The red carpet is rolled out, the statues are polished, the performers are booked and our ‘Gravity‘ and ‘The Book Thief‘ sheet music is at-the-ready. I don’t know about you, but I’m eager to curl up with a mug of cocoa (its still harshly arctic here in Wisconsin) tomorrow night and celebrate recent big-screen thespian and melodic pursuits. In preparation for the main event, we’ve culled some Academy Awards Best Song trivia. Take our Best Song challenge at the end to test your motion picture musical knowledge!
Set to perform at Sunday night’s awards are each of the four nominees for Best Original Song. In the running are Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and director Spike Jonze for their celestially soothing “Moon Song” from Jonze’s film ‘Her,’ Pharrell’s eternally upbeat hand-clapper “Happy” from ‘Despicable Me 2,’ U2’s powerful ballad “Ordinary Love” the end-title to ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ and “Let It Go” from ‘Frozen,’ sung by the great Idina Menzel for live telecast, written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. And interesting year, indeed, for this normally semi-sleepy Oscar category, as each of these songs has seen commercial and/or critical success on its own.
Our money is on mega-hit “Let It Go” taking the statuette, making it the first Best Original Song winner from an animated film since 2010’s “We Belong Together” of ‘Toy Story 3.’ The song was written by the incomparable Randy Newman, who has seen 12 Best Song and 8 Best Score nominations over his career. A two-time Oscar winner, Newman’s other prize was for 2001’s “If I Didn’t Have You” from ‘Monsters Inc.’
Whimsical characters of a fuzzier variety, ‘The Muppets” “Man or Muppet” by Bret McKenzie was the big winner in 2011, beating out its sole competitor “Real in Rio” from the animated ‘Rio.’ Having only 2 nominees for the year, the 2011 Awards prompted a rule change by the music committee. Nominee quantity now is based on the number of submissions each year (rather than individual song score averages). Henceforth a minimum of five, three or zero songs may contend for the honor. But wait, this year’s Awards only have four nominees, right? The fifth song, “Alone Yet Not Alone,” was disqualified due to prohibited lobbying of voters. Of last year’s five nominees, Adele and Paul Epworth’s “Skyfall” beat out “Suddenly” from ‘Les Misérables,’ “Pi’s Lullaby” from ‘Life of Pi,’ “Before My Time” from ‘Chasing Ice’ and “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” from ‘Ted.’
The rules regarding which songs are eligible state a song should be “original and specifically written for a motion picture. There must be a clearly audible, intelligible, substantive rendition (not necessarily visually represented) of both lyrics and melody, used in the body of the motion picture or as the first music cue in end credits.” This excludes songs originally written for stage productions, prompting adaptations to include original songs such as the aforementioned “Suddenly” from ‘Les Mis’ or “You Must Love Me” from the film ‘Evita.’ Additionally, the rules render any song published prior to its use in a movie, like “I Will Always Love You” from ‘The Bodyguard’ and “Unchained Melody” from ‘Ghost,’ ineligible for an Oscar.
There was speculation about whether “Falling Slowly” from the movie ‘Once’ adhered to the rules in 2008. The song was, after all, recorded by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova for two albums prior to appearing on the soundtrack. The AMPAS music committee ultimately determined that the song did qualify, as recordings and performances were during the film’s post-production, and the duo went on the take home that year’s statue.
Of course, as they say, it’s an honor just to be nominated. Aside from U2, nominated for 2003’s “The Hands That Built America” from ‘Gangs of New York,’ this year’s nominees are first-timers… a rare occurrence. Leading the most-nominated Best Song writers of all time are ‘hopeful’ Sammy Cahn with 26 (4 wins), ‘cool’ Johnny Mercer with 18 (4 wins), ‘nostalgic’ married duo Alan & Merilyn Bergman with 15 (2 wins) and the ‘animated’ Alan Menken (4 wins) and ‘swinging’ (often Cahn-co-writer) Jimmy Van Heusen (4 wins) with 14 nominations each.
Can you match the following “Best Original Song” winners below with their most nominated writer from above? Click through to the downloadable sheet music to see if your guess is correct, and share how many you matched correctly in the comments below!
- “Swinging on a Star” 1944
- “Under the Sea” 1989
- “Call Me Irresponsible” 1963
- “In the Cool, Cool of the Evening” 1951
- “A Whole New World” 1992
- “The Way We Were” 1973
- “All the Way” 1957
- “High Hopes” 1959
- “Beauty and the Beast” 1991
- “Days of Wine and Roses” 1962
- “Colors of the Wind” 1995
- “Moon River” 1961
- “Three Coins in the Fountain” 1954
- “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” 1946
- “The Windmills of Your Mind” 1968