Being both a music nerd and a movie geek, my interest was piqued when it was revealed that this year only two songs were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. I wondered how the Academy decided that there were only two songs worthy of competing for the award, and how those songs were chosen.
Come to find out, getting nominated involves more than just writing a song for a movie. It involves some very specific guidelines for why the song was written, how the song was presented in the movie and how it was released in relationship to the movie. There's also a math component involving numbered lists.
And if you do get nominated, don't plan on performing the song at the show. Unless you're already a megastar you won't be the one to perform the song on TV. You'll sit in the audience and watch someone else sing about a minute of your work as part of a medley. That is, of course, if they decide to even have the songs be part of the show.
So why bother having a Best Original Song category at all?
From the "Special Rules For The Music Awards" section of the Academy rulebook:
An original song consists of words and music, both of which are original and written specifically for the motion picture. There must be a clearly audible, intelligible, substantive rendition (not necessarily visually presented) of both lyric and melody, used in the body of the motion picture or as the first music cue in the end credits.
So what does all of that mean?
No samples: Every line in the song can be completely original, but if the music is based around a preexisting piece then it's ineligible. Sorry Coolio, but "Gangsta's Paradise" just isn't original enough.
Placement matters: If it's not at the start of the movie, part of a montage, sung by an animated animal, loudly performed at a party, or the very first song that plays when the credits start, then it's ineligible. Sorry Madonna, but the Academy has higher standards than those silly Golden Globes, and the credits ran far too long before "Masterpiece" started.
Best Original Song For A Movie: If the movie is an adaptation of a musical, then none of the songs from the original work are eligible for the award. Sorry Rent, but unless Jonathan Larson had some B-sides sitting around that you didn't use the first time, you'll just have to be satisfied with several Tony Awards and a Pulitzer Prize.
I find the "original" part of the whole situation most troubling. There's no rule that says a costume designer is ineligible if they find inspiration in a preexisting outfit and base their work around that. No one disqualifies a cinematographer if he borrows a shot from a different movie. There's an entire category for people who didn't come up with their own story ideas.
Those of you who love rules-porn have by now probably figured out why there are only two nominees this year. I'm not going to get in to the intricacies of the ballot process and the numbered lists, but the end result is this: Most likely only one song had enough points to be eligible for the nomination. The other song got nominated because there have to be two nominees to have a category.
That's right: someone is now an Academy Award nominee because they sucked the least.
So again I ask: Why bother even having the category?
Personally, I'd like to see them change it to "Best Use Of A Song In A Motion Picture."
When we talk about songs from movies, no one ever talks about how much they enjoyed the music during the credits. We talk about a bus full of people singing along to "Tiny Dancer." We talk about the best dinner ever involving "The Banana Boat Song." We talk about a bunch of guys rocking out to "Bohemian Rhapsody" in their AMC Pacer.
Not only would we be rewarding filmmakers who have incredible taste in music, but the performances at the show would be better. We might actually know some of the songs that are being performed. They could recreate those moments from the films onstage.
If the Oscars is about celebrating movies at their best, then celebrate when the songs are used the best.
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Or just celebrate them at all, because that's one thing you won't see this Sunday. That's right- the "Best Original Song" nominees don't even get to perform at the ceremony this year. But I'm sure it was an honor just to be nominated.