One section of the Academy Awards that you will inevitably subconsciously notice is the music branch. In terms of scores and songs, these are the tunes you inevitably hum when you leave the theater. Past song nominees range from the artsy The Way You Look Tonight, Moon River and Falling Slowly to the pop hits Take My Breath Away, Footloose and Eye of the Tiger, as well as everything in between, like Skyfall, My Heart Will Go On, and Beauty and the Beast. Meanwhile, some of the most beloved composers have been nominated here for scores still hummed to this day, including John Williams, Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, John Williams, Alexandre Desplat, and John Williams. Look, Williams has been nominated a lot, ok?
This year is no different, with several songs and scores eligible for nomination at this year’s ceremony. Let’s take a brief look, shall we?
Best Original Score
Last year was one of the best years for scores I’ve seen. Not only was Carter Burwell finally nominated for what may be his best score yet, but we also got to witness the Battle of the Masters in John Williams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, his best score in years) vs. eventual winner Ennio Morricone (The H8ful Eight, a fitting tribute to one of the best composers of all time). This year should also prove to be impressive, as we have new scores from many of our best. I’ll start with the two inevitabilities now. First, Justin Hurwitz will receive a nomination for his work on La La Land. Hurwitz is a real talent; only two pieces of music in all of Whiplash are actually real jazz standards-the rest he wrote himself. While the Academy ignored him last time, they will surely remedy this when he writes an entire musical himself. The other given is, of course, the fifty-time nominated John Williams. Pretty much any time Williams writes a score he is nominated, and while his work on The BFG is one of his lesser works, it is still miles away from the nearest competition, and he will be nominated come January.
After the two locks, I’d say it’s probably the Danna Brothers for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. Ang Lee has always been very particular about his scores, with four out of his last six films receiving nominations, three of them winning, and one of those three being done by Mychael Danna. Furthermore, war films are often sweeping and beautiful, which is exactly what the Academy will be looking for. I expect Billy Lynn to be no different and to be one of the top contenders for this prize.
One of the saddest ways to get an Oscar nomination is to pass away before the ceremony. And considering the late James Horner was a legend in the music community, I expect him to receive one last nod as a tribute to his career. Horner had enjoyed working with Antoine Fuqua, and shortly after his death it was discovered he had intended to surprise Fuqua with an entire new score for his adaptation of The Magnificent Seven, recorded based solely on the script. Fine tuned by Simon Franglen, I predict the Academy will want to take advantage of the last opportunity to nominated the man who gave us “My Heart Will Go On.” Combine that with the fact most Western scores get nominated (for many of the same reasons I listed above for war films), and this one seems to be, in many ways, a lock.
Finally, after his snub last year for the incredible score to Spotlight, I predict Howard Shore will receive a nomination for Silence. Martin Scorsese rarely tries to go overboard with his scores. Like Tarantino (his heir apparent), he always has preferred to use classical music or classic rock to complement his films. However, when Scorsese sets his sights on a traditional piece, the world takes notice. The scores for Taxi Driver, The Age of Innocence and Hugo are each unique and melodic masterpieces, and I expect nothing less for Scorsese’s passion project. Combined with a Japanese location, an epic scale and a religious backdrop, as well as Shore’s more-than-capable sensibilities, I predict that Silence will round out the nominees for Best Original Score.
Other potential contenders include Finding Dory, Arrival, American Pastoral, Voyage of Time, and Moana (but we’ll get to that one).
Best Original Song
Best Original Song is simultaneously the easiest and hardest category to predict. It’s incredibly challenging because you don’t necessarily know what films will have original songs until a week or two before the film. This makes it nearly impossible to try to figure out what could get nominated. However, once you are aware of these things, it becomes a simple matter of logic. Does a beloved musical have a new song attached to it? Contender. Is Disney coming out with a musical? Contender. And most importantly: Is there a major star who will perform it at the ceremony, thus bringing in votes? Ding Ding Ding, we have a winner. I mean, the songs are usually good, but look at last year’s contenders: Lady Gaga, Sam Smith, The Weeknd…do you really think they got in based on the song’s talent alone? This is proven by the fact that the Academy has all but apologized to Gaga for not winning last year. Her song may have been the most poignant, perhaps even the best of her career, but none of the Academy members saw the film before voting. She got nominated because she is Lady Gaga, and she lost because the only song the Academy bothered listening to was Sam Smith’s sad remake of Skyfall for the newest bond film. And don’t get me started on the nomination for U2’s Ordinary Love. So now that we are reaching a point we actually know which films have original songs, we can begin to narrow down the field.
