Oscars 2015: Why 'Selma's' Best Hope Is "Glory"

Common John Legend Golden Globes Stage - H 2015
Paul Drinkwater/NBC

Common John Legend Golden Globes Stage - H 2015

Common and John Legend's stirring anthem about racial injustice looks to be the frontrunner as the four other nominees (each their film’s only nom) aren't counting on much more than a home-video marketing push on Oscar night.

"Of course we're disappointed that the movie wasn’t nominated, but at least we got in through the side door with a song.” That’s Julian Raymond talking — he’s nominated for “I’m Not Gonna Miss You,” his contribution to the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me — but it could be almost any of the other writers up for the Oscar for original song, as each song nom is its film’s best or only chance for a win. The Lego Movie and Beyond the Lights may have had vastly different commercial results ($468 million globally versus $15 million), but they’re both singing the same bittersweet tune with their music nominations.

The sweet part derives from the fact that a performance on the telecast is a great advertisement. Beyond the Lights “was a quality movie that had 83 percent — top critics — on Rotten Tomatoes, but it wasn’t marketed correctly and was out for a weekend,” says Diane Warren (with slight hyperbole), who picked up her seventh nomination. “The good news: It’ll just have to come out on iTunes and Amazon” when Rita Ora sings “Grateful” on the Oscar broadcast. Warren just wishes Ora had made a video or sung it on any previous TV show. “I can’t remember a more competitive year for best song, ever, and I thought I didn’t have a chance because there was literally no promotion from the artist who sang it. But it’s the little song that could."

Gregg Alexander, up for Begin Again’s “Lost Stars,” sees the nomination as “a reminder to people that maybe saw the trailer but didn’t have the opportunity to see the film.” Adds co-writer Danielle Brisebois, “We’re happy to be the vehicle for this film to get more eyes on it because films about music are rare nowadays, and we need more Purple Rains and The Roses. It’s good to get nominated for a music film and not just an end-credits song.” Take that, contenders whose finest moment heralded the gaffer!

Shawn Patterson is the only nominated songwriter to admit his honored work is “annoying.” That would be The Lego Movie’s inescapable “Everything Is Awesome,” which apparently was not hurt by “countless people saying their kids will not stop singing it,” Patterson says. “I was a little shocked that the film didn’t get the animated feature nomination.” Still, Patterson feels awesome that the Academy apparently understood the song’s anti-conformity satire — and especially that its adjudicators gave him sole writing credit after the Critics’ Choice Awards credited the track to Tegan and Sara (who sang the end-credits pop remix) and The Lonely Island (which added a rap to that same reprise).

song," the Maroon 5 frontman and host of 'The Voice' tells THR, "but I get to do the next best thing, which is perform it!""]

The blissfully irritating hooks of the Lego anthem may have a hard time going up against socially conscious songs that are being made to represent not just for their respective movies but also for Alzheimer’s awareness and racial reckoning. Raymond naturally hoped that the Glen Campbell film would be recognized as a documentary, but “that category is insane,” he says. So, in some ways, has been the spotty, city-by-city rollout for I’ll Be Me, so the filmmakers are counting on Tim McGraw’s Oscar-night performance of its song — and whatever visual accompaniment is screened — to draw attention to both an impending home-video release and the ravaging disease itself. 

But the acknowledged frontrunner is “Glory,” from Selma. Even Patterson knows there might be upheaval if “Awesome” were to beat an anthem about racial injustice that links Martin Luther King Jr. to Ferguson — “especially,” he adds, “when you stop and consider that the Academy asked The Lonely Island to rap on my song that night.”

Common, who co-wrote and performed “Glory” with John Legend, doesn’t think a loss would provoke a literal melee. “We don’t want a riot, I’ll say that. Since the film is based on nonviolence, we’re gonna keep it nonviolent.” The artist is gently philosophical about Selma coming up short in nominations: “We obviously were disappointed that Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo didn’t receive nominations. But we did a film about getting voting rights, and it would be the opposite of what the movie was about and people stood for if I said, ‘The Academy should’ve did this’ when people gave their vote,” says the hip-hop champion. “Ava is a household name now, and she and all of the people involved hopefully will continue to be a part of Oscar talk and maybe Oscar wins.”

Spoken like a guy who’s in a good position to share the glory.