Monday, January 30, 2012

THE COLLAPSE OF THE ORIGINAL SONG OSCAR: A STUDY OF LAZINESS

In recent years, there's been notable snubs and curious nominations in the Academy Awards category for Best Original Song. Usually, any odd or in some cases, unworthy nominations were eventually muddled out and they'd select a suitable winner, (or in some cases, the most suitable winner among the nominees) however this year I'm not taking it anymore, 'cause this is the biggest abomination to the Award to date. Not only were songs by Elton John, Chris Cornell, Mary J. Blige, and Madonna (The Madonna song "Masterpiece," from her movie "W.E.," which won the Golden Globe, wasn't even on the Academy's shortlist) left off, but more intriguing, was how many songs did get nominated, a record low of only TWO! In case you're wondering, underneath is the link to the Academy press release with the shortlist of 39 songs that they choose the two from:

http://www.oscars.org/press/pressreleases/2011/20111219.html

Looking through the list, I'm just as surprised at how few of the films I've even heard of, (What the hell is "DAM999"?, which was apparently a film with three songs on the Academy shortlist?) but either way I find it hard to believe that they could only come up with two songs worthy of nominations. I find it hard to believe that 2 is the minimum! Many categories, even technical categories, require a minimum of three. You know, at one time, the Academy had a total of 14 Songs, yes you read that right, 14 songs, in one year, that were nominated! It was 1945, and the song "It Might as Well Be Spring," from the movie "State Fair," written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, beat out 13 other songs to win the Oscar. Now, the next year, they changed the rules, correctly so to a maximum of five songs, but this shows just how far this category has gone, or shall I say fallen. It's actually kinda interesting to look up the past winners and history of the Award. It's actually amazing how many famous songs were originally songs from movies. You'll probably recognize the song more than the movies they're from. "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Lullaby of Broadway," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Zip-A-Dee-Do-Da", "Thanks for the Memory," "Boogie Woogle Bugle Boy of Company B", "That Old Black Magic,"... and half of those songs, weren't even winners. (The list even gets more interesting when you look up the now defunct Original Song Score category, which includes winners like Prince and The Beatles.CORRECTION: The category was renamed "Best Musical" however the award has never been given out due to a lack of eligible films for the category.) Whether it's a song-and-dance Broadway caliber musical, or a song played during a montage or even if it's just over the end credits, music and movies are far more linked than people realize. Even silent movies, had scores that came with the films from town to town, to be played by either an orchestra or if it was a small town/theatre by a pianist, accompanied with the film. However, the original song category was at one point, one of the most special of Oscars. I used to love the category as a kid, because all of the kids movies seemed to either win or at least get nominated, and usually deservedly so, but what I really remember about the category isn't the songs that were nominated actually, but the performances of the songs at the Oscars. Sometimes, they'd push them all together, but usually, we got to hear at least part of the song, and many times, they went all out and gave us memorable performances to accompany the songs that were nominated. These were great performances usually, and in many cases, they were songs I had heard of, either from the movies, or many times, they were on the radio, and they were performed by the artists themselves. The 2001 Oscars are a good recent example. In fact, all five of these nominees are quite good songs, and in fact spread across the music spectrum rather nicely. The winner was Randy Newman, for "If I Didn't Have You," from "Monsters Inc." but he beat out Enya, for her song "May It Be," from "Lord of the Rings," "There You'll Be," from "Pearl Harbor," written by Diane Warren and was performed by Faith Hill, Sting, who had a beautiful song called "Until..." which was from "Kate & Leopold," and Sir Paul McCartney, who wrote the title track to "Vanilla Sky". I actually remember all those songs rather well, and I even remember the performances of the songs at the Oscars, particularly Randy Newman and John Goodman's performance. That's really what I always thought the Best Original Song Oscar was about, it was honoring those who are from a totally different art form, most of them successful outside of the movie industry, and taking a little time out from the normal boredom of the Oscars, to see a little show, listen to good music, and honor and thank them wonderful musicians for, even ever-so-briefly, helping in this more unusual art form of film. Yeah, occasionally there were musical songs that weren't exactly on the radio, but even then they were good songs, worthy of honoring, and often-the-case, they were still more famous for their work in other fields, like theatre. Carly Simon, Phil Collins, Steven Sondheim, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Eminem, Three 6 Mafia, Melissa Etheridge, and those are just some of the ones that have won in my lifetime. It's an impressive list. So what-the-hell happened that, that suddenly none of these people, and many others are unable to get nominations?

