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The Oscars are almost upon us, with all their unpredictability. You don’t need an oracle to tell you what will happen. You don’t even need a film critic. You need someone who sees into the very souls of the Academy voters. You need a Straight White Man.
I didn’t commit to watching any movies this year that were only nominated for best song. I had a very good reason for not doing this: I don’t want to watch Fifty Shades of Grey at all. So far, I’ve watched exactly none of the five movies that had songs nominated, though I’m sure I’ll get around to Spectre and The Hunting Ground eventually. Instead, I watched the music videos. Close enough, right?
“Earned It” from Fifty Shades of Grey – I think it’s pretty funny that the video for this song gets the S&M power dynamic the wrong way around at first, putting the whips in the girls’ hands. Probably a sensible artistic choice, yeah, but funny. As someone who’s not really into R&B, this is a very good R&B song. You don’t have to take my word on that, either; it was named Best R&B Performance at the Grammys and wouldn’t be a bad bet to win this prize too.
“Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction – It took a second listen for me to really warm up to this simple, dreamy 3/4 tune, but the more I hear it, the more I find to like. Fortunately for those of you who find the Oscars unbearably long, but unfortunately for those of you who want to see some of the year’s best movie music performed onstage, it and the next nominee have been axed from the program due to time constraints.
“Simple Song #3” from Youth – Beautiful orchestral music and vocals in this one, which I understand serves an in-universe purpose in Youth as the composer protagonist’s favorite piece. I always enjoy outside-the-box entries in this group, whether something like this or Hustle & Flow‘s “Hard Out Here for a Pimp” or last year’s ridiculous “Everything Is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie.
“Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground – Here’s a song about a very important issue, from a documentary about a very important issue, made by two extraordinarily talented artists in Lady Gaga and Diane Warren, and I have the same problem with it I had with Glory from Selma last year: It feels result-oriented, as though it’s the endpoint of a process that started with the thought “let’s make a song that will win an award.” This is silly, to a point: No one’s out here making art in a vaccuum, and everyone wants to be recognized for their work. But I don’t know. This one seems so intent on following some Important and Stirring Song formula that most of the life has been stripped out of it.
“Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre – Another for the Bond Song subgenre. I’m a fan, personally, but the Academy doesn’t seem to love these. There’ve been, what, five nominated now, and the only one that’s won was “Skyfall”?
Will Win – “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground. Between the names involved, the subject matter, and the obviously meticulous production, it’s hard to see the Academy opting for anything else.
Should Win – “Simple Song #3” from Youth.
Upset Special – “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre.
Bridge of Spies – If you’ve got a vague idea in your head about what a typical Oscar nominee’s soundtrack sounds like, this is probably pretty close to that. It’s really a great collection of compositions that help convey the isolation—its characters feel, and the quiet joy and relief they experience at returning home.
Carol – Carol doesn’t lean heavily on its score for most of its runtime, and gets a lot of mileage out of contemporary pop hits. What’s there though is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s never better than in the final scene, where it’s a vital part of maybe the best moment I saw on any screen all year long.
The Hateful Eight – For me, The Hateful Eight was a movie that just had too much of everything, and that includes the music. The score is so overbearing at times that it just took me out of the experience. There’s probably no denying that this was 2015’s most memorable score, but to me, it’s just one more thing that makes The Hateful Eight feel more like trolling than honest filmmaking.
Sicario – This is looking like an extreme long shot to win the award, but I really loved the dark, oppressive sound of Sicario‘s music. This is a deeply unsettling movie with the score to match. Sicario might be the movie in this group where you least notice the score’s there, but it does a lot of work ratcheting up the tension in an already very taut thriller.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Do you know that this is John Williams’ 50th Oscar nomination? There’s a guy who had more, and his name was literally Walt Disney. It’s tempting to dismiss this as “oh, another Star Wars sound track, daaaa-daaaa-da-da-da-daaaaaaaaaa-daa” but there is a lot of new music in this movie and it still feels perfectly of a piece with the old themes we know and love.
Will Win: The Hateful Eight.
Should Win: I want to give a shoutout here to Foreign Language nominee Theeb, which would absolutely not have been out of place with at least a nomination here. That said, Carol gets my vote here.
Upset Special: Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Counting out John Williams is like counting out Touchdown Tom. Never do it.