The Academy Awards and all the A-list celebrities, red-carpet fanfare, and fabulous after-parties that come with them are exciting, but let’s be real. Some of the most memorable moments of the Oscars telecast from years past have seen the nominees for Best Original Song performing their respective tracks. (Adele Dazeem, anyone?) This year is no exception: From Tegan and Sara to John Legend, Common, and Adam Levine, some of music’s biggest talents will take the Oscar stage on Sunday. But who should win the coveted award? And why weren’t some other undeniably awesome songs nominated? This requires a closer listen.
Song: “Everything Is Awesome”
Film: The Lego Movie
Artist: Tegan and Sara featuring the Lonely Island
Upon Closer Inspection: It’s not surprising that this song got the Oscar nomination nod so much as it is delightfully amusing. Sure, on paper this EDM-meets-Raffi sing-along anthem — “Everything is better when we stick together/Side by side you and I gonna win forever” — is sung with giddy bravado by Tegan and Sara, punctuated with the Lonely Island’s typically shticky rhymes. It feels like a bit of a novelty item, but that’s the point! This is a movie about Legos, after all, and with the Quin sisters trading in their typically lovelorn dramatics for ebullient, feel-good theatrics, this song is the perfect encapsulation of the movie’s can-do spirit.
Teachable-Moment Potential: Kids are hyperactive. A caffeinated song promoting teamwork is ideal for capturing the little ones’ wandering minds.
Artist: Common and John Legend
Upon Closer Inspection: “The war is not over,” John Legend sings on this rousing, inspirational song that rolls over the end credits of the monumental, affecting Selma. To say this collaborative track — featuring the typical soar of Legend’s vocal and biting and barbed verses from Common — is of the moment hardly does it justice. “Glory” is entirely now, an anthem for not just African Americans but all those marching in unison, appalled at the injustice that still surrounds them. “That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up,” says Common, echoing MLK, Rosa, and those millions still marching, heads held high.
Inspirational Factor: Off the charts. The song is nothing if not the quintessential protest anthem. A call to action. The song that we wish we didn’t need, but best signifies 2014.
Film: Beyond the Lights
Artist: Rita Ora (Diane Warren)
Upon Closer Inspection: If your biggest moment to date is the chorus on Iggy Azalea’s “Black Widow,” when tasked with singing a motivational, pick-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps anthem like “Grateful” in a warts-and-all look at the trappings of pop-music fame like Beyond the Lights, you damn well better deliver. No, Rita Ora didn’t write this uplifting song — that honor goes to the legendary Diane Warren — but when the English vocalist sings, “I’m grateful for the storm/Made me appreciate the sun,” all heavy breathing and chest-puffing vocal bravado, it’s evident she didn’t take the chore lightly.
Diva Appreciation Potential: We know: It’s hard to feel bad for pop stars. But this ballad accomplishes the rare feat of making you want to examine the roller coaster that is the life of an up-and-coming pop star all the more closely.
Song: “I’m Not Gonna Miss You”
Film: Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me
Artist: Glen Campbell/Julian Raymond
Upon Closer Inspection: This slow-rolling, heart-tugging number is nearly too much to handle. Campbell, a country music singing and songwriting icon, has been struck in recent years by a severe case of Alzheimer’s disease. This tune, soundtracking the documentary that follows him on his oft-heartbreaking final tour, brilliantly captures the man’s bittersweet swan song. “I’m still here but yet I’m gone,” he sings at the outset, and you can practically feel your heart break for the man, his family, and the millions of fans who have loved and lost alongside his music.
Cry Me a River Factor: This isn’t the type of song to soundtrack a happy-go-lucky afternoon. No, this one is best spun in a somber moment of reflection, and who doesn’t have those?
Song: “Lost Stars”
Film: Begin Again
Artist: Adam Levine
Upon Closer Inspection: Adam Levine didn’t write this straight-up beautiful and tender tune — the “Get What You Give” guy did! That’s right, one of the co-writers was none other than Gregg Alexander, of New Radicals fame. And sure, Keira Knightley sang the song. But let’s discuss Levine here: There’s something supremely sublime about the Maroon 5 singer’s vocal delivery on the soundtrack version of “Lost Stars.” So much so that it makes you wonder whether dude gets dogged too often for his celebrity persona and not enough emphasis is placed on his undeniably stellar pipes. Either way, those swelling strings, that simple yet effective acoustic guitar line — it works here in spades.
Romantic Comedy Transferable Potential: This song may be directly tied to Begin Again, but it’s so pleasant and universal it could work wonders for that Paul Rudd–starring romantic comedy that hasn’t even been dreamed up yet.
On the next page: Why Lana Del Rey, Sia, and more were robbed of Oscar noms.
Snubbed, but Not Forgotten
Song: “Big Eyes”
Film: Big Eyes
Artist: Lana Del Rey
Why It Deserved a Nomination: Frankly, it’s shocking this song wasn’t nominated. Smoky and sultry, with just that proper dash of mystery, this Lana number is dark and devious in all the right ways. Which is fitting: Big Eyes, while on the surface the story of the painter behind the painter, is a typically bizarre Tim Burton creation, a tale of depression, deception, and dirty secrets. This one must have missed the Academy’s inbox.
Why It Deserved a Nomination: Say what you will about Coldplay, but Chris Martin and Co. know how to do uplifting. And movies — especially those of the spirit-shaking variety, like Unbroken — thrive on building viewers’ emotions to that ever-so-high point of no return. Perhaps the Academy felt this song was a bit cheesy, hinging too much on Martin’s gospel-tinged vocal acrobatics at the climax. Still, this song feels tailor-made for film, something not even every nominated cut can proclaim. (And hey, it’s better than anything on Ghost Stories.)
Song: “Yellow Flicker Beat”
Film: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1
Why It Deserved a Nomination: Besides the fact that Lorde curated the film’s entire soundtrack, which is no small feat in itself, her original contribution might very well be the most mature song she’s ever written. Brooding slowly before building to a passionate apex, “Yellow Flicker Beat” would be a Lorde standout on its own; when considered in the context of the latest Hunger Games film, it’s a true triumph. If nothing else, the Academy could certainly have paid homage to a young talent already conquering the globe. Something tells us, though, that this won’t be Lorde’s only chance at an Oscar.
Why It Deserved a Nomination: If you’re wondering why you can’t remember a Sia song from Annie, it’s because the film’s child star, eleven-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, sings this über-catchy pop song — masked as a kiddie sing-along — in both the film and on the soundtrack. “Opportunity,” which was nominated for a Golden Globe, most importantly encapsulates the film’s timeless message of looking forward — and, with Sia at the helm, it’s expertly crafted. Like Lorde, Ms. Furler (who has already won practically every other award) is not long for her Oscar nomination.
Song: “Let Me In”
Film: The Fault in Our Stars
Why It Deserved a Nomination: If the Academy can find it in its gilded heart to honor indie films, then surely it can give a nomination to a fun-loving indie group like Grouplove. Their contribution to the stacked Fault in Our Stars soundtrack showcases lead singers Hannah Hooper and Christian Zucconi’s muttering sweet nothings to one another over a beatific, frothy beat. It’s the perfect example of a just-below-the-mainstream-radar band hitting its stride, capitalizing on a big-time opportunity. An Oscar nomination was perhaps a stretch here, but certainly not out of reach.
Ava DuVernay’s Urgent Selma Speaks to the Now
Lana Del Rey Fandom Is Exactly the Same as Pro Wrestling Fandom
Oscars Podcast: Can You Identify the Traits of ‘Oscar Bait’?
More:Film and TV