Hollywood and the record industry converged on a winner this week in Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s music for the P.T. Barnum movie musical “The Greatest Showman.”
On Sunday night, the composing duo’s “This Is Me” — a feel-good power ballad about “bursting through the barricades and reaching for the sun” — won the Golden Globe for original song. Then, on Monday, “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200, having outsold blockbuster releases by Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and Kendrick Lamar.
That high-profile success makes “This Is Me” a virtual lock for an original song nomination at the Academy Awards. But Pasek and Paul’s fist-pumping anthem is only one of the 70 tunes the film academy has said are eligible in the category, which typically recognizes five songs.
With the Oscar nominating period due to end Friday, allow me to offer some thoughts — and some unsolicited advice for any remaining voters — on what else will (or should) make the cut when nominations are announced Jan. 23.
The momentum for “This Is Me” started before Sunday’s Golden Globes. Last year, Pasek and Paul won the Globe and the Oscar for original song with “City of Stars,” from “La La Land”; they also took several Tony Awards in June thanks to their work on the Broadway musical “Dear Evan Hansen.”
So although they’re still in their early 30s, the young duo have quickly established themselves as Guys Who Win Prizes (and Therefore Probably Deserve to Win More). Voters, after all, love to reward the same artists again and again, as each prize serves to ratify the idea that the voters got it right the time before.
Just look at Alan Menken, who collected his third original song Oscar in four years in 1993 when “A Whole New World,” from “Aladdin,” beat not one, but two more-deserving pop-soul ballads from “The Bodyguard”: “Run to You” and “I Have Nothing,” both demolished in the film by Whitney Houston.
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Which isn’t to knock songs from Disney musicals. Indeed, another tune almost certain to get a nod this year — and for good reason — is “Remember Me,” the sweetly shuffling number from “Coco” written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
As Disney fans know, they’re the married couple who also wrote the songs for “Frozen,” including “Let It Go,” which won an Academy Award in 2014.
And Menken himself is back in the running with “Evermore,” a new song that he and Tim Rice created for Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s not on the level of Menken’s material for the 1991 animated classic, but it gets the job done.
A low flame
Speaking of folks aiming a little lower than they used to, Common may end up with an unmerited nomination for “Stand Up for Something,” his and Andra Day’s blah neo-soul exercise from “Marshall,” which they co-wrote with veteran songwriter Diane Warren.
It’s an unabashed (if willfully vague) message song at a moment when many voters are likely to use their selections as a kind of a soft protest. But “Stand Up for Something” lacks the urgency of “Glory,” the fiery “Selma” track that earned Common and John Legend an Oscar three years ago. As such, its real message seems to be: Hey, I can still do that thing you liked last time.
My two favorite movie songs from 2017 are the pair of haunting acoustic ditties that Sufjan Stevens wrote and performed for “Call Me by Your Name,” neither of which I’ve been able to get out of my head since I saw the film. The academy doesn’t often go for songs as gentle and understated as “Mystery of Love” and “Visions of Gideon”; they feel as private as the relationship depicted in the movie.
But back in 1998, voters did recognize Elliott Smith’s “Miss Misery” (from “Good Will Hunting”), which shares some DNA with Stevens’ music — and led to one of the most memorable performances ever on the Oscars telecast.
I also loved “Weird Al” Yankovic’s super-charged theme song from “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie,” which deftly rhymes the hero’s name with “crazy circumstance.”
And though it feels about a thousand years old now, “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” — Swift and Zayn’s duet from “Fifty Shades Darker” — put across a credibly sensual quality we hadn’t really heard from Swift before the song first appeared (ahead of the film) near the end of 2016.
Whichever songs the academy ends up nominating, one thing it will definitely get wrong is its lack of recognition for music supervisors, who select the tunes — not necessarily new ones — used to soundtrack movies.
Last year, the Emmys presented an award for music supervision for the first time, and with plenty of inventive pairings of sound and picture in 2017, the Oscars need to catch up.
Think of Sky Ferreira’s sad but slinky rendition of the Commodores’ “Easy” in “Baby Driver.” Or the moment in “Lady Bird” when Saoirse Ronan’s character weeps along with the Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me.” Or the beginning of “Get Out,” set to Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” with its warning to “stay woke.”
Open your eyes, Oscar: Those scenes required talent worth celebrating.