Tuesday, February 9, 2010

And the Oscar for Worst Song goes to...

In a couple of recent online and print articles, Entertainment Weekly has been exploring how out-of-touch the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is when it comes to the Oscars for Best Song. At www.ew.com, Leah Greenblatt kicks off a reader debate by suggesting these are the "worst nominations ever."

"Ever" is a pretty long time and, of course, no one on the internet can be bothered to do the sort of research it would take to justify such a statement. Setting aside Greenblatt's hyperbole, there does appear to be a disconnect between the use of music in movies and what the Academy chooses to reward.

Part of the problem stems from the Academy's rules. The official rules say that a song must be "written specifically for the motion picture" and cannot have been previously recorded or performed.  This means that an eligible song must be the creation of a musician working in tandem with a director and can have never been workshopped or performed publicly.

The Academy broke its own rules in 2008 when it awarded Glen Hansard and Mark√©ta Irglov√° the Best Song Oscar for “Falling Slowly”from Once. The song had been performed live prior to its use in the movie – a clear violation of the Academy's eligibility requirements. The New York Times' Carpetbagger does a good job of summarizing the controversy and includes the Academy's justification for the song's inclusion. Essentially the Academy said the audiences for the live performances were small and inconsequential (even though their rules say nothing about what size or composition of audience is or is not acceptable). To me, it sounds like the Academy fudged their own rules to allow for an obviously brilliant piece of music that did not technically meet their eligibility requirements. “Falling Slowly” went on to win Best Song because, honestly, who would argue that the three songs from Enchanted and the song from August Rush were superior? Certainly not the audience in the Kodak Theater that night; check out their reaction.

If the Academy is willing to bend its rules for this kind of excellence, perhaps it's time to consider changing the rules to accommodate additional perfect pairings of music and film? Ever since Quentin Tarantino revolutionized movie soundtracks with his must-have compilations for Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, I have been arguing that the Academy needs to change their Best Song rules. Instead of only recognizing brand new songs, I propose a Best Use of Song category or an award for Best Music Supervision. The Academy should celebrate the talent and skill of directors and music supervisors who underscore a film with compelling, moving, pitch-perfect music, regardless of when that music was composed or recorded. The right piece of music can utterly transform a critical scene in a movie and, likewise, a powerful scene can forever change the perception of an existing track. Directors and music supervisors deserve recognition for this achievement.

In the meantime, we are left with the original question: are these the worst Song nominations in Oscar history? It's hard to answer such a large and subjective question but definitely there are excellent movie music moments that are going unrecognized this year. Lykke Li's plaintive “Possibility” from New Moon, Mary J. Blige's soulful “I Can See in Color” from Precious, even Ed Helms' “Stu's Song” from The Hangover should all be receiving commendation. We don't have any hope of learning the thought-process behind the decision to exclude these songs, but I will continue to argue that changes should be made to prevent such mistakes in the future.

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