At the 2006 Academy Awards, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge made Oscar history by winning the first Best Original Song prize ever awarded to a documentary feature. Her tune “I Need to Wake Up” was featured in “An Inconvenient Truth,” a film about global warming that also picked up the Best Documentary Feature trophy that night.
“I Need to Wake Up” was the nominee to hail from a documentary since the introduction of the Best Original Song category at the 7th Oscars in 1934. In the decade since Etheridge’s victory, the Academy has warmed considerably to recognizing original tunes from documentaries. In the last four years alone, four such songs have contended: J. Ralph‘s “Before My Time” from “Chasing Ice” (2012); Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond‘s “I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” (2014); J. Ralph and Anohni‘s “Manta Ray” from “Racing Extinction” (2015); and Diane Warren and Lady Gaga‘s “‘Til It Happens to You” from “The Hunting Ground” (2015).
None of those prevailed. This year, songs from seven acclaimed non-fiction films are in contention and maybe, just maybe, one will have what it takes to become the second-ever winner from a documentary feature.
Grammy-winner Common, who two years ago prevailed in this category for the tune “Glory” from Ava DuVernay‘s “Selma,” is again eligible for Best Original Song consideration for his second collaboaration with the director. Her stirring film “13th,” which explores racial inequality, is widely expected to garner a Best Documentary Feature nomination and perhaps the win to boot, includes the Common track “A Letter to the Free.”
J. Ralph hopes to net his third career Best Original Song nomination this year for “The Empty Chair,” his composition for “Jim: The James Foley Story,” a documentary about the life of the late freelance war correspondent. The song was co-written by 16-time Grammy champ Sting, who to date has been nominated three times in the category — “My Funny Friend and Me” from “The Emperor’s New Groove” (2000); “Until” from “Kate & Leopold” (2001); and “You Will Be My Ain True Love” from “Cold Mountain” (2003) — albeit with no wins.
Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who in 2010 took home the Best Original Score prize for their work on “The Social Network,” are in the hunt for their second Oscars this year with “A Minute to Breathe,” featured in the Leonardo DiCaprio-headlined “Before the Flood,” a documentary on the dangers of climate change.
Singer/songwriter Sia could garner two Best Original Song nominations this year, one for “Try Everything” from “Zootopia” and the other for co-writing “Angel By the Wings” with Greg Kurstin for the British-Mongolian-American documentary “The Eagle Huntress.”
Grammy-nominated Sharon Jones, showcased front and center in “Miss Sharon Jones!,” could garner a posthumous nomination here for “I’m Still Here,” a tune performed alongside her long-time band The Dap-Kings. Jones recently lost her battle with pancreatic cancer, a struggle chronicled in the documentary.
Speaking of Grammy nominees, Tori Amos, who has eight Grammy bids under her belt, could net her first Oscar nomination this year for “Flicker,” an original composition for the documentary “Audrie & Daisy,” which focuses on teen sexual assault.
And not to be overlooked too is Pearl Jam‘s Mike McCready, who composed “Hoping and Healing” for the film “Gleason,” which covers five years in the life of former New Orleans Saints football player Steve Gleason, diagnosed in 2011 with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
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