Oscar song category has a certain deja vu


When musical stalwart Alan Menken saw his score for Disney's "Enchanted" on the Academy's December nomination ballot, he was more than just a little relieved.

"I was so excited when they sent out the nomination sheets and I saw that 'Enchanted' was on there (for score). I thought, 'How wonderful -- we are not disqualified,'" Menken recounts. "It's the score that I was extremely proud of."

The eight-time Oscar winner hasn't had a score recognized by the Academy since 1997, when he and Stephen Schwartz garnered a nom for Disney's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." The film ultimately lost out to "Emma" for best music in an original musical or comedy score, a category that no longer exists. So imagine the disappointment that came with the pre-Jan. 22 news that the Academy's music branch had disqualified the "Enchanted" score for its "predominant use of songs."

Perhaps the only thing that could make up for this news is what happened the day the noms were unveiled: Three of the five songs in the best original song category came from "Enchanted." Menken and Schwartz, who reteamed on "Enchanted," scored a triple play for their tunes "Happy Working Song," "So Close" and "That's How You Know."

"It's been a very big year for songs, so for us to walk away with three nominations is incredibly gratifying on the one hand and on the other hand a little guilty," Menken says.

"It was such a competitive year, and there were so many good songs, I was just hoping that we'd have the chance for one nomination. To have gotten three was an amazing surprise," says Schwartz, adding that he expected to see Eddie Vedder and Marc Shaiman on the final ballot.

If all this feels like deja vu, that's probably because last year "Dreamgirls" landed three of the five original song noms. However, when "I Need to Wake Up" from "An Inconvenient Truth" won over "Dreamgirls," not only was it an upset but it also made history for being the first song win (or nom) for a documentary.

This year could see a similar dark-horse win.

The backstory of Fox Searchlight's "Once" reads like a textbook example of a little film beating the odds, from its unconventional take on the movie musical to its recent Oscar nomination.

When the songwriting partners Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova heard they were nominated, it was 2:30 p.m. in the Czech Republic, where the couple was visiting Irglova's parents. Hansard describes the experience as "surreal."

"I felt like I was in the film 'For Your Consideration' (2006)," Hansard jokes. "The idea of an Oscar is proper, bona fide success -- that's the world recognizing you. It's like saying, 'I played Carnegie Hall.'"

If a busker on the streets of Ireland isn't enough to prove one doesn't need a pop pedigree to land an Academy nod, then the nominee "Raise It Up" from Warner Bros.' "August Rush" should confirm Oscar's worldwide reach.

Performed by the Impact Repertory Theatre, one of the oldest black, not-for-profit theater companies based in Harlem, "Raise It Up" was written and produced by Columbia University film school professor and Impact co-founder Jamal Joseph, Tevin Thomas and R&B musician Charles Mack, who also sings with the choir.

While Menken's "Enchanted" juggernaut will certainly be hard to beat come Oscar night, Mack says the nom itself is a dream come true.

"We didn't expect this, just like we didn't expect to even be submitted," he says. "Our young Impact members are thrilled to be performing at the Oscars; it is something that no one dreamed would ever happen."