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What It Really Takes to Get an Oscar Nomination

In all the hubbub about the Oscar nominations, you’d be forgiven for focusing on the major prizes and maybe not paying much attention to Best Original Song. That category is often regarded as a joke. After all, what do a bunch of movie people know about songwriting anyway? However, one of this year’s nominees provides a glaring illustration of the political maneuvering that goes on behind the scenes at awards shows like this.

If you’ve heard anything about the Best Original Song category this year, it probably had to do with the snubbing of one of the most critically acclaimed musical films of 2013, the Coen brothers’ ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, which features a host of original folk tunes by T Bone Burnett. The parody protest anthem “Please Mr. Kennedy” is often cited as a hilarious highlight of the movie, and was predicted by many to be a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination.

No such nomination came. Did the fact that it’s a parody preclude it from being recognized? Unlikely. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science has nominated parody songs before – notably “Blame Canada” from the ‘South Park’ movie, “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” from ‘A Mighty Wind’, and “Man or Muppet” from ‘The Muppets’ (which won).

Instead, this year’s nominees were:

  • “Alone Yet Not Alone” from ‘Alone Yet Not Alone’ – Music by Bruce Broughton, Lyric by Dennis Spiegel
  • “Happy” from ‘Despicable Me 2′ – Music and Lyric by Pharrell Williams
  • “Let It Go” from ‘Frozen’, Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
  • “The Moon Song” from ‘Her’ – Music by Karen O., Lyric by Karen O. and Spike Jonze
  • “Ordinary Love” from ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ – Music by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen; Lyric by Paul Hewson

The nominations for ‘Frozen’ and ‘Despicable Me 2′ should come as no surprise. Animated features typically dominate this category. The song from the ‘Mandela’ movie was likely nominated simply as an excuse to get U2 to perform at the awards ceremony. ‘Her’ was given a nod here as a consolation for being bypassed in some other important categories (like Best Actor).

Then there’s something called “Alone Yet Not Alone” from a movie of the same title, performed by a non-professional singer named Joni Eareckson Tada. Have you ever heard of this song or of the movie? I doubt it. The film is a micro-budget “faith based” Christian drama that played in a total of nine theaters (mainly in Tennessee and Texas) for one week in October. It was not reviewed by any mainstream critics (it doesn’t have a single professional review on Rotten Tomatoes), and isn’t scheduled for any sort of wider release until June of 2014.

Honestly, “Alone Yet Not Alone” is not a bad song, necessarily. It has a pretty enough melody, though it’s kind of treacly and not very memorable.

Still, how did this obscurity possibly make the short-list for an Oscar? Those who found the nomination suspicious looked a little closer and recognized that songwriter Bruce Broughton just happens to be a former governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. In fact, he was head of the music branch that picks the nominations for this category. Further, composer William Ross will conduct the orchestra at this year’s Oscar ceremony. According to Deadline, the well-connected Broughton locked the nomination for his song by calling up dozes of his cronies and asking them to vote for it.

None of this is unusual in Hollywood. It’s common practice for movie studios and filmmakers to hire publicists and actively campaign for awards consideration. An argument can be made that it’s not technically unethical either. Still, the shameless nature of this nomination for a movie that nobody’s ever seen serves as a reminder (as it if were ever in doubt) that the Oscars are a political game that has very little to do with rewarding actual artistic merit.

Another good question: Doesn’t all this pandering for recognition and acclaim violate the Christian tenet of humility?

[Sources: Boston.com and The Week]

16 comments

  1. “Please Mr. Kennedy” was not eligible because it was based on a song that already exists (1960′s “Mr. Custer”), and hence, not an “original song.”

    Parody songs that have been nominated in the past were original pieces.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      This sounds like a nonsense excuse to justify the snub. “Mr. Custer” was not used in the film. “Please Mr. Kennedy” is an original parody of several old songs. Burnett claims that his main inspirations were Tom Lehrer (“Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”) and a novelty song called “Please Mr. Kennedy Don’t Send Me Off to Vietnam.”

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/01/please-my-kennedy-inside-llewyn-davis_n_4344365.html

      By this rationale, “Man or Muppet” shouldn’t have been eligible either, because it’s “based on” power ballads of the ’70s and ’80s by Eric Carmen and Harry Nilsson.

      • Josh Zyber
        Author

        Lest we forget, this same branch of the Academy disqualified Nino Rota’s score for The Godfather because it was “based on” older film scores he had done for Fellini, but then gave him the Oscar two years later for The Godfather Part II, which repeated all of the same themes.

  2. Regardless, the Academy disqualified it pretty early in the process…I remember reading before Christmas that the music was ineligible due to the rules for the category.

    I believe the rules have been modified since The Godfather II Oscar…a number of times, in fact.

    But you’re correct in saying it’s all political – but then again, that can be said of all the awards nominations.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      If the Academy can’t even tell which old song this one was allegedly based on, how can they definitively rule it an adaptation?

      Besides which, if their only objection to “Please Mr. Kennedy” is that it’s supposedly an adaptation, the film has several other original songs that could have been nominated instead of “Alone Yet Not Alone.”

  3. Drew

    Greg,

    Amen! Still no review of either ‘Elysium’ or ‘We’re the Millers’ — only two of the biggest BD releases of the holiday season.

    Inconceivable! :-)

    • Drew – I’m trying to find out why those two titles never got reviewed, and seeing if we can’t get someone to cover them in the near future for you/our readers. I know this is the second time you’ve mentioned it.

      • I’m uncertain about Elysium, but I know that We’re the Millers was lost somewhere in transit. This has happened a few times lately and it’s an issue with the shipping carriers that’s being looked into.

  4. Drew

    Shannon,

    Thank you! I appreciate it! I trust the HDD reviews more than the ones on any other blu-ray review site. I’ve never seen HDD miss two major releases, like this.

    • At the risk of totally de-railing the thread – I’ve been assigned both these titles, so look for reviews sometime in February (I have a couple of higher priority titles/newer releases I’m working on now). So keep your eye out for both those (they may be back-dated for our review list – meaning they might not show up there, but will be searchable).

  5. Chris

    Drew,
    Here’s an Elysium review for you:
    Video- gorgeous…reference quality.
    Audio- gorgeous…refereence quality.
    The move itself.. terrible.
    Supplements…the movie was terrible, so who cares about the making of such an awful piece of shit.

    You’re welcome.

      • Yeah, it’s even a (tiny) article in our Belgian newspaper today! I kept thinking “This is Josh’s work. This is Josh’s work …”

        Apparently, the first time in 45 years the Academy has disqualified something or someone. Quite rare. And they won’t replace the nomination. So (sadly) still no chance for Llewyn Davis.

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