Paucity of candidates plagues musical category

Only 'Dancer,' 'El Dorado' qualify this year

Technically speaking, Oscar has three categories for music. But this year, there will be only two — original score and original song — and it probably will remain the case for the foreseeable future.

This situation is taking root because the third category, original musical, requires at least five entries. This year, according to Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ officials, only two films qualified: “Dancer in the Dark,” with its songs by Bjork, and DreamWorks’ animated “The Road to El Dorado,” featuring Elton John-Tim Rice tunes.

“(The music branch executive committee) has officially made the decision that we won’t have a musical category this year,” Acad exec director Bruce Davis confirms.

An original musical, according to AMPAS rules, consists of “not fewer than five original songs by the same writer or team of writers … substantively rendered, clearly audible, intelligible, and must further the storyline.”

In other words, not a collection of tunes assembled by a music supervisor to promote a soundtrack album (which is often the case these days).

Icelandic pop singer Bjork, whose “Dancer in the Dark” song score likely would have been a nominee in this category, says she’s not disappointed.

“There have already been far more rewards than I ever even thought,” Bjork notes. “It’s out of my hands anyway. I’m just treating it all like a marvelous bonus.”

Two other films might have qualified if not for quirks in production history. James Horner (with lyricists Will Jennings and Cynthia Weil) penned seven songs for “Dr. Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and while all were filmed on camera, only one–Cindy Lou Who’s theme, “Where Are You Christmas?” — made the final cut. The others are heard, in snippets, as background source music.

Sting wrote six songs for the original dramatic version of “The Emperor’s New Groove” (then called “Kingdom of the Sun”) that were all junked when Disney turned it into a David Spade-driven comedy.

The Coen brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” features a superb collection of Depression-era songs assembled by producer T Bone Burnett (and sung by several celebrated artists including Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss), but the score is ineligible because the songs (obviously) weren’t written for the film.

What bodes ill for the future of the musical category is the institution of another new section next year for animated feature. For that race to take place, a minimum of eight films must be entered. Acad officials are privately suggesting that eight may become the magic minimum number for the musical category, too. Given the paucity of big-screen musicals these days, that threshold may never be reached.

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