Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Can "Django Unchained" Add Best Original Song to its Nominations?

Left to right: Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained
Last week, the Academy announced that 75 songs were eligible for nomination for Best Original Song. Leading the pack with four original titles is director Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. This is noticeably shocking, considering Tarantino's history of using pre-existing music. With the release of the soundtrack today, it seemed like a great time to not only look at Django Unchained, but also the other music nominees and how doomed we are because of the lack of inspired choices at the Golden Globe this past week.

Instead of using up space here to detail what the entire list is, I will reroute you to this page. This is a broad overview of the nominees that I find interesting and what I feel should make the cut. As I stated in my Golden Globe coverage, this past year is seeing a lot of songs that feel like white men are just singing mopey songs and somehow that is poetic. These are not necessarily bad songs, but when you consider the 75 nominees listed, it is hard to wonder what the Golden Globes were thinking when they eliminated everything down to those select few.

Also, the song choices cannot be much worse than last year, which saw only TWO nominations, with Rio's "Real in Rio" losing to The Muppets' "Man or Muppet." It almost taunted the category to just lie down and die, or accuse the voters at not even trying to make a legitimate category. Since then, the rules changed and now there is little chances of an uninspired race happening again, especially with 75 nominees.

I will start with Django Unchained, which has an impressive four nominations, barely beating out Casa de mi Padre, The Lorax, and Joyful Noise which each have three in the running. The reason that I find Tarantino's latest to be an interesting choice is because he recycles music a lot, and with this film, he has a lot of original cuts. The one that has been receiving the most attention, having appeared in a lot of the trailers, is Rick Ross' "100 Black Coffins":

Okay, I know that rap music has won Best Original Song on two occasions: Eminem's "Lose Yourself" for 8 Mile and 3 Six Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" for Hustle and Flow. There is nothing keeping rap music from qualifying for this category. However, I do not get why this song is the front runner in terms of original songs in Django Unchained. Besides not being a big Rick Ross fan, the lyrics seem more boasting with vague callbacks to iconic western themes. It essentially sounds like a Rick Ross song set in a period piece. It just doesn't grab me.

Next up is Elisa Toffoli's "Ancora Qui":

A nice little song with plenty of melody, though out of context doesn't real have an emotional grab. True, foreign language songs rarely win, but they have been known to, including "Al otro lado del rio" from The Motorcycle Diaries. However, based on the other nominees this year, it seems unlikely that this song, lest there is a big push, can break the language barrier and join the other song in a rare class.

Next up is Anthony Hamilton's "Freedom." Very much in the style of uplifting slave songs, this is another prime cut that I feel is more in line with what the Oscars can go for and tolerate. I find that at very least, Rick Ross' vulgar language and violent content will be the biggest detractor of the possible nomination. That is why I feel that choosing to put all of the money on that song is ill conceived. 

Then there is John Legend's "Who Did That to You?":

Unless I am ruining a grand marketing scheme, this is the song that deserves to not only compete, but get nominated and possibly win Best Original Song. It has a really solid, throwback R&B beat and John Legend does a great job on vocals. This is really what makes the category often a fun choice, when you get live vivacious music that even when isolated, is just really fun to listen to. The other songs may work in context, but Legend's song manages to be so much more. I am campaigning hard for this to get a nomination, even though I don't feel great about the Golden Globes ignoring it.

What about the other songs? Before I dive deeper, I want to say that just because a song isn't nominated for a Golden Globe, doesn't mean that it will be ignored at the Oscars. It is the one peculiar category that never reflects the other. Last year's winner was Madonna's "Masterpiece" from W/E. That didn't even get a nomination, and neither did several of the other choices. This is a good sign, as maybe the Oscars will have more time to get great songs nominated.

I have already made my case for why Adele's Skyfall theme should be nominated. Other than that, I am fully backing the buzz around the original song from Les Miserables titled "Suddenly." Since said song is not available for complete listen, I will have to wait until I see the movie next week to report on the choice (which will be present in my review). However, since I feel like it is going to be the best film of the year, I can only assume for the time being that it is well worth the slot.

