Each Wednesday through the week of the 2019 Academy Award nominations on Jan. 22, Take 2 is handicapping the Oscar rush with The Award Chase.
Editor’s note: Due to technical difficulties, we missed a week and a day. Hopefully, we’re back on track.
Since the release of “Moulin Rouge!” in 2001, at least one live-action musical has been an awards contender. The musical lost momentum after “Les Miserables” was the darling of the season in 2012, but it regained its strength with 2016’s “La La Land.” And while it was the “best picture” Oscar winner for a few minutes, not that many others have come close. This season, however, there are several movies that can be considered to be musicals or heavily musical-based that may make the field.
An actual musical
Technically, a musical must have songs that move the plotline along. Take a song or sequence away, and you’re at a loss. Among the contenders is “Mary Poppins Returns,” starring Emily Blunt (“Into the Woods”) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton,” “In The Heights”). The sequel to the 1964 classic with Julie Andrews, the new musical takes place nearly 25 years after the original, with the Banks children (Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer) all grown up with their own set of problems and children of their own. The Disney magic is alive and well with this one, with two songs on the Oscar shortlist for best original song and Blunt a frontrunner for best actress. The film features original cast member Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury and Blunt’s “Into the Woods” co-star Meryl Streep.
A musical biopic
Despite behind-the-scenes troubles and lackluster reviews from critics, “Bohemian Rhapsody” has been an underdog of a contender with audiences making it the highest grossing biopic of all time. Led by a charismatic performance by Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury of Queen, the film looks at the highs and lows of the pioneering rock band. The highlights come from the musical performances and the 20-minute Live Aid concert. While the performances are of lip-syncing, the film has a feeling that it was made for the fans who enjoyed the rock anthems and tunes that made Queen what they are now.
Movies about music
On the opposite side of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the fourth version of “A Star Is Born” with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. In the award-winning singer’s first starring role, Gaga plays a discovered performer who skyrockets to stardom under the wing of an alcoholic rocker (Cooper). The film, its stars (including Sam Elliott), and the song “Shallow” have won over critics and audiences since the movie’s release in October. Although the film is full of original songs, it is technically not a musical, as the songs do not move the plot forward. It has more of a dramatic feel. “Shallow” has earned Grammy nominations, including song of the year.
Another offering this late fall also had the same characteristics but is a complete original. “Vox Lux,” starring Natalie Portman, Jude Law and Raffey Cassidy, looks at how monetizing tragedy and achieving stardom through the mistakes and rise of Celeste, a New York teen who survived a school shooting to become a pop star as an adult. A favorite on the film festival circuit, “Vox Lux” has not picked up much along awards season. None of its original songs penned by music favorite Sia have not made the Oscar shortlist. This film also featured a captivating, 20-minute concert of new tunes.
Music that makes the movie
These are films that are heightened with the music that comes with it. They’re not musicals, but they would be less exciting if they were without their tunes. Last year’s “Baby Driver” comes to mind in this category.
One of the year’s biggest blockbusters also featured the year’s biggest album. The soundtrack for “Black Panther,” curated by Kendrick Lamar, earned the California rapper eight Grammy nominations this month, including album of the year as its producer. These also included nods for record and song of the year for “All The Stars” by Lamar and SZA. “All The Stars” and the film’s original score by Ludwig Göransson also made the Oscar shortlist. The last time a movie soundtrack won the album of the year Grammy was 2002’s “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
Rapper Boots Riley made his directorial debut with “Sorry To Bother You,” maintaining the title of one of his earlier songs with the rap collective The Coup. The group also contributed to the soundtrack with lead actor Lakeith Stanfield on the track “OYAHYTT,” a song that has been shortlisted.