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This story first appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Music fans who keep an ear on the Oscars have gotten used to years in which there clearly is one song to rule them all (“Let It Go,” “Skyfall”) — or years with no songs at all that anyone who doesn’t work for an animation division might care about (recall the dark days of 2011, when Muppets and Rio tunes were the only nominees). This year? It’s a legitimate race full of provocative choices with no clear frontrunner — and toons definitely are not dominating the tunes.
Either of Lana Del Rey’s late-entering pair of songs for Big Eyes could pull an upset, even if the Academy did prove resistant to her “Young & Beautiful” charms last season. The serious contender of the two is the title tune, which gets a prominent midmovie berth. As co-writer Larry Karaszewski tells THR, the song “Big Eyes” gives voice to Margaret Keane’s (Amy Adams) unspoken thoughts in such a way that the Danny Elfman-scored film “almost becomes a musical” in that moment.
If the Academy prefers to emphasize civil rights over women’s empowerment, voters might make a musical stop in Selma for some “Glory,” the end-credits theme by Common (who also plays activist James Bevel in the film) and John Legend. “It’s a song like when you heard Bob Dylan [in the ’60s] or John Lennon doing ‘Imagine,’ ” says Common. “We don’t have a drumbeat to it; it’s just a vocal, piano and orchestra arrangement. We wanted it to have an intimacy, but, because it’s for Dr. King, to be majestic.” Plus, this musical finale is able to leap forward and do what the film’s period script cannot: reference the recent events in Ferguson, Mo.
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An earlier frontrunner was “Lost Stars,” from Begin Again, which is sung by Keira Knightley and Adam Levine in the film. Songwriter Gregg Alexander (of the late New Radicals) says he was influenced by the way Prince‘s “Purple Rain” became a recurring plot point before climaxing the film of the same name. “I didn’t usually watch the Oscars when I was 13 or 14 because I was more interested in riding my bike,” says Alexander, “but I remember watching to see Prince accept the award in his purple robe. I wanted it to win best film, too, but you can’t have every childhood dream come true.”
And speaking of childhood, Academy members have had most of the year to ponder the “Everything Is Awesome” conundrum — is The Lego Movie‘s ditty too silly or too irresistible? The answer may leave room on the ballot for a less high-profile contender, like “The Last Goodbye,” Billy Boyd‘s Hobbit series closer.
The likeliest rock band to get a slot (sorry, Fall Out Boy and Imagine Dragons) is Coldplay, which provides an inspirational capper to Unbroken with “Miracles.” Patti Smith‘s Noah contribution, “Mercy Is,” seriously would up the Academy’s indie cred, while Lorde‘s “Yellow Flicker Beat” is a genuine radio hit, which won’t likely matter much to a branch that yawned at previous Hunger Games themes. Ethan Hawke‘s raw, acoustic “Split the Difference,” from Boyhood, is a trenchant look into the mind of a divorced dad.
Comedy-favoring votes may be split between the Eric Idle-co-written “Boxtrolls Song” and previous nominee Seth MacFarlane‘s “A Million Ways to Die” from A Million Ways to Die in the West. And as for kid-pic choices beyond Lego, Janelle Monae‘s Rio 2 song and a pair of Muppets Most Wanted tunes may seem outmatched this year but could surprise.
If sentiment counts — and it often does — the most formidable dark horse might be country-pop legend Glen Campbell‘s apparent swan song, “Not Gonna Miss You,” which he co-wrote and recorded for the documentary I’ll Be You before his Alzheimer’s became more advanced. Only once has a song from a doc won (Melissa Etheridge‘s contribution to An Inconvenient Truth in 2006), so if this became the second, there would be ample cause for both tears and cheers.
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