The last time Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar faced off in this category, a reluctance to award an artist twice in four years (Swift's Fearless won back in 2010), as well as the Academy's reticence toward hip-hop in the general field, resulted in Daft Punk's star-studded commercial juggernaut Random Access Memories taking home the top prize—an outcome, it should be noted, we predicted. It's tempting to make a case that voters, with #OscarSoWhite on their brains, will want to distinguish themselves from their myopic cinematic counterparts by rewarding a socially conscious album by a black man. But it's unlikely they'll feel obligated to make that course correction here, especially for a relatively new rapper whose album title contains the word “pimp.”
We often time our prediction articles, perhaps shamelessly, days after a guild has announced its winners so we can get a better sense of how at least some strata of the Hollywood establishment feels about Oscar's nominated films. This is meant, of course, to make this process a little less complicated for us, but then, nothing about this year's Oscar season has been simple. When the Visual Effects Society handed four awards to Star Wars: The Force Awakens last week, this should have been an open-and-shut case, except the victories for The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road in some of the guild's below-the-line categories may reveal more than just this particular group's feelings about what truly matters when it comes to special effects in movies.
We've compared the correlation between Record of the Year and Song of the Year against Oscar's tether between Best Picture and Best Director before. And every time we think we're finally settling into a pattern, Grammy reverses course. The year after Daft Punk's “Get Lucky” staged a minor upset in this category without a Song of the Year nomination to its credit, the two categories almost completely aligned, resulting in identical winners (Sam Smith's “Stay with Me,” which in retrospect couldn't have been more perfectly engineered to conquer the top categories). So, naturally, this year finds only two songs competing on both sides of the producer/songwriter divide: Ed Sheeran's “Thinking Out Loud” and Taylor Swift's “Blank Space,” the latter of which we give the clear edge in Song of the Year.
The Weinstein Company
That John Williams is nominated this year presumably for re-interpolating his striking themes from the original Star Wars franchise, and not so much whatever new material he brought to the table, only stresses the extent to which respect for longstanding reputations is running through the minds of the music branch. (Oh please, fanboys. If you can correctly identify and hum from memory one single leitmotif that doesn't belong to Han Solo, Princess Leia, or Chewy, we'll willingly clear our throats on Adam Driver's lightsaber.) In fact, the only score that doesn't fit within this year's pattern of rewarding longevity is young buck Jóhann Jóhannsson's work on Sicario, a brutal and audacious series of industrial horror cues that couldn't be further from the lilting delicacies of his The Theory of Everything score, and the nomination for which in part excuses the Academy's predictable cold shoulder toward Disasterpiece's monstrously effective compositions for It Follows.
Late last night Lana Del Rey dropped the nostalgic music video for “Freak,” the latest single from last year's Honeymoon. It's no big secret that the singer is enamored with all things past, and the clip, co-starring Father John Misty, is a hazy, drug-dosed trip back to 1960s California. In her 2012 song “Gods & Monsters,” Del Rey conjured Jim Morrison, and she resurrects him again here via Misty, who does an uncanny Lizard King impression. The pair drinks Kool-Aid, drops a tab of acid, and is soon joined by the girls from Del Rey's “Music to Watch Boys to” video. The 11-minute clip then segues from “Freak” into Debussy's “Clair de Lune” as the group of would-be lovers float angelically underwater for over five minutes. Watch the video below:
When deliberating over how we expected the general field to go down this year, the question was never trying to figure out why Taylor Swift would win. Rather, it was: How could she not win? It may seem like eons ago in this current era of welcoming Adele to our collective heaving bosom to the tune of eight million albums, but for a brief while her publicists were doing a pretty bang-up job of selling the entire industry on Swift as their cute, crossover savior. The sentiment of “How many Grammys can we give you?” hangs thick in the air despite her nomination haul of seven seeming rather paltry against Kendrick Lamar's 11.
20th Century Fox
The spectacular flame-out of Steve Jobs from this year's Oscar race was depressing for once again illuminating the media complicity, mainly among those particularly susceptible full-time pundits who are perversely unaware of just how much their groupthink influences the industry's own, that goes into turning this dog-and-pony show, year in and year out, into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once the frontrunner for best picture, the Danny Boyle film saw its Oscar ambitions stymied not so much by its underperformance at the box office, but instead by the million unnecessary think pieces debating the potential costs of said underperformance.
Rather than run with the narrative that Steve Jobs, like the Apple brand in its nascent years, was an underappreciated commodity, that it would not be hurt by its box-office failure any more than, say, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker was, pundits stopped cheerleading for the film because they convinced themselves it was no longer fashionable to do so. (Being right, after all, is the modus operandi of the average pundit's investment in any given year's Oscar race.) And because the hearts and minds of the industry, at least its ears, are privy to how films go up like stocks on the countless charts published on sites like GoldDerby, a challenger quickly became an also-ran.
Michael Bérubé's The Secret Life of Stories: From Don Quixote to Harry Potter How Understanding Intellectual Disability Transforms the Way We Read is that rare book that manages to speak to its specialized academic audience while imagining and addressing a much broader readership. Bérubé, who's the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature and Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University, has crafted an accessible, if still rigorous, study of the way fiction grapples with intellectual disability.
“Representations of disability are ubiquitous,” he states in his opening sentence, “far more prevalent and pervasive than (almost) anybody realizes.” Take Disney's Dumbo: You maybe wouldn't use the language of disability to describe the oversized ears of the titular elephant, but at the heart of the 1941 film is a message about overcoming—embracing even—one's differences in order to succeed. By the end of Bérubé's book, you're likely to start spotting the way disability is often used as a trope in films as diverse as Minority Report, Total Recall, and Mad Max: Fury Road. But Bérubé wants to push us further than merely understanding the ubiquity of disability in pop culture. This is especially important as disability (both physical and intellectual) is often used as a metaphor or character trait in popular art, significant only in the way it teaches us something about a story or a character with rarely any nuance with regard to the disability itself.
If voters had decided Best New Artist in the weeks following the release of Meghan Trainor's debut, Title, the innocuous blond pop star would have been an easy bet. With four Top 20 singles and an all-time best seller in “All About That Bass,” Trainor possessed the mainstream success and general likability synonymous with this category. In recent months, however, Trainor's star has waned (marred by feminist critiques of both “All About that Bass” and “Dear Future Husband”), leaving room for a surprise victor.
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Pixar's Inside Out is going to win the Oscar, and more or less deserves it. With that out of the way, let's at least take a moment to tip our hat to the Academy for generating a slate that not only managed to avoid any movie with a number in its title, but also including only one entirely computer-animated film. Whether it's evidence of a crisis of conscience in the industry or just a transitory blip in the space-time continuum, it's worth noting that the Annie Awards, whose love affair with Pixar seemingly ended with Up, just went ham for Inside Out, delivering it a robust 10 awards. Then again, maybe it's simply a question of quality outing the competition, given Inside Out slayed the studio's other heavily nominated 2015 effort,
The Land Before Time The Good Dinosaur, and Don Hertzfeldt's stunning World of Tomorrow pushed past Sanjay's Super Team for a surprise win (an outcome we don't see Oscar replicating, much as we'd like to).