Best Original Song Nominees (89th Academy Awards)
Does anything about that top image look slightly off to you? If so, it’s probably because there are only four films nominated in the Best Original Song category instead of five. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t five nominated songs. It’s just that one of these movies has two. No points for guessing which one.
This is actually not that uncommon. In fact, the Best Original Song category has a history of wonky nomination counts for a variety of reasons. Back in 2013 one of the songs had its nomination revoked. Prior to that, a series of rules changes designed to reduce any perception of the category being “filled out” with unworthy nominees sometimes resulted in fields of three or four. A nomination process that required voters to rate each song, with only those rated higher than a set target gaining a place on the Oscars stage produced a situation in 2011 in which only two songs were nominated (prompting one high-profile singer to accuse the Academy of being “mean”). Over the first eleven years of the category’s existence voters were permitted to nominated as many songs as they liked…and boy did they like! Throughout the early forties no less than nine songs were nominated every single year, topping off at a whopping FOURTEEN in 1945. Obviously that was an out of control situation. People love being honored and they certainly love seeing their projects get free promotion. With no television show to keep on time, why not pile up as many nominations as possible if you can?
For a good long time after that, the Academy put a cap of five nominations on the category and as far as I can tell that was working pretty well. There were a few times when there were a small number of songs which the Academy considered to be qualified, and they would automatically reduce the number of nominated songs to three. This happened in 1988 when Carl Simon’s song from Working Girl took home the gold over Phil Collins’ retro bit of fluff from his otherwise unknown starring vehicle Buster. Considering the well-publicized demographics of the Academy it’s a little hard to swallow when they proclaim that only two or three songs deserve nominations. I’m going to stop short of criticizing them for nominating more than one song from a single movie, though. I personally think it’s pretty great if a particular musical is really that good that they can shower it with praise. Disney’s Beauty & the Beast really is that good, and a lot of people felt the same way about The Lion King. Besides, if they were limited to one song per film, my favorite movie song of the year probably wouldn’t have been nominated this time around.
“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from La La Land
Experts’ Rank: 3
My Rank: 1
…and here it is. While La La Land has been sold more on its splashy dance numbers and the jazzy introspection of “City of Stars” it is this song from Emma Stone’s third act audition scene that made me give myself over completely to the movie while I was watching. To this day it has a tendency to reduce me to a shambles when I hear it. I’ve actually had to avoid it sometimes. I’ve heard complaints that it borrows from “Cabaret” and “The Rainbow Connection.” I can’t say I care about those criticisms one single little bit. I can guarantee that when I look back on this year’s nominees twenty years from now, this is the song which will leap off the list at me…and that’s coming from a big Disney fan.
“Can’t Stop the Feeling” from Trolls
Experts’ Rank: 5
My Rank: 5
On the other hand, this song reminds me quite a lot of plenty of others I’ve heard for decades. That’s not always a bad thing. It’s fun and catchy and actually has a modicum of a melody, which is more than can be said for many similar recordings. The Original Songs category is notoriously difficult to predict prior to the announcement of the nominations and the experts completely whiffed on this one. They knew it existed, but its appearance counted as a surprise. If you’re a Justin Timberlake fan this will probably be your favorite. You and I just don’t have much in common musically.
“City of Stars” from La La Land
Experts’ Rank: 1
My Rank: 2
Here is the betting man’s choice for the winner in this category. Commercials for La La Land were centered on this smoky little tune, and I can certainly see why. It sets a mood and a place very effectively, putting us into the thoughts and feelings of the characters in a subtle and endearing way. It even plays counterpoint to the other piano hook that Sebastian plays over the course of the film. I like “City of Stars” a lot. It’s just not my favorite here.
“The Empty Chair” from Jim: The James Foley Story
Experts’ Rank: 4
My Rank: 4
I won’t lie. It’s nice to hear Sting’s voice again. There reached a point in the 90s when he had sort of worn out his welcome with me by shamelessly chasing hits and relevance after a career’s worth of work devoting large portions of his albums to bringing us what he wanted instead of what he thought we wanted. No matter what else I have to say about him, I can’t deny the warm spot his voice opens for me. It’s a smart and caring voice that has been through craziness and railed against the darkness. The fact that it sounds so at home in a chain coffee shop only loses him a point or two.
“How Far I’ll Go” from Moana
Experts’ Rank: 2
My Rank: 3
“How Far I’ll Go” has the advantage and the disadvantage with me of being part of a soundtrack which I own and like quite a lot. On one hand that means that just hearing it reminds me of my overall positive feelings not only for Moana as a movie, but for the soundtrack as a part of my life. Where it suffers is that it’s probably only my third or fourth favorite song on that soundtrack. It’s a decent example of the “I Want” protagonist song, but with a few other superior examples out there it doesn’t particularly establish itself as remarkable. If you’re asking for my personal favorite song from Moana which might stand a chance against these others, that would be “Where You Are.” But that’s just me. Oh by the way, if this song wins the Oscar, Lin Manuel Miranda will become the youngest person to ever compile the EGOT. But he won’t do that this year.
Okay, give a listen to the above songs and weigh in on which is your personal favorite, both here and in the comments section!