The criteria for choosing Oscar nominations is something of a mystery, and no more so than in the music categories. The rules and regulations for nominations are generally straightforward — the Academy’s board of governors this year disqualified Bruce Broughton’s “Alone Yet Not Alone” from the film of the same name after its nomination, because the composer used his “position as a former governor and current executive committee member to personally promote one’s own Oscar submission.” The reason one score or song is chosen over the others is not as clear. Unless, of course, its winning comes for reasons having little to do with the craft and application of film music.
Take this year’s four nominations for best original song. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s pop-psychology anthem “Let It Go” from Frozen, with Idina Menzel’s perky performance, is most likely on the short list because of the film and soundtrack’s commercial success. Does it have a chance against the established star power (the Academy loves star power) of U2 (“Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom); Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (“The Moon Song” from Her); or the cat-in-the-hat Pharrell Williams (“Happy” from Despicable Me)? Musically, Williams’ old-school-meets-new-groove R & B track is by far the best of the lot. And you can dance to it all day long! But then, Williams’ celebrity status, firework-bright since the Grammy Awards, is relatively recent. Pardon my cynicism, but those Academy types — no need for disparaging clichés — were probably influenced by Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix’s duet of O’s syrupy song, as heard in the film. And you can be sure that many in Hollywood think Bono and U2 are the greatest band ever, especially when you throw in the film’s social-historical self-righteousness. I’d say that the odds are even that one of those two, for the wrong reasons, will take away the little man. But in my opinion, Williams deserves it.