Tech Support: Chris Cornell, Elton John, Madonna and 'The Muppets' throw down for Best Original Song

Posted by · 8:26 am · December 8th, 2011

Tech Support inadvertently took a week off as I never did get around to writing up the Best Original Song category. No worries. Nothing has happened of note in the field all year long, really, and the contenders have pretty much laid themselves bare, for the most part.

Naturally there will be some other considerations when the official list of qualifying tunes is revealed soon enough. That announcement dropped on December 15 last year, so I imagine within the week we’ll know what’s in the running.

For now, though, it’s time to run a comb through what we’re aware of and see what makes sense as formidable in the field. There are a number of tracks worth considering, so as we close up shop on Tech Support’s category analysis this season, let’s see what they are.

(I’ve actually already written about this, and notice just as I start here that there is very little left to add. But I’ll try.)

At the top of the list, in my view, is the Alan Menken-penned, USO-inspired “Star Spangled Man” from “Captain America: The First Avenger.” The song illustrates perfectly the kind of material that fares well in the race ever since new regulations were installed a few years ago.

Seeing as the music branch views each song’s use within the context of the given film, a track like “Star Spangled Man” is sure to stand out. It gets a big montage in the middle of the film and is used as a story point, new red, white and blue symbol of the country, Steve Rogers, going out on tour to flaunt his muscles in a tight-fitting suit that’s a tip of the hat to the character’s golden years in the comics.

“The Muppets” sports a trio of songs that have been submitted for consideration, all of them numbers that come within the context of the film’s narrative (as of course they would, given that it’s a musical). What stands out to me is “Pictures in My Head,” a longing ditty full of nostalgia that sparks up as Kermit considers getting the gang back together.

However, others might prefer “Man or Muppet,” a ballad featuring both Jason Segel and new Muppet Walter at a key moment in the third act. Screenwriter Nick Stoller told me he thinks Bret Mckenzie (of “Flight of the Conchords” fame, who penned the songs from the film) deserves the Oscar (natch) for this one. But there’s also “Life’s a Happy Song” to contend with, a show-stopping number that gets a big reprise and, if nominated (and if the producers don’t squeeze the performances out of the broadcast), would be a big moment on the Oscarcast.

It’s looking more and more like Glenn Close could be snubbed for her performance in “Albert Nobbs,” but never fret. She has another shot at scoring an Oscar nod this year as one of the writers of “Lay My Head Down,” performed by Sinéad O’Connor. The music from the song lingers in an early portion of the film, while it gets reprised in the final scene, the lyrics kicking in as the credits begin to roll.

Meanwhile, after missing out for her song “I Can See in Color” from “Precious” two years back, Mary J. Blige is back with “The Living Proof” from “The Help.” The film is poised to show up in a couple of places and, even though it doesn’t pop up until the closing credits, this could be one of them.

But could those two tracks from dramas fall prey to lively numbers used within films like “Gnomeo & Juliet,” “Rio” and “Winnie the Pooh?” Animated films tend to have a leg up in the race, if only due to the sheer volume of original music they tend to invite, but these films have seven songs between them vying for attention.

Most notable of them is Elton John’s work on “Gnomeo & Juliet.” He wrote the original music for the film, which also features plenty of his classic material, too. “Hello Hello,” which brings the famed singer into a duet with Lady Gaga, seems the best bet of the two. “Love Builds a Garden” is the other contender.

Cameron Crowe tapped Sigur Rós lead singer Jónsi for “Gathering Stories,” which closes out “We Bought a Zoo.” It’s a great song but it’s used as an afterthought over the credits, so that could make it tough to register.

Chris Cornell’s “The Keeper” is probably the best song of the lot (featured in the closing credits of “Machine Gun Preacher”), while “Hugo” sports a delightful tune, “Coeur Volant,” which we featured for you a few weeks back.

“Cars 2” has “Collision of Worlds,” which is beginning to scrape the bottom of the barrel for contenders, I think. It’s a long ways away from what James Taylor brought to the first film. Meanwhile, “Footloose” has two possibilities, Zac Brown’s “Where the River Goes” most notable among them.

And finally, Madonna’s “Masterpiece” from “W.E,” which we featured yesterday, could be an excuse for the HFPA to drag her to the Golden Globes. Oscar seems a stretch but she’s in the hunt (assuming the song is eligible, given the late-in-the-credits cue).

Lots to consider. Keep an eye on the Best Original Song Contenders section for developments in the race. Feel free to offer up your picks in the comments section below.

Next week, Tech Support transitions over to our interview series, kicking off this year with “War Horse” cinematographer Janusz Kaminski.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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