We say this on an almost annual basis, it seems, but the Best Original Song race is looking particularly lean this year — so lean, in fact, that I can scarcely think of any possibilities, strong or otherwise, from the year’s releases so far. (I know Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful,” from “The Great Gatsby,” has a lot of advocates out there, but it seems the song won’t be eligible.) But one interesting possibility, and one the film’s publicists seem willing to push, comes from recent indie favorite “Short Term 12.”
Destin Daniel Cretton’s intimate drama, set in a shelter for troubled teenagers, has been one of the critical darlings of the summer. I’m not quite as breathless as some of my colleagues about the film — it’s tender and affecting, but also cautious, tethered to its familiarly beige indie aesthetic — but it’s a promising showcase for pretty much everyone involved. Awards-wise, most of the talk has centered on Brie Larson’s excellent performance as a care worker with her own demons to confront; an Oscar nomination is a tough target, but she’s a cinch for an Independent Spirit nod, at least.
Leading lady aside, the most individual praise has been heaped upon 22-year-old Keith Stanfield, a relative newcomer whose performance as Larson’s most haunted, volatile young charge provides the film with its most electrifying moments. Chief among those is a scene wherein the kid delivers a 90-second freestyle rap that articulates much of the pain and emotionally scarring abuse that has led him to this point; titled “So You Know What It’s Like,” the expletive-filled track was written by Stanfield himself with Cretton, and is wholly original and integral to the film.
I suppose some in the Academy’s music branch may struggle to see the brief, minimally arranged interlude as a fully-fledged song — even if they have embraced hip-hop music in the past, with wins for Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in 2002, and Three 6 Mafia’s “Hard Out Her For a Pimp” in 2005. Still, if you’re looking for an original composition, performed within the framework of the film and with strong narrative significance — usually pluses with this voting group — you’d be hard pressed to find many better examples from 2013 so far. Is this one she should be looking out for? Check out the clip below and tell us what you think.