This week sees the arrival of Disney's "Frozen," the studio's most acclaimed film in years. It's also a serious throwback to the studio's animated musicals of the late 1980s and 1990s, a full-on songfest with multiple numbers of Broadway quality, and that's useful for our purposes, because this week we're going to focus on the musical categories of the Academy Awards.
"Frozen" is unlikely to figure into the Best Original Score category—Christophe Beck's music is overshadowed by the songs to the extent that other work will take precedent over it. But the film's a clear frontrunner in the Original Song category. Unlike with other similar recent films like "The Princess & The Frog" and "The Muppets," Disney has only submitted a single number from the film, the Idina Menzel ballad "Let It Go," which is something of a showstopper. By not splitting the potential vote, they're showing that they're in it to win it, and, quite frankly, it'll be an upset if anything else takes it.
That said, in this clusterfuck of a category, almost anything can happen (remember that, as of last year, the branch has to come up with five nominees). So what else is in the running? It's always worth remembering that, as the nominating committee watch the tracks in context of their films, songs actually embedded into a movie tend to perform better than closing credit numbers. As such, while the likes of Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire" from "The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug," Kings Of Leon's "Last Mile Home" from "August: Osage County," Alexander Ebert's "Amen" from "All Is Lost," M83's "Oblivion" from the film of the same name, and other cuts from Grammy favorites like Beyonce, Mariah Carey, Taylor Swift and Celine Dion from films like "Epic," "Oz The Great & Powerful," "One Chance" and "Unfinished Song," to name but a few. Probably the best shot at closing-credit nominations come from megaband U2, for their first new song in ages, "Ordinary Love" from "Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom," and we'd love Emily Wells's "Becomes The Color," from "Stoker," to make the cut, though it's unlikely.
So ruling those out, along with no-hopers from animated films "The Croods" and "Turbo" by Owl City and Snoop Dogg, we're left with a handful of serious potentials. It's feasible that Jose Gonzalez could figure in, for his contribution to "The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty," though other contenders are probably more likely. "12 Years A Slave" is likely to figure in many categories, and it's even a potential here: "Gimme The Loot" composer Nicholas Britell wrote an original spiritual, "My Lord Sunshine (Sunrise"), featured early in the film. With the film's dominance elsewhere, it shouldn't be counted out, but it's probably too brief to be nominated. Update 11/27: We've been informed that "My Lord Sunshine (Sunrise") does feature for the required amount of time, and will be eligible for Oscar consideration.
But Fox Searchlight also have hopes elsewhere: "Black Nativity," which also opens this week, is a full-on gospel musical, and there's a key emotional number for Angela Bassett and Jennifer Hudson in the shape of "He Loves Me Still." It's feasible that a movie like this one, somewhat ignored by the bulk of the media, will get overlooked by the Academy, but if relative obscurities like "Paris 36" or "Chasing Ice" can get a nomination in the category, this feels like a good bet if Searchlight campaign hard enough.
The category's also led to some surprising picks for documentaries in recent years, between "Chasing Ice" and a victory for "An Inconvenient Truth" in 2006, so it's certainly worth keeping an eye on Judith Hill's "Desperation" from "20 Feet From Stardom." And comic songs often fare pretty well here (remember "Blame Canada"?), so sight unseen, a song called "Doby" from "Anchorman: The Legend Continues" could be a player, even as a long shot. Meanwhile, there's a couple of potentials from "Lee Daniels' The Butler," but we think Gladys Knight's Lenny Kravitz-penned "You And I Ain't Nothin' No More" will probably make way for "In The Middle Of The Night," which is sung by Fantasia and is better used in the movie. But multiple nominations are always possible here, and both could figure in.
On the slightly trendier end of the spectrum, "Short Term 12" is an unlikely, but serious contender in the film—"So You Know What It's Like," the bravura rap by actor Keith Stanfield in the film, has been submitted, and has something of a grassroots campaign behind it. It's a very brief cut, one that's basically an a cappella, and as such, would have an uphill climb even if it was from a bigger movie. But stranger things have certainly happened. Meanwhile, though she was overlooked for her previous collaboration with Spike Jonze on "Where The Wild Things Are," Karen O is a potential this time around for "The Moon Song" from "Her," which Scarlett Johansson and Joaquin Phoenix perform together in the film. As ever, it may be a little too hip for the Academy's tastes, but it could well be in the running.
Another film with multiple possibilities is Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby"—a one time Oscar hopeful unlikely to figure into many other categories. Jay-Z's "$100 Bill" is a long shot, while previous nominee Florence Welch is a slightly better for "Over The Lover," but the film's best bet is Lana Del Ray's "Young & Beautiful." That said, there's some still question about its eligibility—we'll find out in a few weeks when the Academy release the list of films that are deemed original enough. Finally, the one film that perhaps might have a chance at unseating "Frozen" would be the very music-driven "Inside Llewyn Davis," but almost every song in the film is a version of a traditional number. The closest it gets to an Original Song is the hilarious novelty song "Please Mr. Kennedy," but we're expecting that to be disqualified too—it's based on some elements of a real novelty song from the period, so the film's likely to go home empty-handed from this category.