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After a string of weak years in the Best Song category – culminating in last year’s bottom-of-the-barrel showdown between Rio and Muppets – the harmonic and lyrically inclined have struck back with a season worth singing about. Not two, not three, not four, but five defensible nominees, two of which hover above as monsters of their genres.

Who knew Scarlett Johansson could sing? Apparently, she’s quite skilled as a somber alto lamenting the end of the polar ice caps, with a soulful assist from Joshua Bell on violin. “Before My Time” from Chasing Ice by J. Ralph aspires to be the next “I Need to Wake Up” (from An Inconvenient Truth), riding environmental issues to an Oscar. Could global warming strike twice? Listen here:

While the song’s message is deep and the tones purposeful, the competition is far too steep for “Before My Time” to capture the golden statue.

Next comes another big name in the music world – Norah Jones – associated with Seth McFarlane’s brand of irreverent comedy in Ted. Jones trumpets “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” with her usual sonic jazz sound, and this big-band buddy number trumps other less-sophisticated efforts of its ilk, such as Randy Newman’s contributions to the Pixar field.

“Everybody Needs a Best Friend” is good enough to win in a down year, but, much like “Before My Time,” it falls short of a couple others, such as “Pi’s Lullaby” from Life of Pi (also featured in the Best Score article) by Mychael Danna.

There really is no contest when it comes to originality; “Pi’s Lullaby” is the epitome of exceptional, combining an active orchestration of exotic sounds, meditative hymns, vibrant backdrops, and potent ambience. Layered beauty:

A work as phenomenal as this comes along only once in a while, and it should be the hands-down winner if the Academy voters are in the mood to step outside their comfort zones.

The biggest challenger to “Pi’s Lullaby” is Adele with “Skyfall” (from Skyfall). An awards-show maven, Adele has been cleaning up, from the Grammys to the Golden Globes, and her powerful voice, immense popularity, and Bond association could very well propel her to victory. This really should be a two-horse race, with the top two candidates jarring neck and neck for the crown.

If you haven’t heard it, listen here to Adele’s resurrection ballad:

It’s not transcendent like “Pi’s Lullaby,” but it certainly packs a ferocious punch. If the Academy opts for a more traditional vote, “Skyfall” will top the field.

Lastly, we have the newly composed song, “Suddenly,” from Les Misérables, which – while sung spiritedly by Hugh Jackman – comes off as a little pedestrian compared with the other songs from the musical:

Those invested in the storyline will find comfort in Jean Valjean’s vocalized immersion into fatherhood, but the song itself just isn’t special enough to merit serious consideration.

“Pi’s Lullaby” vs. “Skyfall” should be among the more unpredictable battles at this year’s Oscars, and whichever one wins could dictate Oscar pool results. My gut feeling says Adele sneaks away with it, but she’s only the slimmest of favorites.

 
Road to the Oscars Series

January 14: Best Visual Effects – Ian Murphy

January 16: Best Sound Editing – Ian Murphy

January 18: Best Sound Mixing – Michael Benedict

January 21: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

January 23: Best Costume Design – Ian Murphy

January 25: Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Rebecca Susmarski

January 28: Best Film Editing – Dan Schindel

January 30: Best Production Design – Scott Youngbauer

February 1: Best Animated Feature – Carlos Aguilar

February 4: Best Documentary Feature – Dan Schindel

February 7: Best Documentary Short Subject – Dan Schindel

February 8: Best Live Action Short – Carlos Aguilar

February 9: Best Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 10: Best Foreign Language Film – Carlos Aguilar

February 11: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Screenplay – Dan Schindel

February 14: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Supporting Actor – Angela Stern

February 17: Best Supporting Actress – Hiko Mitsuzuka

February 18: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 19: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 20: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Picture – Kit Bowen

February 24: 85th Annual Academy Awards