We’re repeatedly reminded that the Academy’s music branch is supposed to be paying attention to context when selecting their nominees for best song, so that they don’t simply wave five closing-credit ballads through, but actually select songs that function as part of the fabric of the film that surrounds them. All five songs nominated this year represent the sole nods for their respective films, two of which are documentaries and theoretically had favorable odds of at least getting nominated in that category. So concerns for context probably stand for very little, given the Academy’s clear indifference to this group of films. They may as well be voting on which song they most like listening to while frantically typing “g” and “h” playing Leo’s Red Carpet Rampage for the 12th time.
If context played as big a role in deciding this Oscar as the Academy wants, then “Simple Song #3” from the grisly Youth would be a frontrunner. Self-referential, shameless, and omnipresent throughout Michael Caine’s crepuscular spasms, it’s basically the brittle, arty incarnation of the finale from Mr. Holland’s Opus, with lyrics that David Lang admits were written using autofill in Google’s search bar. (No wonder his hymn to the halting insight of old white dudes eerily resembles the persuasive rhetoric of a Vic Berger edit.)
The one thing “Simple Song #3” still has in its favor is that the other four nominees all represent the branch’s sweet tooth for pop stars…or alt-pop, in the case of Antony Hegarty, whose characteristically timorous “Manta Ray” from Racing Extinction is this year’s lock for fifth-place-finishing sure thing. Sam Smith, that the kid-tested, mother-approved version of Hegarty, can breathe a little easier knowing Adele finally put a halt to the Oscar drought for 007 films, but he probably won’t have the support of any Radiohead fans in the AMPAS ranks. The Weeknd’s silky piano-spanking ballad “Earned It,” by far the most tolerable thing he released this year, was the only sizable hit from the field, but its attachment to the no-contest worst-reviewed film nominated for any Oscar this year is going to cost it a lot of votes.
So, as voters make their little Leonardo DiCaprio dodge Lady Gaga on the 12-bit red carpet, so will the real Leo once again dodge Gaga as the latter walks to the podium with Diane Warren, as-yet Oscarless and on her eighth nomination this year for her message song from Kirby Dick’s documentary The Hunting Ground about college sex assaults. The only question is whether Gaga will contribute only one alleged line to Warren’s acceptance speech too.
Will Win: “Til It Happens to You,” The Hunting Ground
Could Win: “Writing’s on the Wall,” Spectre
Should Win: “Earned It,” Fifty Shades of Grey