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'Coco' an early Oscar favorite in animation and song races, where Cher and the Beast could also rise

'Coco' an early Oscar favorite in animation and song races, where Cher and the Beast could also rise
"Beauty and the Beast" should earn a nod for its original song, "Evermore," sung by Dan Stevens as the Beast. (Walt Disney Pictures)

Last Oscars, we had "La La Land" and Lin-Manuel Miranda. How do you top that musically? One possibility: Bring back Cher! (Bob Mackie outfit optional.)

Cher could very well perform at this year's show should music branch voters give songwriter Diane Warren her ninth nomination for the Cher-sung "Prayers for This World," which plays over the closing credits of the documentary "Cries From Syria."

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That's one of the more intriguing possibilities among this year's Oscar races for original song and score. Here's an early look at those categories, along with the field for animated feature.

ORIGINAL SONG

"Remember Me" ("Coco")

"Evermore" ("Beauty and the Beast")

"Mystery of Love" ("Call Me by Your Name")

"Stand Up for Something" ("Marshall")

"Prayers for This World" ("Cries From Syria")

On the cusp: "This Is Me" ("The Greatest Showman"), "Never Forget" ("Murder on the Orient Express"), "It Ain't Fair" ("Detroit"), "Mighty River" ("Mudbound")

In the conversation: "You Shouldn't Look at Me That Way" ("Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool"), "If I Dare" ("Battle of the Sexes"), "I Don't Wanna Live Forever" ("Fifty Shades Darker")

Analysis: The heart-tugging "Remember Me" and "Evermore," the new "Beauty and the "Beast" song from composer Alan Menken and lyricist Tim Rice, figure to be the front-runners here. "Mystery of Love," one of two original songs hipster fave Sufjan Stevens wrote for "Call Me by Your Name," should be a good bet too, given its prominence in a movie likely to be nominated for best picture.

There's also another Warren track, "Stand Up for Something," which she co-wrote with Oscar winner Common, one of several social-minded songs ("It Ain't Fair," "If I Dare") in the mix. Mary J. Blige, an acting contender for her nuanced supporting turn in "Mudbound," could also earn a nomination for the beautiful "Mighty River," which she co-wrote with Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson. If I had a vote, it'd top my ballot.

Composer Hans Zimmer works on a song in his Santa Monica studio.
Composer Hans Zimmer works on a song in his Santa Monica studio. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

ORIGINAL SCORE

Hans Zimmer, "Dunkirk"

Jonny Greenwood, "Phantom Thread"

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Alexandre Desplat, "The Shape of Water"

John Williams, "The Post"

Dario Marianelli, "Darkest Hour"

On the cusp: Carter Burwell, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"; Carter Burwell, "Wonderstruck"; Thomas Newman, "Victoria & Abdul"

In the conversation: John Williams, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"; Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, "Blade Runner 2049"; Michael Giacchino, "Coco"

Analysis: Love him or hate him, when it comes to Zimmer, you can't help but hear him, particularly when he works with Christopher Nolan. With "Dunkirk," Nolan wrote the film as a fusion of music, sound effects and images, all working together to ratchet up the tension as the movie's three story lines converge. Zimmer was integral to the process. Remember the sound of the ticking clock in the movie? Maybe you're hearing it now as it counts down the seconds until Zimmer wins his second Oscar.

The coming-of-age tale "The Breadwinner" is among the year's top animated contenders.
The coming-of-age tale "The Breadwinner" is among the year's top animated contenders. (GKIDS)

ANIMATED FEATURE

"Coco"

"The Breadwinner"

"Loving Vincent"

"The Lego Batman Movie"

"The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales"

On the cusp: "Ferdinand," "Mary and the Witch's Flower"

In the conversation: "In This Corner of the World," "Boss Baby," "Captain Underpants"

Analysis: "Coco" isn't top-tier Pixar. The studio is long removed from its run of classics that ended with "Toy Story 3" in 2010, with "Inside Out" being the one inspired exception. Like "Inside Out," "Coco" is an original story and it will have a built-in advantage as the category's most-viewed feature.

That doesn't mean it's a slam-dunk. "The Breadwinner," the story of a brave Afghan girl standing up to the Taliban, tackles gender inequality with an urgency that will resonate with voters in our current cultural climate. Once nominated, if enough academy members see it, I think it could win.

As for the other titles, no one is going to remember 2017 as a great year for animation. "The Lego Batman" made for good, silly fun, and "Loving Vincent" captured Van Gogh's last days with sensitivity and occasional illumination. Fox's "Ferdinand" had not screened prior to my deadline, and it might be passed over for GKids' clever "Big Bad Fox," a new movie from Patrick Imbert and Benjamin Renner (director of the Oscar-nominated "Ernest & Celestine").

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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