Let’s just get this off the bat: Moana is going to win Best Original Song. It might not be the truly best song of the year, but it has something that no one else has: Lin-Manuel Miranda. Disney has hired the Hamilton writer/composer/star/wunderkind to compose the songs for their newest princess movie. Whether or not the songs become classics like Under the Sea and Can You Feel the Love Tonight, even if they aren’t as good as the underrated gems, like (I Won’t Say) I’m in Love or I’ll Make a Man Out of You, Moana will still win, because they will want to reward Miranda for how fantastic his year has been, and he will be named the newest member of not only the EGOT club, but the PEGOT club. Basically, they are going to name him the Greatest Musician of All Time. At present, I’m going to predict the song to be We Know the Way, because, well, that’s the only song we know the title to right now, and it was in the trailer. However, this very well may change. Frozen’s trailer only used For the First Time in Forever in advertisements, in order to cover up the powerhouse that was Let It Go (a brilliant decision, I think. I got chills hearing that for the first time on the big screen). Maybe Moana is playing the same game. Time will tell, but I’m sticking with “We Know the Way” until I’m proven wrong.
Next we have the other big musical coming out this year, La La Land. Hurwitz and Damien Chazelle have written an entire musical, and I find it highly unlikely that no song receives a nomination for their hard work. I was going to leave this name blank when I started writing this article, but as of yesterday, we actually have a contender: City of Stars, as sung by Ryan Gosling. Of course, it could be any major song from this film-the opening traffic musical number, Emma Stone’s big showstopper, or a duet between the two of them. But for now, I’ll play it safe and use “Stars.”
Finally, we have the only other true “lock.” It’s not often that the theme song to a film becomes the Song of the Summer. The last time it happened was 2013, with Pharrell’s Happy, and he was rewarded with an Oscar nomination. Based on the beat, the popularity, and the chance to give this star an Oscar nomination and a chance to perform, I think it’s a safe bet to expect a nomination for Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling! A fun, enjoyable song that just makes you want to dance, dance, dance and feel the rhythm, I’d say this song will be contending for the top prize, and probably even take home the Golden Globe for its troubles. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, how great would it be to say the phrase “Academy Award-nominee Justin Timberlake?” It just rolls off the tongue.
After these three, it’s solely guesswork. Hell, I’m not confident in any of them, and want to make a change right now. But I’ll be patient and wait a little while. My first prediction is for the incredible musical sequence in Hail Caesar!, No Dames. Written by Carter Burwell and performed by Channing Tatum, the number is truly a standout in the film, wowing audiences with its throwback to the 1950s musicals. Both lyrically and musically a sendup to South Pacific, I think the Academy will jump at the chance for a huge spectacle to play out across their stage led by the apparent triple-threat that is Tatum. I’m worried about this pick because a) the film was only mildly well received and b) it was released in February, but I think these are only slight quibbles. After all, Hollywood throwbacks are the Academy’s bread and butter, and considering The Grand Budapest Hotel was a February/March release, and it won four Oscars, including music, I think that this old school throwback should receive a nomination.
Finally, we have reached the end of my knowledge. This final slot could go to literally hundreds of songs. In fact, I’m so desperately grasping at straws that I’m going to predict a song that I have no proof actually exists. That’s right, I’m going to predict that the animated film Sing will have an original song, and that that song is going to be nominated for an Oscar. Follow me down the rabbit hole for a moment. Sing is an animated film about a singing competition. The entire film is predicated on the notion that we want to see famous stars as unknown talents trying to prove themselves, ranging from those we know can sing, like Seth MacFarlane and Reese Witherspoon, and those who are going to surprise us, like Taron Egerton and Scarlett Johansson. Based on my knowledge of basic plot arc, this film will do one of two things: one, the contest will be won when one of these participants unveils an original song, or two, the one actual singer in the cast (in this case, Tori Kelly) will have a song that plays over the credits. Either way, this film sneaks itself into the Oscar race. I have no proof that this theory holds water. I could end up with egg on my face. But for now, I’ll sit this one in a very tentative fifth slot.
There are lots of other contenders that could appear in this list throughout the year. Imagine Dragons wrote a song for Me Before You, Sing Street has about ten original songs, one of which is performed by Adam Levine, who got himself nominated the last time he worked with the Sing Street director, I’d love to see Sia and Shakira nominated for Try Everything from Zootopia, Montage from Swiss Army Man is the type of weird indie song that always sneaks in, and Twenty One Pilots could cap off a solid year with a nomination for Suicide Squad. The one film that I wish would receive a nomination, however, faces a steep uphill climb. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping features some of the most unique and brilliant music of the year, from the showstopper that is Incredible Thoughts, to the brilliant satire that is Equal Rights, to the pure comedy that is Finest Girl, or to the truly incredible opening song I’m So Humble. Each of these songs could and should be nominated for the Oscar, but because the film died at the box office (The public is stupid, I’m just going to say it), the film’s chances are slim to none.
So that wraps up the musical branch of the Academy. Tomorrow will be the last of the daily updates, covering all of the technical awards, as well as what we know about the shorts so far. After this, I will provide an update any time something major happens in the award race. You can check out the music categories here and here, and see the top five listed below:
Best Original Score
- La La Land
- The BFG
- Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
- The Magnificent Seven
Best Original Song
- We Know The Way-Moana
- City of Stars-La La Land
- Can’t Stop the Feeling!-Trolls
- No Dames-Hail Caesar!
- Untitled Sing Song