But what about the other songs listed? Which ones do I feel fondly for and feel like they can compete for an Oscar? Music is a category I have trouble gauging, as it always feels like the sloppiest, most random category thrown together based on the emotionally complex bridges. Looking over the list, I cannot help but only point out songs that I like. The following aren't necessarily ones that will get nominated, but ones that I feel deserve some recognition:

Karen O's "Strange Love" from Frankenweenie:

If you haven't, please check out Karen O's work on Where the Wild Things Are. Her music was authentically joyous and made her presence in the movie world well received. Her oddball personality actually fits with the concepts of a typical Tim Burton film, so it makes sense why she was chose to do this song. I also feel that this has a stronger chance of getting nominated since Frankenweenie is actually almost locked in for a Best Animated Feature slot and overshadowing the far superior Paranorman.

The Black Keys feat. RZA's "The Baddest Man Alive" from The Man with the Iron Fists:

Maybe the biggest bias that I have on this list is for The Black Keys, whose blend of the blues with martial arts and rap here is almost an inspired combination. It may not get nominated just because it sounds... weird, but it is well worth a listen. If one band deserves to get a nomination, especially as their career escalates them to one of the few rock bands who actually have good songs on the radio, it is these guys. This song is full of wit, dirty blues, and rivals John Legend's Django Unchained song for best western throwback on the list.

Mark Duplass' "Big Machine" from Safety Not Guaranteed:

So far, this is the least likely song to get nominated, but I just figured that I would promote it. From a movie that will barely miss my Top 10 for 2012, this tune from the time travel comedy is a sweet little ditty that is beautiful and atmospheric. Well worth a listen if just because it is a well constructed song and one that I feel is one of the better choices on this list.

Fiona Apple's "Dull Tool" from This Is 40:

Nothing too surprising for fans of Fiona Apple, but still a pretty good song. I have yet to see how it works into This Is 40, but the cadence is just incredible. While this also seems like a long shot, it is still possible, since Aimee Man got nominated for "Save Me" from Magnolia. The alternative rock piano women of the 90's stand a chance of hitting a certain age group, though this song may be a little out of the range of the predominantly older Academy voters.
Those are a few that I really recommend checking out when you get the chance. I apologize that some videos require you to visit Youtube, but I guarantee that it is worth it. I have to admit that this is the most attention that I have paid to the Best Original Song category, and besides Skyfall and Les Miserables, I am lost for who the other potential nominees are. However, I really hope that Django Unchained makes the cut. That song is more passionate than most of the other stuff listed, and I believe that passion carries things far.

In closing, I also decided to consult statistics website Gold Derby to see what they believe will stand a chance. Their Top 10 differs a bit from how I am perceiving everything:
  1. Les Miserables - "Suddenly" with odds of 21:10
  2. Skyfall - "Skyfall" with odds of 9:4
  3. Brave - "Learn Me Right" with odds of 9:1
  4. Paul Williams: Still Alive - "Still Alive" with odds of 25:1
  5. Brave - "Touch the Sky" with odds of 25:1
  6. Ted - "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" with odds of 25:1
  7. Joyful Noise - "From Here to the Moon and Back" with odds of 100:1
  8. Rise of the Guardians - "Still Dream" with odds of 100:1
  9. The Hunger Games - "Abraham's Daughter" with odds of 100:1
  10. Katy Perry: Part of Me - "Wide Awake" with odds of 100:1
Besides the top two, my choices are very different. I will be accepting that Brave deserves a nomination, though the Scottish music trend is not my favorite. Also, the Norah Jones song from Ted is kind of catchy, so if that ends up making the cut, I will be fine with that. Still, when the bottom rounds out with Katy Perry: Part of Me, I feel like I need to be more aggressive about campaigns.

While it is possible that Django Unchained will have runaway success when it opens next week, what are the chances that the John Legend song will finally reach its realization? The Rick Ross song is at #11 with odds of 100:1, and Legend's song is all the way at #27. Anything can happen, but it almost seems like the dream of getting the best song of the bunch into the top five will be a struggle. Of course, with Zero Dark Thirty pulling the surprise push that launched Jessica Chastain into the lead for Best Actress, it is possible, while tricky, to get that song noticed.

Still, the Gold Derby's Top 10 suggests why I am not entirely the most devoted to the Best Original Song category. Despite all of the interesting choices, the dull, familiar tracks almost always seem to get chosen. While Django Unchained may place very well in the other categories, I fear that Best Original Song will not be one of them. This is most likely due to Quentin Tarantino and his recycling music notoriety. I also believe that by focusing too much on the Rick Ross song, it is ruining chances for John Legend.

Do you feel like this is a strong group of contenders? Is Rick Ross' song better than I make it out to be? Will Katy Perry become an Oscar nominee by some strange twist of fate? Are Brave's original songs really that good?

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