Not gonna lie: This doesn't promise to be an especially enjoyable Oscar telecast from a musical standpoint. These five tunes don't exactly form a chipper playlist. Only this time the music branch can't be blamed, as they were clearly starved for choice. On the one hand, it's guaranteed to keep me in suspense until the envelope is opened. On the other, it's also guaranteed to reveal a winner that I'm not all that excited about.
The only one of the five to have garnered a precursor win thus far (at the Golden Globes) is Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes' "Writing's On The Wall" from Spectre. This particular Bond song is no "Skyfall", but apparently the music branch didn't mind... Or simply didn't care to dig deeper into the list of submissions. In the absence of any concrete frontrunner, will the general membership be as unimaginative with their vote?
Or perhaps that's not entirely fair to the music branch, who always manage to include at least one completely random movie (for better or worse). This year's out-of-left-field nominees are J. Ralph and Antony for the mournful tone poem "Manta Ray" from Racing Extinction. J. Ralph seems to have cornered the market on songwriting for documentaries -- he actually did two for this doc, and the second one is better! -- and was even nominated a few years back for Chasing Ice. But he'll have to write one for a doc people have actually seen if he ever wants to win.
That optimal level of exposure is what might make an Oscar winner out of Lady Gaga -- who brought the house down at last year's show with a Sound of Music medley -- for her collaboration with Diane Warren on "Til It Happens To You" from The Hunting Ground. The song has been campaigned prominently as a rallying anthem for the sobering issues examined in the campus rape documentary, and an air of importance can go a long way in a wide open race. Not that all the publicity has been good; Allegations over just how much Gaga contributed to the song may do some damage, but I doubt your average Academy voter pays close enough attention to be swayed.
The fourth dreary dirge to join these four comes from Paolo Sorrentino's Youth, which I sat through on the promise of there being a song at the end. I was disappointed. But of course David Lang's "Simple Song #3" is exactly the sort of narratively integral song the music branch prefers to recognize (even if there are better examples of that out there), and there's probably a better chance that voters popped in this screener than those of Fifty Shades of Grey or Racing Extinction. I'm not counting it out, but there's no precedent for an aria winning this category.
The final tune comes from the tepid adaptation of the notorious erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey. "Earned It" isn't really my thing, but at least it more effectively captures the tone of the film (also not especially my thing) than the Globe-nominated "Love Me Like You Do". In fact, it's probably the most memorable of the five. And as a nationalistic curio, the nomination for The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) represents one of the few Canadians represented at this year's Oscars. #OscarsSoAmerican ;)
Will win: "Til It Happens To You" from The Hunting Ground
Runner-up: "Writing's On The Wall" from Spectre
Should win: "Earned It" from Fifty Shades of Grey
Should be nominated: "I'll See You In My Dreams" from I'll See You in My Dreams