Well, let's first start with the obvious questions, how are the nominees chosen, who does nominate them, and also, how? The first is the who, who nominates. While they're are about 6,000 members of the A.M.P.A.S., they're each separated into different groups according to their skillset, There's an actors branch, there's a director's branch, a writer's branch, and so on, and there's a music branch, which is songwriters and composers, and they vote on both the Best Original Song, and Best Original Score Oscars. I can't be positive how many members of the branch their are exactly, but last year it was reported that there were 236, and they added three new members this year, so let's say there's 239, give-or-take. (If anybody happens to know the actual number, let me know.) Now, what exactly is an Original Song? When the Award first originated, the requirement it only had to be a song that was in a movie, but now it's a little more specific. Now, the song actually has to be written specifically for the motion picture. Now this is a little subjective. For instance, songs that might appear on the personal albums of some artists can be eligible, as long as it was originally written and is used in the movie. For instance, "Mrs. Robinson," from "The Graduate," actually wasn't written specifically for the film. It was written for Simon & Garfunkel's album, "Bookends". However, Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's song "Falling Slowly," from the movie "Once," was deemed eligible, even though the song appeared on two other albums afterwards, it was originally written specifically for the film. Also, Original song, means both words, and music, have to be written for the movie. This is one of the reasons so few rap songs have ever been nominated, only two, Eminem's "Lose Yourself," from "8 Mile," and Three 6 Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" from "Hustle & Flow", (both of which won the Oscar actually) despite the fact that some of the biggest rap songs of all-time came from movies, like Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" from the movie "Dangerous Minds," or Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," from "Do the Right Thing", both of which weren't eligible. So, they are in fact, very specific about what qualifies as an Original Song. Then, the members of the music branch vote. However the voting rules, and the manner in which they votes are one of the strangest of any Award. Now, most technical Awards, make-up, visual effects for instance, involve a ten-minute screening of the films deemed eligible in the category, and then usually vote on a predetermined number of nominees, of the shortlist, usually three or five, depending on the category, sometimes they're asked to be ranked, but no matter how it's counted, the ones with the most votes, gets the nominations. The Original Song category is different. Instead of a preference vote, the Academy members screen each song as apart of the film it's nominated for (Many think that alone gives preference to songs used as key parts of a movie, as oppose to songs that are the opening cues to the end credits) but they then rank each song, based on a scoring system. The scoring system involves giving songs a score between 10, the highest, 9.5, 9, 8.5, 8, 7.5, 7, 6.5, and 6, the lowest number. The scores are then averaged out. The key average, is 8.25. If a song can get an average score of 8.25, up to five nominations, the maximum amount allowed, it gets a nomination. If there's only one song, that gets that magic number of 8.25, then that, and the next highest get the nomination. If no song gets that number, than there won't be any nominations in the category. That's an interesting point that's never brought up, there's a possibility that the Award won't be given out at all! There's a two-nomination, minimum, with a possibility of five, or a possibility of not giving out the Award at all, but instead of a system, where the most votes get the nomination, it's based on a system of averages? Now this explains why there's only two nominations this year. It's a stupid system that should be change completely.

