Critics: Bad Oscar Rules Have Ruined 'Best Song'

This year there are only two nominees for the Oscar's Best Original Song category — "Man or Muppet" from The Muppets and "Real in Rio" from the animated film Rio. Audie Cornish talks to Steve Pond, Academy Awards columnist for TheWrap.com, about the controversy.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And finally, this hour, we have an Academy Awards uproar. For the first time ever, the Best Original Song category has just two nominees, and some Hollywood songwriters are livid. They say the problem isn't fewer good songs in 2011. It's bad Oscar rules. In a moment, we'll introduce you to the two that did make the cut and tell you a bit more about those rules. But first, a little background. The Academy has been giving the award since 1934. And in the category's heyday, the early 1940s, it wasn't unusual to see 10 songs nominated. Sometimes a great song can enrich an already great film.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR")

CLIFF EDWARDS: (Singing) When you wish upon a star...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING")

THE FOUR ACES: (Singing) Love is a many splendored thing...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD")

B.J. THOMAS: (Singing) Raindrops keep falling on my head, but that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red.

CORNISH: And sometimes a great song can take an OK movie to the next level.

(SOUNDBITE SONG, "THEME FROM SHAFT")

ISAAC HAYES: (Singing) Who's the cat that won't cop out when there's danger all about?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing) Shaft.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE TIME OF MY LIFE")

JENNIFER WARNES AND BILL MEDLEY: (Singing) I've had the time of my life. No, I never felt this way before...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOSE YOURSELF")

EMINEM: (Rapping) You better lose yourself in the music. The moment, you own it. You better never let it go. You only got one shot...

CORNISH: Steve Pond is the awards columnist for the entertainment news site thewrap.com, and he joins me now. Steve, neither this year's nominees in the Best Song category are from, you know, amazing films, but they're both very good songs. They're "Man or Muppet" from "The Muppets," and the music and lyrics there by Bret McKenzie.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAN OR MUPPET")

JASON SEGEL: (Singing) Am I a man, or am I a Muppet?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Am I a Muppet?

SEGEL: (Singing) If I'm a Muppet, then I'm a very manly Muppet.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Very manly Muppet.

SEGEL: (Singing) Am I a Muppet?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Muppet.

SEGEL: (Singing) Or am I a man?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Am I a man?

SEGEL: (Singing) If I'm a man, that makes me a Muppet of a man.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) A Muppet of a man.

CORNISH: And "Real in Rio" from the movie "Rio," and the music there is by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown, and the lyrics are by Siedah Garrett.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REAL IN RIO")

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) It's real in Rio. Know something else, something else. You can feel it happen. You can feel it all by yourself.

CORNISH: So you've done some scoring. What makes these songs special?

STEVE POND: I think "Man and Muppet" in particular is probably the best use of a song in any film this year. I mean, it's just a great comedic moment, and it's a pretty, you know, a pretty good power ballad as well. "Real in Rio" is sort of a fun song to set the scene in that movie. I mean, they're both perfectly fine songs, and I think "Man or Muppet" is more than that.

CORNISH: So how does this process work? And why do you think so few songs got an Oscar nod this year?

POND: Basically, all of the members of the branch are asked to look at the clips in which the songs appear, and then I have to score each song on a scale of six to 10. The problem is that unless you average an 8.25, you're not eligible. I mean, obviously, this year, it knocked out 37 of the 39 eligible songs. It's just that they've set the bar so high that very few songs get there.

CORNISH: Now, the Academy claims that it made these changes because it wanted to raise the standards. I mean, isn't that a good thing? And if - is the bar really that high if they can't average above an 8.25?

POND: Well, you just have to look at the results. I mean, there were more than two songs that probably deserved to be nominated this year. And everybody I've talked to in the branch agrees with that. They all said, yeah, we don't understand why there were only two. So you would think, no, an 8.25 shouldn't be too high. But in practice, I guess everybody in that branch who's scoring the songs is so picky that suddenly it is. I mean, if you look at, say, the animation branch, they have the same sort of scoring system, but for them, you need a 7.5 to qualify. And they always have the maximum number of nominees.

CORNISH: You know, another controversy has been the fact that neither song will even be performed during the telecast, and what's behind this decision? In the past, songs have played a prominent role in the event.

POND: Sounds had played a prominent role in the event and led to some great moments, but they've also led to so many headaches on the part of the producers of the Oscar show. I mean, I've been around the producers a lot on the morning of nominations, and it's - they always think, OK, what did the music branch give us this year? There's always a sense that you have this outside body that's dictating to you what has to go on the Oscar show.

And the music branch tends to nominate ballads, which aren't always the best songs to work in a live broadcast. And, you know, it's always been a very uneasy relationship between the music branch and the people who will produce the Oscar show. And I think, these days, some Oscar producers are just thinking, oh, to heck with it. We're just going to put on a show and not worry about what they nominated.

CORNISH: Steve Pond, he is the awards columnist for thewrap.com. Steve, thanks so much.

POND: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAN OR MUPPET")

SEGEL: (Singing) I'm a man.

WALTER: (Singing) I'm a Muppet.

SEGEL: (Singing) I'm a Muppet of a man.

WALTER: (Singing) I'm a very manly Muppet.

SEGEL: (Singing) I'm a Muppety man. That's what I am.

WALTER: (Singing) ...what I am.

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.