The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got on the musical bandwagon in Oscar's seventh year, giving its first Original Song award to 'The Continental' from the 1934 Astaire/Rogers musical 'Gay Divorcee.' That year's Oscar for Best Original Score went to the romantic musical 'One Night of Love.' In this post, we'll look at this year's ballots for Original Song and Original Score. Music has been essential to motion pictures since the beginning of the Silent Era when orchestral pieces, written to accompany the stories being told in images, were performed live in theaters around the country. With the advent of "Talkies," the music moved inside the screen and to the side, used either as overt elements of the story -- i.e, the musical! -- or as the accompanying score on the soundtrack.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences got on the musical bandwagon in Oscar's seventh year, giving its first Original Song award to 'The Continental' from the 1934 Astaire/Rogers musical 'Gay Divorcee.' That year's Oscar for Best Original Score went to the romantic musical 'One Night of Love.' In this post, we'll look at this year's ballots for Original Song and Original Score.
A few years after 'One Night of Love' won the first Original Score Oscar (which actually went to Columbia Pictures music department), the award was split into Original Score Drama and Original Score Musical, with those first Oscars going to the scores for 'All That Money Can Buy' and 'Dumbo.'
Since then, the Academy has shifted back and forth from two awards to one -- depending on the popularity of musicals -- settling on just one award for the last 10 years. The nominations are made by the Academy's Music Branch, which also nominates Original Songs. But for the final balloting, all eligible Academy members vote..
Those members have some distinct choices here: James Horner's sweeping adventure score for 'Avatar,' the whimsical folksiness of Alexandre Desplat's score for 'Fantastic Mr. Fox,' the atonal, appropriately unnerving score for 'The Hurt Locker' by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, Hans Zimmer's dashing score for 'Sherlock Holmes' and Michael Giachhino's soaring, literally uplifting score for the animated feature 'Up.'
If James Cameron's 'Avatar' were to gain a sweep of sorts, it would take this award, too. Horner previously won for Cameron's 'Titanic,' and it's in the same vein. But I don't sense an 'Avatar' sweep; in fact, I don't sense a sweep for anyone. Given that, the winner here almost has to be Giacchino's score for 'Up.' It is the most moving, most memorable and most supportive of its movie's themes.
During the first decade of this award, voters were listening to music by the greatest writers of the American Songbook: Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Johnny Mercer, Oscar Hammerstein, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern. In those days, songs were written to be integral to the stories of the movies, whether they were musicals or dramas. More recently, they've often been written as end-credit songs to be sung by popular stars and used, as early released singles, to promote the movies.
Beginning in 1989, when 'Under the Sea' won from Disney's animated 'The Little Mermaid,' the award was dominated by the Alan Menken co-written songs for Disney's string of musical animated hits. And most recently, it has gone to a lot of songs you rarely heard outside theaters playing their movies.
For a long time, I argued that the way to pick the winner of this category was to close your eyes and remember how much of the nominees' lyrics you could remember and which melodies you could hum. But that conviction has been undermined by the recent victories of 'Jai Ho' from 'Slumdog Millionaire,' 'I Need to Wake Up' from 'An Inconvenient Truth' and 'Al Lado Del Rio' from 'The Motorcycle Diaries.'
The current ballot does have some memorable music and lyrics, including the two Randy Newman numbers from 'The Princess and the Frog.' These nominations bring Newman's total for song and score to 19. He has won just once -- for 'If I Didn't Have You' from 'Monsters, Inc.' -- and he is again at the top of his game. 'Almost There' and 'Down in New Orleans' both have Newman's jaunty rhythms and are beautifully sung by Anika Noni Rose, who provides the voice for Princess Tiana.
Rob Marshall's adaptation of the stage musical 'Nine' has been one of '09's biggest disappointments, but it landed a nomination for 'Take it All,' which was written for the film and features the voice of Oscar-winning actress Marion Cotillard ('La Vie en Rose'). The lady sings the hell out of the song, but it's not much fun to listen to.
The members of the Music Branch must have been more amused by the French musical chintz of 'Paris 36' than critics and American audiences. Its nominated song, 'Loin de Paname,' is a melodious, accordion-aided saloon song sung -- elegantly -- by Nora Arnazeder. But the ballot is far as it goes.
Though I'd be happy to see one of Newman's songs win -- preferably 'Almost There' -- the award seems destined for Ryan Bingham and T-Bone Burnett's 'The Weary Kind' from 'Crazy Heart.' The song is so integral to the story of Bad Blake -- a once-prominent country singer/songwriter whose booze-fueled concert tour now stops at some of the most rundown bowling alleys in the Southwest -- and to the Oscar-bound performance of Jeff Bridges that it has to be the winner.