However, on the same token, it's been this way for years, and only recently has the Award run into these kinds of problems? Yeah, the system is screwed up, but it doesn't explain how the branch has been voting so strangely in recent years. How come in recent years, there's almost always been five nominees, usually of the highest quality and now suddenly, were down to two, with the same scoring system? I don't have an answer for this. Unless, the Academy actually releases the ballots of all the Music Branch's members over the last recent years, I can only speculate. From all the evidence I can gather, and look through, the only speculation that I've come up with is that somehow, the Branch has just become lazy. If anybody else can find a better explanation, I'll be glad to hear it, but the only thing I can come up with is that, in recent years, the Music Branch on both the Executive and the Member level, when coming up with the nominees for the Award, have become lazy. This is evident in what actually has been, the only recent rule change in the category. In 2008, the Academy deemed that only two songs from a movie can be nominated in the category in the same year. This rule didn't exist before, and previously was never a particular problem until recently. The only other two times that a movie got more than three nomination was in '91 when "Beauty and the Beast," got three nominations, for the songs "Belle," "Be Our Guest," and the title track, which earned Oscars for Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and in '94, when "The Lion King," earned nominations for "The Circle of Life," "Hakuna Matata," and "Can You Feel the Love Tonight," which won Oscars for Elton John and Tim Rice. Nobody ever argues the legitimacy of those nominations. Not only are they from two of the most beloved of films in the Disney canon, but almost everybody agrees they were deserving nominees. It can happen sometimes, especially with musicals, they can have more than just one really good song. However, when one movie earned three Best Original Songs nominations in both 2007, with "Enchanted," and especially in 2006, when "Dreamgirls," matched the feat, it seemed clear that something else was going on. The "Dreamgirls," nominations, for the songs "Listen," "Love You I Do," and "Patience," each had music written by Henry Kreiger (Each song had different lyricists) were unusual first of all, because most of the memorable songs from in the film were from the original Broadway Musical, which debuted a couple decades earlier. It's not unusually that one or two songs be written for a movie adaptation of a known musical, the most famous example is probably "Hopelessly Devoted to You," which earned an Oscar nomination after being written for the film adaptation of "Grease", but three songs is particularly unusual, especially went they weren't particularly good. They all subsequently lost to Melissa Etheridge's song "I Need to Wake Up," for the film "An Inconvenient Truth". The next year, it happened again, this time with the film "Enchanted," getting three nominations for Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz for the songs "Happy Working Song," "So Close," and "That's How You Know". Somewhat better and more memorable songs granted, but again, all three lost however, this time to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova for "Falling Slowly," from the film "Once". This was when the Academy changed the rule, with the intentions, I believe to encourage the Branch to spread the nominations around to more films, and preferably for more interesting nominees and performers for the show. However, it didn't happen. The next year, there was only three nomination, and two of them, "O Saya," and the eventual winner "Jai Ho," were from the same movie, "Slumdog Millionaire". Both songs' music was written by A.R. Rahman, and he beat Peter Gabriel for his song "Down to Earth," from "Wall-E". The next year, again, two songs were nominated from the same movie, Randy Newman's "Almost There," and "Down in New Orleans," from the film "The Princess and the Frog", a third nomination, a third nomination "Take It All," from the film "Nine", was also a song from a movie that was an adaptation of a musical, where the best songs were originally on written for the Broadway show. To the entire Academy's credit, when they get to vote after the nominations are out (Not just the Branch, the entire Academy votes on the category once the nominees are out), they've usually Awarded, if not the best song of the nominees, they've at least given to a more-than-worthy winner, with the song "The Weary Kind", the Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett scribed song from the film "Crazy Heart," winning over those suspicious nominations, but yet, the lack of other nominees that seemed to be more Oscar-worthy, at least credential-wise at minimum. Just looking up some of the other Award show nominations and winners in the recent past, here's a list short list of songs that weren't nominated for an Oscar.

