Monday, February 13, 2017

One Category at a Time: Best Original Song

With little in the way of industry precursors to go by (The Golden Globe and Critics Choice are the only two that come to mind), trying to anticipate who wins Best Original Song at the Oscars can be a crap shoot. However, whenever those two precursors agree on a contender that's also Oscar-nominated, it tends to win.
That means the statistical smart money is on the Globe-and-Critics-Choice-winning "City of Stars" from La La Land. The team of tunesmiths behind this trophy-hogging musical -- Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul -- have padded its impressive nomination tally by landing two of their contempo jazz melodies in the contest, the other being "Audition (The Fools Who Dream)", which many would argue is the better song. As unlikely as it seems, I could actually envision a nightmare scenario in which both options split the vote, allowing something else to sneak up the middle for the steal, but the publicists seem to have been on top of that from the start. "City of Stars" became something of a signature piece in the film's marketing, featured in the first teaser over half a year ago and released digitally not long after that. I don't think Oscar voters need too much instruction as to which of La La Land's wistful soliloquies they're supposed to get behind.

Let's play devil's advocate for a moment: Suppose they do cancel each other out. Which of the remaining three nominees seems most likely to benefit?

Surely not "The Empty Chair" from Jim: The James Foley Story. That's not to say the song -- co-penned by Sting and now perennial Oscar contender J. Ralph -- is no good. It's quite a lovely, elegiac tribute to the slain journalist. But the low profile of this HBO doc is an obvious hurdle that's just too high to clear.

How about the two animated musicals in the competition?
While Trolls rests most of its sugar-high musicality on mash-ups of used hits, Justin Timberlake added an original earworm to the pop music pile with "Can't Stop the Feeling", which burned up the charts this summer and gave the movie the daffy, unhinged finale it deserves. Snobs can roll their eyes, as too will many Academy members I'm sure, but I sorta love it. If nothing else, here's looking forward to a fun Oscar night performance.

Or there's Moana, whose dandy soundtrack is represented here by the princess power anthem du jour, "How Far I'll Go". If La La Land dissenters (are they really a thing?) are going to concert their upset efforts in this category, this seems like the next most popular option. And perhaps a precious few savvy voters might want to jump on board the Lin-Manuel Miranda train while it's still riding high on Hamilton momentum. It would make a EGOT winner of the multi-talented showman (which is something even rarer than his MacArthur 'Genius' Award).

Will win: "City of Stars" from La La Land
Could win: "How Far I'll Go" from Moana

Should win: "Audition" from La La Land
Should be nominated: Anything from Sing Street

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