The Academy has announced the 41 eligible contenders for Best Original Song, a category that baffles us every year with both its arcane and confusing submission rules and voting procedures and the music branch’s propensity to snub highly regarded work from established musicians. The following is a roundup of the top contenders on the list.
Randy Newman‘s “We Belong Together” from “Toy Story 3” is a clear frontrunner. With 10 Best Song nominations and eight Best Score bids to date, Newman is almost sure to contend; winning is another matter. Branch members tend to favor songs that fall within the film rather than over the end credits. Newman has never prevailed for score and it took till his eighth song nod -- “If I Didn’t Have You” from “Monsters, Inc.”-- to win that race. He contended for tunes from both “Toy Story” (“You’ve Got a Friend in Me”) and “Toy Story 2” (“When She Loved Me").
Another heavyweight from the animation world is Alan Menken, who could have submitted a number of songs from Disney’s “Tangled,” but strategically put forth just one -- ”I See the Light.” Famous for his string of eight wins in the song and score categories in the early nineties, Menken was last nominated in 2007 for three songs from Disney’s “Enchanted." He has amassed 13 nominations for song and five more for score.
There are three contenders from “Burlesque,” with Cher's ballad by six-time nominee Diane Warren (“You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” or “Bound to You” (written by Samuel Dixon, Christina Aguilera and Sia Furler) most likely to make the cut.
If some new blood is to appear in the mix, then “Sticks and Stones” from “How To Train Your Dragon” by Jónsi Birgisson, the lead vocalist and guitarist from Icelandic pop/rock outfit Sigur Rós, might appeal to voters.
Another possiblilty is “Shine” by John Legend from the documentary feature “Waiting For ‘Superman’.” Legend, a 15-time Grammy nominee with six wins, has a solid shot in this race. Melissa Etheridge won in 2006 for “I Need to Wake Up” from Best Documentary champ “An Inconvenient Truth."
Two-time Oscar winner A.R. Rahman ("Slumdog Millionaire") reunites with that film's director Danny Boyle on "127 Hours." He penned the score as well as the music for tune “If I Rise” with lyrics by brother and sister Dido and Rollo.
The upcoming “Country Strong” has a couple of high profile candidates, including “Coming Home” performed by Gwyneth Paltrow (written by Bob DiPiero, Tom Douglas, Hillary Lindsey and Troy Verges) as well as the Paltrow-Tim McGraw duet “Me and Tennessee,” crafted by Paltrow's husband, Coldplay’s Chris Martin.
Although the Academy’s music branch ignored Pearl Jam‘s Eddie Vedder in 2007 for his “Into the Wild” score and original songs (which bagged him both Golden Globe and Grammy noms), they may warm to his tune “Better Days" from “Eat Pray Love."
Also in the mix are British rocker Bill Bragg‘s title song from “Made in Dagenham,” Janet Jackson‘s buzzed-about ballad (and ode to her brother) “Nothing” from Tyler Perry‘s “Why Did I Get Married Too?” (written by Jackson, Johntá Austin, Bryan-Michael Co, and Jermaine Dupri), “Eclipse: All Yours” by Metric from “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” and perhaps most likely (as a repeat of the surprise nod for “Belleville Rendezvous” a few years ago), “Chanson Illusionist” from Sylvain Chomet‘s “The Illusionist.”
This category is judged and voted on in an entirely different way to most of the other Oscar categories.