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It’s last week’s news at this point, but the music branch of the Academy ruled Randy Newman’s score for The Princess and the Frog ineligible for Best Original Score. The branched cited the rule that a score cannot be “diminished on impact by the predominant use of songs.” Apparently all the original music for this musical had too many lyrics on top of it.

I’m not here to comment on the legitimacy of the rule. I understand it despite its awkwardness. And, while I’ve heard the film’s Oscar-eligible original songs, I haven’t seen it nor listened to its score. I liked the songs and I imagine at least one will get a nomination.

What’s troubling is the inconsistency. I rewatched Slumdog Millionaire this week. (Incidentally, I really enjoyed it, which surprised me. I liked it a lot the first time through but had sort of already consigned it to the “underwhelming Oscar winner” category.) I’m very familiar with its terrific, multiple Oscar-winning music and fully enjoyed its pulsating beats. But almost every piece is a song! And not just a piece with some vocal elements, but a full on song with meaningful lyrics! How in the world was this eligible?

In 2007, Eddie Vedder’s wonderful score to Into the Wild ran afoul of the same rule and I wouldn’t call that film any more song-centric than Slumdog. Ditto for Karen O and Carter Burwell’s music for Where the Wild Things Are this year. Crazy Heart didn’t even bother to submit due to the song restrictions.

I can understand why someone wouldn’t like Into the Wild but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes it’s long and yes it’s slow-paced and yes it’s at times full of itself. But I was pulled into it and didn’t feel its long runtime until the very end.

The film walks a thin line between glamorizing McCandless and disapproving of his attitude and journey. He’s romanticized prominently but the negative aspects are more subtle until the end. Occasionally you think throughout the film, “man this guy’s kind of a dick” but by the end there’s no doubt. “Yes,” you say, “he’s definitely a dick.” I still felt for the guy at the end, but he is exposed as a naive, stubborn kid whose flaws did him in. The glamor is completely gone at the end as he realizes he’s eschewed a major part of the human experience – social interaction – in his deluded search for truth.

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I’ll probably be repeating some of the themes we discussed at Dremo’s, so bear with me, but my main problem with Into the Wild was that Christopher “Alexander Supertramp” McCandless was so obnoxious and irredeemable that I was rooting for his inevitable death throughout. Maybe its because I have an anti-hippie streak in me, but I had no empathy for his character’s “F— the World” mentality.

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Had I been completely ignorant of Oscar hype going into this movie, I’m not sure i would have pegged anything about it as Oscar material. Nothing about the movie struck me as particularly ambitious. The subplots (e.g. all the family issues) onto which I would have imagined Oscar latching weren’t particularly developed or stark. As much as I loved The Girl Next Door, Emile Hirsch didn’t seem all that special in the movie. The directing and cinematography seemed subpar to me, especially considering the material. And while I liked the supporting crew, I personally didn’t see anything memorable. That’s not to say I didn’t like the movie. I just found it, like American Gangster or Eastern Promises (generally speaking, at least), a movie enjoyable enough, but I’ll likely mostly forget it in a few months, and not really miss much.

The Eddie Vedder songs were pleasant enough, though I couldn’t remember them by the end of the night. And I don’t think the Abita Purple Haze had anything to do with that. In a vacuum, I’m not opposed to one getting a nomination, I can’t say for sure yet whether I think it would be in my top five.

June 2020