In a year where the nominations for best picture range from the feel-good The Help to the philosophical Tree of Life, the nominations for best original song remain disappointingly shallow.
For the 84th Academy Awards, only two songs were nominated for the category: Rio’s “Real in Rios” and The Muppet’s “Man or Muppet.” It’s not that either song is particularly awful —“Man or Muppet” is pleasantly surprising with its witty lyricism and catchy rock underscore— but compared to previous years, 2012 falls far short of its predecessors.
To be fair, the best original song category is usually hit-or-miss. Last year, many audience members were disappointed to see Tangled’s mediocre “I See the Light” score a nomination. And the year before, two songs from The Princess and the Frog were in the running with Crazy Heart’s “The Weary Kind,” pitting soulful fun against the mournful intricate.
Keeping in mind the past few years, the category of best original song seems to be growing more dependent on tracks from children’s films and musicals.
It’s a bit of an overstatement to say that family movie soundtracks are only recently gaining attention from the Academy. (After all, Alan Menken dominated the Oscars in the early 90s with songs like “Beauty and the Beast,” “A Whole New World,” and “Colors of the Wind.”) But there did use to be a larger presence of songs from films with a rating higher than “G.”
Take 1997, when Titanic’s “My Heart Will Go On” completely overshadowed Hercules’ “Go the Distance” and Anastasia’s “Journey to the Past.” Or rewind to 1987, where “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing grabbed an award in a year where no children’s films were nominated.
Now, however, it seems as though the category depends on family movies.
Formerly, big-name artists like Celine Dion, Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie drew attention to the musical side of the Oscars, their memorable tracks stealing radio as well as screen time. In a field where a signature song has to match the lighting, editing, and overall tone of the film, big talent and hard work are often a requisite.
Instead, today’s top artists opt for soundtrack credit by letting a studio borrow an already successful song. Twilight’s bestselling album featured “Supermassive Black Hole” by Muse, which was released in 2006, a full two years before Twilight. In 2009, (500) Days of Summer highlighted Hall and Oates’ 1980 hit “You Make My Dreams”. It would appear that with a myriad of great songs already available, film studios and artists just aren’t as interested in collaborating.
In fact, only a few artists even come to mind when it comes to movie soundtracks. Carrie Underwood volunteered for “Ever Ever After” in 2007’s Enchanted, but the song didn’t garner a nomination. Leona Lewis’ work on Avatar’s “I See You” drew little recognition. In 2010, Miley Cyrus’ “When I Look at You” for The Last Song did well on the pop charts but got absolutely no support from the Academy.
Recent trends considered, it would seem that until studios and artists become more interested in making great soundtracks for great movies, the category of best original song will remain pretty uninspired.