Without a big, live-action musical to drive the original-song conversation (see “A Star Is Born,” “The Greatest Showman,” “La La Land,” etc.), it looks as if a big, animated one has drawn the task.
Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s suite of character songs for “Frozen 2” includes two strong contenders for nominations, with several others worthy of consideration. Apart from the haunting lullaby “All Is Found,” the stirring “Into the Unknown” (the spiritual sequel to the first film’s Oscar-winning smash, “Let It Go”) may be the current front-runner and gives Adele Dazeem, er, Idina Menzel another shot at a memorable Oscar-night performance. If voters are thinking about the ceremony, though, there happen to be contenders performed by fairly popular stars such as Elton John, Cynthia Erivo and Beyoncé out there — and a chance for rising star Jessie Buckley to take the stage with a song co-written by Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen.
Really, some of the best on-screen musical work this year came in movies re-imagining established songs (such as the creative, transformative approaches in “Yesterday” and “Rocketman,” not to mention “The Lion King,” “Aladdin” and “Cats”) — a strong argument, perhaps, for reinstating the adaptation score/song score award?
In the meantime, here’s a hand-curated playlist of some of the notable original songs from movies this year, some of which seem ticketed for Oscar consideration. You’re welcome.
“All Is Found” (from “Frozen 2,” Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez)
It’s a gorgeous lullaby sung by Evan Rachel Wood in the film. Additionally, the credit sequence includes a version sung by country star Kacey Musgraves, whose voice seems ideally suited to the gentleness of the melody.
"(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” (from “Rocketman,” Elton John and Bernie Taupin)
Performed by John with on-screen dopplegänger Taron Egerton, the upbeat, Motown-leaning tune fits right in with the life lesson of the pop icon’s biopic.
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” (from “Toy Story 4,” Randy Newman)
Newman is a 20-time nominee and two-time winner, so don’t ever bet against him getting a nod. This time, there’s a surprisingly serious message couched in a jaunty tune for kids.
“Get This Right” (from “Frozen 2,” Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez)
This is a massive cheat to include, as it was cut from the film and is available only on the deluxe edition of the soundtrack, but it’s one of the most charming songs written for the film and features a standout vocal by Jonathan Groff. It also includes a brief but well-constructed harmony with Kristen Bell. Does not qualify as a contender, but you’ll thank me after you hear it.
“I Punched Keanu Reeves” (from “Always Be My Maybe, Randall Park and Daniel M. Nakamura)
The academy has a history of acknowledging novelty songs (“Everything Is Awesome,” “Blame Canada,” “Man or Muppet,” the last of which actually won), and 2019 produced a few of note. “Not Evil” from “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” and “When I Am Older” from “Frozen 2" contend here, but “Frozen” has enough on this list and Park’s laid-back rap smackdown is the funniest of the lot.
“Stand Up” (from “Harriet,” Cynthia Erivo, Joshuah Campbell)
Tony-winning force of nature Erivo is not only one of the best singers currently walking the Earth, but an accomplished songwriter. The Emmy-Grammy-Tony winner bids for the Oscar with this anthem from the film in which she stars as Harriet Tubman.
“Speechless” (from “Aladdin,” Alan Menken and Benj Pasek & Justin Paul)
Menken is in the Newman class of academy faves, with eight wins among his 19 nominations; relative youngsters (and Tony and Oscar winners) Pasek & Paul may be working their way toward that status themselves. Star Naomi Scott turns in a fine vocal.
“Lost in the Woods” (from “Frozen 2,” Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez)
David Foster may demand a DNA test on this one, a spot-on ‘80s power ballad featuring 18 tracks of Jonathan Groff. To get the full impact, though, one must see the ‘80s music video, er, sequence in the film.
“For You My Love (O Bandeya)” (from “Blinded by the Light,” A.R. Rahman)
Perhaps the sweetest movie love song of the year is by two-time Oscar winner Rahman. It’s a half-English, half-Hindi outlier on a soundtrack otherwise populated by Bruce Springsteen songs — the closest Bruce analog would be a mix of “Drive All Night,” “Secret Garden” and something from Bollywood.
“Spirit” (from “The Lion King,” Ilya Salmanzadeh, Labrinth and Beyoncé)
A rousing tune by some up-and-comer named Beyoncé. Not that voters ever think of such things, but imagine the stage spectacle Queen Bey might bring to the Dolby Theatre (and what ratings her hive might buzz up).
“Daily Battles” (from “Motherless Brooklyn,” Thom Yorke / arranged by Wynton Marsalis)
Marsalis rearranges Yorke’s character-based song into something that sounds right pouring from the horn of “Motherless Brooklyn’s” Miles Davis doppelgänger.
“Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” (from “Wild Rose,” Caitlyn Smith, Mary Steenburgen, Kate York)
Rising star Jessie Buckley’s lovely vocals are featured throughout this chronicle of a young Scottish woman trying to make it as a country singer in America. What may surprise is that the movie’s signature song is co-written by Oscar-winning actress Mary Steenburgen. If Steenburgen won, it would mark a 39-year gap between awards (she collected a supporting-actress prize for 1981’s “Melvin and Howard”).
“Into the Unknown” (from “Frozen 2,” Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez)
The strongest Oscar-race endorsement one can give it is that the Lopezes faced the daunting task of following up the everything-winning cultural phenomenon of “Let It Go” and succeeded with flying colors. It helped that they knew they were writing for a bona-fide Broadway-belting howitzer in Menzel, but the pop version by Panic! at the Disco demonstrates the daring song translates to other singers and musical settings. One does worry Panic! lead singer Brandon Urie might rupture something on that jump to the 11th in the chorus, but the Lopezes assure no Uries were injured in the recording of the song.
“Daily Battles” (from “Motherless Brooklyn,” Thom Yorke)
The vocal version of Yorke’s fragile air, recorded with his Atoms for Peace bandmate Flea on bass and horns.