Now that the flurry of the Golden Globes is behind us, it's time to make room for the Oscars. On Thursday (Jan. 14), the Academy announced the full nominees for the 88th annual Academy Awards, including those for Best Original Song.
The five nods are more or less what close followers have come to expect. There are the expected songs, Lady Gaga's "Til It Happens To You" and Sam Smith's James Bond theme song "Writing's on the Wall." Fifty Shades of Grey's soundtrack, which topped the charts, also got a nod, though Ellie Goulding's "Love Me Like You Do" (which felt like the frontrunner for this OST) was bypassed for The Weeknd's sultry "Earned It." Among the big names, there are also some more obscure titles: the composition "Simple Song #3" by David Lang and "Manta Ray," a song by Antony Hegarty (of Antony and the Johnsons) from the conservationism documentary Racing Extinction.
Though the Academy Awards won't take place until Feb. 28, it's not too early to start putting together your own ballot and predictions, and we're here to help. What Best Original Song has the best chance to take home the Oscar?
Lady Gaga, "Til It Happens To You"
This song is real and gritty, with lyrics inspired by survivors of sexual assault (including Lady Gaga herself) and that emotional pull is touching and hard to resist. "Til It Happens to You" is a cinematic, sweeping piano ballad but the stunning music does not overtake the seriousness of its topic, which is taken with great care. Could an tribute to survivors of sexual assault win an Oscar, though? Lady Gaga is a darling of the Oscars, despite the fact that this is her first nomination. Last year, she was asked to perform a medley and ode to The Sound of Music at the awards ceremony, so she's in good standings with the Academy. Gaga's songwriting partner for "Til It Happens to You," Diane Warren, is an eight-time Oscar nominee, though she has yet to win. "Til It Happens to You" seems like her best shot.
The Weeknd, "Earned It"
Ellie Goulding's "Love Me Like You Do" may have gotten the Golden Globe nod, but The Weeknd's Fifty Shades contribution "Earned It" is the Oscars' pick. And that should be no surprise. Not only is The Weeknd this year's hottest R&B act (so he has big name recognition to the at-times bubbling under Goulding), but the rich strings and stop-and-go nature of "Earned It" is incredibly dense and cinematic. Mix in The Weeknd's flawlessly executed vocals, and you have something that is texturally more interesting and worthy of a nomination. The Academy seems to like this sort of song, a mix of the classical and pop worlds, and has awarded similar tracks in recent years ("Glory," "Let It Go," "Skyfall"). If anyone can upset Gaga, give it to The Weeknd.
Sam Smith, "Writing's on the Wall"
To say Sam Smith's Spectre theme song received mixed critical reactions is to be kind. Following up Adele's stunning James Bond theme song "Skyfall" (which did win the Oscar) was a heavy burden to bare, and Smith delivered with something that sounded grandiose and epic but was really a shell of a single. Despite its critical merits, this sort of song is total fodder for award shows, so Smith and his writing partner Jimmy Napes got their Oscar nod. With the memory of Adele's win so fresh in our minds (it was just three years ago, after all), will the Academy really want to reward yet another Bond theme? We're not so sure. Despite the Golden Globe win for this song, this doesn't feel like it's in the bag.
"Manta Ray," J. Ralph & Antony
The Oscars like to have a dark horse pick every year (think "The Moon Song," "Falling Slowly") and like those nominees, J. Ralph and Antony's heartbreaking song "Manta Ray" is drippy, indie and flooded with raw emotion. Taken from Racing Extinction, a song about species dying off at an alarming rate, Antony (best known from Antony & the Johnsons) exudes heartbreak and loss - at time you forget he's singing about marine life. "Manta Ray" is J. Ralph's second Oscar nod (and Antony's first), and while this song is strong and the sort of emotional bait that the Oscars grip too, it feels a little too obscure and not quite brilliant enough (like "Falling Slowly") to get a golden statuette.
"Simple Song #3," David Lang
Despite the relative obscurity of this pick - lacking a chart-topping collaborator or a big name movie (this is from the Italian film Youth), David Lang's "Simple Song #3" (featuring Sumi Jo) has received plenty of buzz and critical acclaim for its balance of emotion, strings and story. As its title suggests, this is a simple melody but one filled with heart and soul, so it's understandable while this little-known song (outside of awards shows, it received a Golden Globe nod too) was nominated. And while this song has its merits, there doesn't feel like there's enough star-power to launch it to a winning song. While these things shouldn't matter, oftentimes they do, and this song's chances suffer for it.