"You Have Seen the Last of Me"- Diane Warren,  "Burlesque"
"Bound to You"- Christina Aguilera, Sia Furler and Samuel Dixon- "Burlesque"
"Shine"-John Legend, "Waiting for Superman"
"All is Love"- Karen O and Nick Zinner, "Where the Wild Things Are"
"(I Want to) Come Home"-Paul McCartney, "Everybody's Fine"
"There's a Place For Us"- Carrie Underwood, Hillary Lindsay, et. al - "The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader"
"Cinema Italiano"-Maury Yeston- "Nine"
"Another Way to Die"-Alicia Keys and Jack White, "Quantom of Solace"
"I Thought I Lost You"-Miley Cyrus and Jeffrey Steele- "Bolt"
"Once in a Lifetime"- Beyonce Knowles, et al.- "Cadillac Records"
"Guaranteed"-Eddie Vedder- "Into the Wild"
"Gran Torino"- Clint Eastwood, Jamie Cullem, et al.- "Gran Torino"
"Grace is Gone"- Clint Eastwood, Carol Baker Sager- "Grace is Gone"
"Despidida"- Shakira, Antonio Pinto- "Love in the Time of Cholera"
"Walk Hard"- Judd Apatow, John C. Reilly- "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story"
"Ordinary Miracle"-Sarah Maclaughlin- "Charlotte's Web"
"The Neighbor"- The Dixie Chicks- "Shut Up and Sing'
"My Little Girl- Tim McGraw- "Flicka"
"Never Gonna Break My Faith- Aretha Franklin and Mary J. Blige- "Bobby"
"The Song of the Heart"-Prince- "Happy Feet"
"A Love That Will Never Grow Old"- Bernie Taupin, Gustavo Santaolalla-Brokeback Mountain"
"Wunderking"- Alanis Morissette- "The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe"
"There's Nothing Like a Show on Broadway"- Mel Brooks- "The Producers"
"Old Habits Die Hard"- Mick Jagger, David A. Stewart, - "Alfie"
"Million Voices"- Wyclef Jean, Jerry 'Wonder' Duplessias, et. al. - "Hotel Rwanda"

And I just went back to 2005, and I actually did skip a few. In fact those are just the Critics Choice Awards and the Golden Globes, I didn't even look at any of the other Award shows. I find it hard to imagine that most the songs nominated in the Oscars Best Picture category were better and then most of these songs that they passed over, and even if they aren't, most of them would be fun to see performed at the Oscars. At it's Oscars isn't just the giving out of Awards for film, it's a show! That's why we love it when people like Billy Crystal host this thing, he makes it entertaining. The Performances of the Best Song nominees, should not be one of the most entertaining parts of the evening, but one of the most fun, and the most joyful. Once upon a time, the Academy went to great lengths for entertaining music performances of the nominated songs, that were as true to the songs as possible. Bob Dylan once performed on satellite to perform his Oscar-winning song, "Things Have Changed," because he was touring in Australia at the time. Now to mention some of the stage spectacle they had performed. (I posting a youtube clip of one of my favorite Oscar Best Song performances below!) I have every belief they'll go to the wall for these two songs, but while were at it, nominate some songs! All those songs I just listed, could've been played at the Oscars, none of them were. That's a helluva a concert the Academy has cheated the audience out of! Maybe I have no ear for music, and I'm spouting out of my ass, and the Academy has been getting the nominations right for the last few years, but I'm not seeing it, I'm not hearing it. This Award has gone from the most fun to the most boring in the last decade, and now, it's down to two nominations, and it's possible under the current rules, to not have the category at all.

A.M.P.A.S., I've waited long enough to say something about this, you gotta change this now! Not just the rules, not just the voting method, you gotta change the mindset of the Music Branch's members, all 239, of however many there are, cause this is a deeper problem than a screwed up voting system. Something inside that branch is leading to these constant snubs or good songs and major artists, and some of the ones nominated instead border on bizarre. I think the branch has become lazy; I hope I'm wrong about that, but whatever the problem is and whatever you have to do, and with all respects to this year's nominees, but don't let this happen again, or the category is going to completely lose any shred of credibility it has left.

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