Sting and Justin Timberlake recognised at Oscar nominations – but is their category a dying breed?

Sting and Justin Timberlake recognised at Oscar nominations – but is their category a dying breed?

This morning saw the announcement for the 89th Academy Awards, a predictable affair with few surprises – Damian Chazelles ‘La La Land’ received a record-tying 14 nominations, with coming-of-age drama, ‘Moonlight’ and Mel Gibson’s ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ also scoring big.

Over on the musical side, Best Original Song saw a mixed bag. ‘City of Stars’ and ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’ were both nominated from La La Land, with animated picture ‘Moana’ scoring a nod for composer and lyricist Lin Manuel Miranda, of Saturday Night Live fame. Justin Timberlake was among the nominated team for ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ from ‘Trolls’.

John Carney’s Irish glam-drama ‘Sing Street’ got a total shutout, despite numerous potential candidates, but the real surprise exclusion for many was Aussie fringe-queen Sia, whose number, ‘Never Give Up’ from Best Picture nominee, ‘Lion’ failed to make the race. The unexpected inclusion here was ‘The Empty Chair’ from documentary ‘Jim: The James Foley’, awarding nominations for lyricists J. Ralph and Sting.

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While Timberlake and Miranda may be celebrating their newfound status as Oscar nominees, the slightly anomalous film choices will no doubt add to the growing ennui towards the much maligned ‘Best Original Song’ category.

Since its inception in 1934, the award has, along with its sister award best Original Score, intended to celebrate the glorious marriage between music and cinema. Numerous winners have gone on to become classics – ‘Take My Breath Away’ from ‘Top Gun’, ‘I’ve Had the Time of my Life from Dirty Dancing, Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids. The traditional live performances of the nominees liven up the ceremony and breaks up the relentless award presentations.

But in recent years, the category has been maligned: fraught with odd choices, meagre shortlists and a general lack of interest. Eminem’s win for ‘Lose Yourself’, from 8 Mile, was met with a mixed reception – by the time Three Six Mafia controversially picked up the award in 2005 for ‘Its Hard Out Here for a Pimp’ from ‘Hustle and Flow’, many openly accused Academy voters of picking edgy ‘urban’ choices in a hollow attempt to stay relevant. The inclusion of songs from critical flops, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and ‘Country Strong’ has raised ire among film fans who feel their films-of-origin have no business at the Oscars. Some feel it untoward that Dido and Lady Gaga are nominees whilst performers like Sam Rockwell and Jim Carrey aren’t, and downright unfathomable that Sam Smith has an Oscar and Gary Oldman does not.

It sometimes seems the award is cursed from every angle – in an effort to save time in 2010, the live performances were cut from the ceremony, citing a wave of criticism when country rocker Ryan Bingham was denied the chance to perform his celebrated ‘Crazy Heart’ ballad, ‘The Weary Kind’ – arguably the most popular winner in years. Despite this, 2011 saw a pitiful 2 nominations, neither of which got performed.

It’s clear the organisers on some level see the Song category as a burden which could be dispensed with, and audiences may not be far behind them if the trend continues. It’s often the first one to come up in online, ‘Which category to cut’ discussions.

Look at this year’s picks: we have two from the original musical which steamrollered the nominations, nice to see but hardly strenuously earned. One from a middling kids film which was seemingly good enough for here but not for Best Animated Feature. And Stings song, from a well-intentioned but unheard of documentary that didn’t even get a cinematic release. With no disrespect to the musicians, this nominee list will not be useful as evidence that the Best Original Song category is an exciting and fresh race. Will anybody watch the performances, if they even have them this year, and declare an urgent need to add the tracks to their Ipods? (Side note: Do people even use Ipods anymore? I still play CD’s in my car, am very out of touch)
Perhaps the problem lies with lazy voters who plump for the first choice in front of them, opining that songs are not what’s important. Or maybe with musicians, who are reluctant to risk their better material on a picture that might not make bank (anything already released in any format is ruled ineligible) With the ceremony crossing the three hour mark, and producers desperate to find places to cut, its vital to rejuvenate this category before the choice is taken away from us.

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