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?