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Oscar’s shrinking playlist

Process to weed out tunes that aren't 'over that bar'

The Academy music branch went the “bake-off” route this year to determine original song nominees, and the result was just three contenders, not five, for only the second time in the past 70 years.

The 237 voting members of the branch — consisting primarily of composers, songwriters and music editors — were invited to one of two screenings, Jan. 17 and Jan. 23, where three-minute clips of all 42 eligible songs were shown. Members voted (on a scale of 6 to 10), and songs that achieved an 8.25 grade or higher became the nominees.

The process, according to Acad spokesman John Pavlik, is similar to those used to determine nominees in the sound, visual effects and makeup categories.

“Every person who voted saw and heard every single song,” says Charles Bernstein, who is both vice chairman of the music branch executive committee and chairman of the Acad rules committee. “It was a level playing field, and you know that (the votes) were not the result of airplay or hearsay.”

Acad officials indicate there had been complaints in recent years that smaller, less prominent films were not being considered, and that nods tended to go to the bigger names in the field.

Members who were not in L.A. for the screenings could not vote, but branch executive committee chairman Arthur Hamilton says, “If the feedback continues to be as good as it has been so far, after (this year’s) awards we’ll probably make a decision to duplicate this procedure in New York” next year.

Asked about concerns that the three-minute song clips precluded voters from hearing the tunes in their full movie contexts, the music governors say letters went out to all branch members earlier in the season alerting them to eligible songs and encouraging them to see as many movies as possible, either in theaters or via screeners.

Officials won’t say how many branch members attended, using words like “substantial” and “pretty good turnout” to describe the numbers.

As to why 42 song scenes were screened and only three made the cut, Bernstein says: “There’s a certain bar (of quality), and a substantial group of very good professionals felt that these were the songs that were over that bar. It’s as simple as that.”

Another branch member who attended, voted and asked not to be identified, puts it this way: “There weren’t as many good songs as you might think.”

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