By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com February 8, 2012 at 12:57PM
Never exactly the finest hour of the Oscars, the Best Original Song category of the Academy Awards this year has been something of a fiasco. First it was nominations with only two tracks -- "Man or Muppet" from "The Muppets" and "Real In Rio" from the animated film "Rio" -- making the cut. Then, at the start of this week, Deadline broke the news that neither song would be performed as part of the Oscar telecast, seemingly in the ever-vain hope of keeping the running time of the ceremony under three hours, despite protestations from those behind the two films, and many others.
The category has always been a somewhat extraneous side-bar, but at its best (think Björk for "Dancer in the Dark," Robin Williams leading high-kicking mounties in a rendition of "Blame Canada," or Glen Hansard and Marketa Inglova performing, and winning, for "Falling Slowly" from "Once."), it can provide some of the biggest talking points of the night. The move not to honor the nominees this year isn't unprecedented (they were also skipped two years ago), but it seems to signify a lack of confidence in the category from the Academy, and a possible signifier that its place may not be long for this world. It's principally the fault of the music branch's new voting system. The short version of the process is that a song from a film has to score an average of over 8.25 to become a nominee, although if no contenders make that mark, the two highest will be picked, which may well have been the case this year. It's the worst possible system, and will hopefully be scrapped in future years.
But assuming the branch got their shit together, were there any worthier nominees than the two rather mediocre ones they picked? Well, yes, in fact. Below, we've picked out five original songs that deserved a place on the list on merit alone, and that could have livened up the Academy Awards broadcast to no end. We've kept ourselves to eligible songs -- written specifically for the film, and featuring in the body of the movie, or as the first song in the end credits -- but still found plenty that were worthier than "Real In Rio." Listen to our picks below.
"Life's A Happy Song" - Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Walter, Feist & Mickey Rooney ("The Muppets")
While "The Muppets," the closest thing to an original live-action musical we've had in some time, was always going to get one nomination, it's a testament to the songwriter's branch that they somehow managed to nominate the least engaging song of the film. "Man Or Muppet" is sort of fun, but how do you resist the upbeat, catchy charms of "Life's A Happy Song," the Bret McKenzie-penned opening number that wasn't just the highlight of the soundtrack, but also the whole film? It's an earworm, it's got big laughs, puppets, a solo showcase for A-lister Amy Adams, and even the opportunity to get 91-year-old veteran Mickey Rooney on the stage for his one-line cameo. Not nominating this one suggests that even the songwriters' branch don't care about the category anymore.
"Hiding Tonight" - Alex Turner ("Submarine")
At least for this one, the actual voters can't be blamed: for whatever reason (probably the film's less than stellar box office performance), The Weinstein Company seemingly chose not to submit any of Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner's six original compositions that make up the soundtrack to Richard Ayoade's charming debut for consideration. It's an awful shame, as no picture this year so closely interweaved its song-score with the film, which is meant to be the point of the category. Turner, who's still a mere 26, is one of the most gifted songwriters of his generation, melding melody with incisive, witty lyrics, and the swooning "Hiding Tonight" is the highlight of his work on "Submarine," although really any of the tunes could have made the cut.
"Think You Can Wait" - The National ft. Sharon Van Etten ("Win Win")
This one caused a little internal debate, but even The Playlist's head honchos, who are less enamored of The National's brand of muscular Springsteen-indebted rock than this writer, had to admit that their contribution to Tom McCarthy's "Win Win" was more deserving of a nomination than 95% of the field. A trademark ballad of male inadequacy and self-destruction, featuring backing vocals by Brooklyn singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten, it's a beautiful little number, and given how huge the band have gotten these days, could have made for a performance that helped bring in new viewers to the telecast. Maybe it was the placement of the film's end credits that did it in, but alas, we'll never know.
"Hanna's Theme" - The Chemical Brothers ft. Stephanie Dosen ("Hanna")
Another one never submitted for consideration, this is the sole vocal track from Chemical Brothers' score for Joe Wright's pop-art actioner "Hanna." Featuring haunting vocals from singer-songwriter and occasional Massive Attack member Stephanie Dosen, it's a neat crystalization of the childlike, fairy-tale feel of both the film. But if you're looking to get on the dancefllor, the score isn't afraid to unleash some block-rocking beats when needed. There's basically no precedent for something of this sort being nominated and performed at the show, but you can't say it wouldn't have livened things up, and it certainly deserves it on merit. (Note: the video below is not official, but the only embed we could find that wouldn't make you jump to YouTube to hear it).
"Shelter" - Ben Nichols ("Take Shelter")
Ok, so "Take Shelter" isn't exactly the kind of movie that the Best Original Song category usually features, and neither is "Shelter" the theme tune by Ben Nichols, frontman of Memphis band Lucero. But then, it's only two years since "The Weary Kind" from "Crazy Heart" won the Oscar, and last year saw "Country Strong" from "Country Strong" nominated, so it's not inconceivable for something like this to be featured, and Nichols' acoustic, country-tinged ballad is a far more robust song than most of the nominations, and certainly more interesting than those from bigger stars like Mary J. Blige and Chris Cornell. Plus, with Michael Shannon missing out on an actor nomination, it would have been a nice bit of exposure for a film that needed more.
Also Worthy: "Star Spangled Man" from "Captain America: The First Avenger" comes from multiple nominee Alan Menken, and would have made a pretty impressive production number, while Zaz's "Coeur Valant" from "Hugo" was a pretty little French tune that could have brought a little international flavor. Meanwhile, Elvis Costello, She & Him and Jónsi also had songs (from, respectively, "One Day," "Winnie The Pooh" and "We Bought a Zoo") that, while far from their best work, are more deserving than "Real In Rio." Speaking of, if they were going to nominate a song from "Rio," why not highlight "Pretty Bird," a genuinely funny showcase for the film's villain Nigel, voiced by Jemaine Clement? Which, if nothing else, would have made the category a showdown between the two members of Flight of the Conchords. Finally, if Three Six Mafia can win for "It's Hard Out There For A Pimp," why not "Get That Snitch" from "Attack the Block?"