Oscar Watch: Song & Score

One thing is certain in the music categories -- someone is going home with his first Oscar

If it's true that past nominations play a role, the lone newcomer in this year's race for best original score -- who also happens to be the front-runner -- could be out of luck.

A.H. Rahman, who enters the Oscar sweepstakes for the first time with "Slumdog Millionaire," goes up against four music industry titans, with a staggering 22 noms between them: Thomas Newman (eight), Danny Elfman (four), Alexandre Desplat (two) and James Newton Howard (eight).

True, Rahman's score for "Slumdog" began drawing a buzz before the movie was even released; equally true, his two accompanying song nominations show a level of enthusiasm from Academy members that would seem to tip the odds in his favor. But this could be the year that the Academy rights previous wrongs and decides to reward the egregiously overlooked Newman or Newton Howard, in the game this year with "WALL-E" and "Defiance," respectively; or it could reward the also-overlooked Elfman, whose score for "Milk" finds him once again turning in a delicate, effective underscore for frequent collaborator Gus Van Sant.

Similarly, Desplat, with his third nom for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," continues to demonstrate that he deserves his place at the A-list composers' table, but, somewhat newer to the Oscar game, he may have to endure a few more winless years before the Academy acknowledges him.

In the song category, Rahman - a Bollywood superstar whose work on "Millionaire" has been a revelation, shaking up the stodgy film music world with an unabashed sense of joy rarely heard onscreen these days - faces stiff competition from one of the very men he is competing with for best original score: Newman, who teamed with Peter Gabriel for "WALL-E's" end title tune "Down To Earth." (There are only three nominees for best song, unlike the five chosen for most Oscar categories.)

But Rahman's toughest competition may come from himself: With two exuberant "Slumdog" tunes -- "O Saya" and "Jai Ho" -- rounding out the category, Academy members may be split between the two, leaving the door open for Newman and Gabriel.

Of the two Rahman songs, "O Saya" would appear to have the edge, given the presence of Sri Lankan pop sensation M.I.A. (Maya Arulpragasam), who shares a songwriting credit and contributes vocals.

Rahman has said that "Jai Ho" means "celebrate life" in Hindi. If he scores victories in both Oscar categories, in true "Slumdog" fashion, there will be plenty of "jai ho" in both Bollywood and Hollywood.