The poor little Oscar song category just can't seem to get a break. The Academy this week struck the title song from little-known faith-based film "Alone Yet Not Alone" from contention, placing the spotlight once again on a field that's struggled to get in tune with critical and popular consensus.
The category was little more than a joke just two years ago, when Oscar voters could only be troubled to find two songs worthy of contention. But the field made great leaps forward last year and had appeared to this year as well, as Oscar voters once again recognized a full five songs and showed a willingness to step beyond the comfort zone of musically inclined movies.
"Alone Yet Not Alone" was the clear underdog in a category that featured "Let It Go" from "Frozen," "Happy" from "Despicable Me 2," "Ordinary Love" from "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" and "The Moon Song" from "Her." It was also the center of an award-season controversy.
The nomination of "Alone Yet Not Alone" raised questions from the start. The song by Bruce Broughton and Dennis Spiegel is from a little-seen film about 18th century colonists, but it's outsider status wasn't why it attracted attention
Broughton is a well-known industry name who has multiple Emmy awards and a prior Oscar nomination for his score to "Silverado," but he has also served as a governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and is a former chair of the music branch. He currently serves on the executive committee of the academy's 239-member-strong music branch, whose members vote on the song nominations.
It looked as if Oscar voters had simply nominated one of their own, and it was, in the words of Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, " the appearance of an unfair advantage." Ultimately, as detailed by sister blog Movies Now, the Academy said Broughton improperly emailed members of the branch during the voting period, urging them to listen to "Alone Yet Not Alone."
"No matter how well-intentioned the communication, using one’s position as a former governor and current executive committee member to personally promote one’s own Oscar submission creates the appearance of an unfair advantage,” read the full statement from Boone.
And poof, the song is now erased from Oscar contention, and the Academy will not be replacing it with another tune.
As the debate now shifts to whether the Academy made the right decision (Broughton himself has some thoughts), the Oscar song field is now left with a gaping hole where a better song should have been from the start ("Alone Yet Not Alone" is stately, reverential -- the hymn as movie prop).
Though it would be hard to argue against any song other than "Frozen's" "Let It Go" winning this year's original song Oscar, Pop & Hiss would like to direct your attention to a few should-have-been contenders, as compiled earlier for a piece for The Envelope.
"So You Know What It's Like" from "Short Term 12": Containing a few too many curse words for us to link to in this blog, "So You Know What It's Like" shows the power of communicating through song. When Keith Stanfield's Marcus lets the viewer in on his furious yet heart-wrenching lyric book in "Short Term 12," audiences receive a bracing look into a character's soul and way of life. What he can say in a rap is what he can't say in a conversation. He picks up speed and confidence as the rap builds and paints a vision of what it's like to live "a life not knowing what a normal life's like."
"My Lord Sunshine (Sunrise)" from "12 Years a Slave": A work song, a spiritual, a blues lament, a communal statement — "My Lord Sunshine (Sunrise)" is all of the above and more. Nicholas Britell's studious composition of rhythm and vocals opens "12 Years a Slave," scoring a moment when a group of slaves is chopping sugar cane. There's function in the song, as the beat and the vocal call-and-response are timed to doing a job, but there's far more desperation and salvation in these 70-plus seconds. What Britell accomplished is no easy feat, as it's a spiritual that feels and sounds of the era and deftly weaves in religious imagery with the daily horror of the slaves' lives.
"100$ Bill" from "The Great Gatbsy": While there's lots of music in "The Great Gatbsy," none of it captures the film's clash of styles and tones as well as Jay Z's "100$ Bill." Modern, glitchy and full of name-checking references to the past, the song feels trapped on a merry-go-round of depravation with Jay Z and his stuttered phrasing unable to find solid ground. A choir is heard in the background, jazzy music from the '20s fades in and out, and the repetitive digital jerks conjure a festive yet demented feel.
"Oblivion" from "Oblivion": The stand-out piece on M83's score to the Tom Cruise sci-fi flick was the film's closing song, an outgrowth of the score that does away with many of its more traditionally cinematic trappings. Its bright synths and schizophrenic rhythms -- alternating throughout between spacious and spastic -- gives the song the feel of being caught in an intergalactic windstorm. Melodic gusts come fast but then pull up suddenly, and Norwegian vocalist Susanne Sundfør doesn't try to command or tame it but lets her verses swell and stretch as needed.