The Oscar Shortlist: Handicapping the 15 Best Original Songs
By Abb Jones
From a list of 105 eligible songs, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) has narrowed the 2021 Best Original Song Oscar contenders to a shortlist of 15. Members of the music branch of The Academy will now vote to narrow this list to the five Oscar nominees, which will be announced March 15th. Two songwriters each have two songs on this year’s shortlist – John Legend (“Never Break” and “Make it Work”) and Diane Warren (“Io Si” and “Free”).
Here, to handicap the songs in the Oscar race, we have lumped them into three groups of five: the likely nominees, the contenders and the long shots. Click on the films highlighted in gold to see our reviews of them.
The Likely Nominees
“Loyal Brave True,” Mulan
While not a slam dunk to win, the combination of Christina Aguilera’s global name recognition along with catchy, Asian-themed hooks mean this song from the Disney remake should easily land her a nomination.
“Fight For You,” Judas and the Black Messiah
This inspirational civil rights anthem by H.E.R., from the historical drama about America’s militant Black Panthers of the late 1960s, is an earworm that will almost certainly worm its way into the field of nominees, and will be a strong Oscar contender.
“Husavik,” Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
This cheerful ode to the Icelandic village in the comedy about the world famous singing contest captures the pop-friendly song style of the contest, which should also capture the attention of music branch voters. Note: Rachel McAdams is lip synching this in the video and film. Actual singing is from its songwriters, Sweden’s Molly Sandén (a.k.a. My Marianne) and Will Ferrell. (Will Farrell could win an Oscar. Let that sink in for a minute.)
“Turntables,” All In: The Fight for Democracy
Not only is Janelle Monáe’s inspirational song from the Stacey Abrams-led, Amazon Studios documentary about the history of voter suppression in America a timely one given the 2020 election, but it is also very good.
“Speak Now,” One Night in Miami
Tony award-winner Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton), who stars as Sam Cooke in Regina King’s historical drama, also co-wrote this civil rights song with Sam Ashworth as a call to to action during the contentious civil rights struggles of the 1960s.
While The Reelness considers the first five above the favorites, the Oscar is an unpredictable award. Don’t be surprised if at least one or two of these snag a nomination.
“Io Si (Seen),” The Life Ahead
Italian singer/songwriter Laura Pausini belts out this Diane Warren-penned power ballad in the Sophia Loren remake of the 1977 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar winner, Madame Rosa.
“Never Break,” Giving Voice
EGOT-winner John Legend wrote this power ballad for his wife Chrissy Teigen after her miscarriage. It is in the soundtrack for the Netflix documentary about students competing for a spot in the August Wilson Monologue Competition.
“Green,” Sound of Metal
Abraham Marder wrote this song for the film he and his brother/director Darius co-wrote for their film about a metal band drummer who suddenly loses his hearing. Its exploration of deafness sets the song apart from the pack. A nomination here would be a win in itself. Lyrics start at the 1:16 mark.
“Free,” The One and Only Ivan
Charlie Puth sings this beautiful Diane Warren-penned tune in the soundtrack of this film adaptation of the children’s book. It could slip into a nomination despite its very quiet, fanfare-free release on Disney+ last August.
Nominations for these would be a surprise, but hey, it could happen.
“Hear My Voice,” The Trial of the Chicago 7
“Hear My Voice” is one of three songs performed by British soul singer Celeste on the soundtrack for Aaron Sorkin’s Netflix film about the infamous 1969 trial of seven defendants charged with conspiracy for protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.
“Wuhan Flu,” Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
This song title, while appropriate given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, is the only thing memorable from Sacha Baron Cohen’s lackluster parody follow up to his much funnier, 2006 satire, Borat. It only rates as high here because of sheer name recognition.
“Rain Song,” Minari
This lullaby-like tune from Emile Mosseri and Han Ye-ri in Minari has a haunting melody, but there just are so many songs in this field of potential nominees that are more memorable. The shortlisting will likely be the victory for this one.
“See What You’ve Done,” Belly of the Beast
The tune from Mary J. Blige is good, but limited publicity for this documentary about the sterilization of women in California prisons will all but assure this will get overlooked.
“Make It Work,” Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Another John Legend-penned tune, this one performed by Anika Noni Rose and Forest Whitaker in the Netflix Christmas film.
“Show Me Your Soul,” Mr. Soul!
Lalah Hathaway, five time Grammy award winning daughter of famous 60s/70s soul singer Donnie Hathaway, sings this tune in the documentary about the history of this PBS series. Video of the song was not available.
Nominations will be announced March 15th, with the Oscar ceremony taking place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on April 25th, two months later than originally planned, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Which of the songs is YOUR favorite? And which do you think will get nominated? Join the conversation and post your comment below!
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