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Oscar Original Song Race Starts to Come Into Focus

Filmmakers and studios are still scrambling to complete their holiday releases, and not all of the songs you’ll be hearing about during awards season are set. But at least a dozen tunes are in contention for that all-important Oscar shortlist to be revealed Dec. 16.

Although the new song Taylor Swift and Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote for “Cats” is under wraps, it’s already looming large. Swift “really has understood the central message [of ‘Cats’] in the “very sophisticated lyric” she wrote for “Beautiful Ghosts,” Lloyd Webber tells Variety, “and it’s entirely written for the dramatic situation.” It first appears sung by lead actress Francesca Hayward, later in a reprise by Judi Dench, and finally over the end credits by Swift herself.

Five contenders are from Disney. Topping that list is “Into the Unknown,” another showcase for Idina Menzel in “Frozen 2.” You can never count out two-time Oscar winner Randy Newman, whose “I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away” was featured in “Toy Story 4.”

Alan Menken, whose eight Oscars include two for the original “Aladdin,” is vying for another with “Speechless,” the new song for this year’s live-action version, penned with fellow Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Beyoncé (with co-writers Timothy McKenzie and Ilya Salmanzadeh) added “Spirit” to the new version of Disney’s “The Lion King.” Elton John and Tim Rice, who won for a song in their original 1994 score, added a tune of their own, “Never Too Late.” In fact, John may be competing with himself, contributing “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” written with collaborator Bernie Taupin, to the “Rocketman” score.

Diane Warren is back with “I’m Standing With You” from “Breakthrough.” Regina Spektor joins the race with “One Little Soldier” from “Bombshell,” and Cynthia Erivo not only starred in “Harriet,” but also sang “Stand Up,” which she co-wrote with Joshuah Brian Campbell. Thom Yorke wrote “Daily Battles” for “Motherless Brooklyn.”

Documentary songs can’t be counted out. This year’s slate includes Pharrell Williams’ “Letter to My Godfather” from “The Black Godfather” (written with Chad Hugo) and past winner Paul Williams (“Evergreen”), whose “Da Bronx” (written with Charles Fox) adorned the doc “The Bronx, USA.”

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