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Sing a Song of Oscar?

The big Oscar news this week was the expansion of the Best Picture category from five to ten nominees. But for film music fans, even bigger news came yesterday from an Academy press release with further changes to the already beleagured Best Original Song category.

Not every song that appears in a film qualifies for an Academy Award as Best Original Song. (Note this year’s exclusion of “All Dressed Up in Love” from SEX AND THE CITY.) In January I wrote an article for Film Score Monthly Online in which I examined the numerous songs eligible for this year’s Academy Award, and discussed the maze of rules that songwriters and voters must follow.

“An original song consists of words and music,” reads the Academy rulebook, “both of which are original and written specifically for the motion picture. There must be a clearly audible, intelligible, substantive rendition (not necessarily visually presented) of both lyric and melody, used in the body of the motion picture or as the first music cue in the end credits.” In addition to the official submission form, songwriters must enclose a vocal lead sheet and a DigiBeta clip of the song showing how it is used in the film. Submissions must be made no later than 60 days after the qualifying Los Angeles opening, or by 5 p.m. on the specific date set by the Academy (this year it was December 1), whichever comes first.

Voting members of the Music Branch are then invited to a screening of clips from the eligible songs. (For the first time this year, voters who were unable to attend could request a DVD and vote by mail.) The clips are shown in random order and voters select three, four or five songs using an averaged point system, rating each song from 6–10. Songs receiving an average score of 8.25 or more are eligible for a nomination. After DREAMGIRLS and ENCHANTED each received three song nominations in 2006 and 2007, the Music Branch changed the rule in 2008 limiting the number of possible nominees from a single film to two.

According to the press release, the changes for Best Original Song now read:

The governors approved the Music Branch Executive Committee recommendation that if no song achieves a minimum average score of 8.25 in the nominations voting, there be no original song nominees and thus no Oscar presented for the category. If only one song achieves the required minimum, it and the song with the next highest score will be deemed the nominees. If two or more songs achieve the minimum score, they will be the nominees though no more than five nominees can be selected. Previously, the rules dictated that there be no more than five but no fewer than three nominees in the category.

This year there were 49 songs eligible, down from 59 in 2007. Only three songs were deemed worthy–“Down To Earth” from WALL-E, and “Jai Ho” and “O Saya” from SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE. (“Jai Ho” won.) With this latest batch of confusion, it is conceivable that there will not be one single nominated song out of dozens and dozens of entries.

Will we be singing a song of Oscar in 2010? Maybe. Maybe not.

About Jim Lochner

Jim has been writing about film music for over a decade. He holds a Bachelor of Music from The University of Texas at Arlington and a Master of Music from The University of Texas (Austin), both in Clarinet Performance. He has written soundtrack CD liner notes for Intrada, Varèse Sarabande Records, Film Score Monthly, La-La Land Records and Disques Cinemusique. Jim has been a bimonthly guest on BBC-Kent’s Drive Home at the Movies radio program and has been interviewed by a number of online and print outlets, including The Toronto Globe and Mail and the Los Angeles Times. Jim served as the managing editor of Film Score Monthly Online (FSMOnlineMag.com) and is currently writing a book on Charlie Chaplin's film music. For more information, visit JimLochner.com.

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