fit the character of Elsa at all.) This will mark husband-wife duo Robert Lopez (Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s first win.

There’s not a whole to say about “Happy” from Despicable Me 2, except that it’s, well, happy. It’s light and breezy with a funky groove that just begs you to snap along and nod your head as the normally dour Gru cheerfully skips through the day after realizing that he’s in love. Yep, this is a montage sequence, but it’s one of the slight film’s best, and Pharrell Williams captures its blissful essence nicely. (Here’s a cute video of the song featuring those mischievous minions.)

Believe it or not, if a spoiler were to happen, it would be for “Ordinary Love” from the biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. If the Academy hadn’t changed its whacky rules from just a few years ago, this pop song would not have been nominated. U2 wrote the song to honor Mandela (it was released a week before he passed), which is nice, but  the filmmakers just plopped it on top of the credits and called it a day. It’s a continuous, synthesized, adult-contemporary-music sound that never really builds — musically, or lyrically (although the earnestness does seem to rise and rise). It’s as ordinary as its title (and its film), but that didn’t stop it from winning the Golden Globe.

*I borrowed this cleverness from the inter webs, which is having a good ol’ time playing off of the film’s title.

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