Oscars Lowdown 2014: Best Original Song – U2 looks to upend Disney’s ‘Frozen’

In the lead-up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2, HitFix will be bringing you the lowdown on all 24 Oscar categories with multiple entries each day. Take a few notes and bone up on the competition as we give you the edge in your office Oscar pool!

The Best Original Song category enjoyed a hell of a lot more attention this season than it likely ever has as “Alone Yet Not Alone”-gate was a blight and an embarrassment. Not entirely for the composer of the song, mind you, who waged a one-man email campaign to get fellow branch members to vote for the track, but also for the Academy, which decided that disqualified the song, making it the only instance of a nomination being revoked due to perceived campaign malpractice in the Oscars' 85-year history. Given what happens under the hood every single season, if the Academy wants to go down that road, they better not stop with “Alone Yet Not Alone” – but I'm on the record about this. In its wake, the four remaining nominees are a poppy bunch, mostly, and the whole thing has become more competitive than expected.

The nominees are…

“Happy” from “Despicable Me 2” (Pharrell Williams)
Honestly? My opinion? “Happy” is the best of the nominees. I hear the groans. But it's a catchy piece of music from an artist who knows exactly how to wiggle his way into your ears. I never tire of this track – which also, by the way, comes in the context of the narrative in “Despicable Me 2,” which is helpful – and that's saying something for a tune that could have been incredibly annoying. Anyway, it's probably on the outside looking in at the big musical number, but don't sleep on it: the song was released to radio again and shot up the Billboard chart recently. It's in commercials. It's everywhere. I could see more than a few voters ticking off this box because they're besieged by the track as of late. (Check out our interview with Williams here.)

“Let it Go” from “Frozen” (Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez)
But this one is sure to go to the big Disney anthem, despite some doozy lyrics like “the past is in the past.” I kid. I may not have taken to “Frozen” this year but it has a rabid fan base that crosses generational lines, and “Let it Go” is going to be a hit from here to eternity. It's a call back to the kinds of songs that dominated this category years ago, whether “Under the Sea” or “A Whole New World” or what have you. It's iconic where the other nominees, admittedly, aren't (though I might prefer Mr. Freeze's version). That should go a long way toward securing it a win, but this is a pretty tight field this year, at least a three-way race.

“The Moon Song” from “Her” (Karen O and Spike Jonze)
The one that seems to be bringing up the rear, oddly enough, is the one in a Best Picture nominee used perfectly well in the context of the narrative without just being music laid over action. “The Moon Song” is too precious for its own good, in my opinion, but it at least helps tell the story of “Her.” Nevertheless, it didn't quite register the same sort of presence the other nominees did this year and therefore feels like an afterthought. We can all rejoice that it made co-writer Spike Jonze a triple-dipper nominee this year (as he's recognized for producing and writing the movie as well), and that it brought the lovely Karen O to the big show for the first time ever. But that's about as far as it looks to go.

“Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen)
The big campaign rush toward the end in this category seemed to come from The Weinstein Company on behalf of U2's “Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” The group already won the Golden Globe for the song and appeared on the first-ever episode of “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” to perform it in an intimate setting as voting was under way. They've also been uncharacteristically available, doing the press rounds, way more visible than they were over a decade ago when “The Hands That Built America” was nominated from “Gangs of New York.” Add to that the opportunity to throw recognition Mandela's way just a few months after the freedom fighter passed, and the socio-political context of it all given U2's war on AIDS and you have the potential for an upset.

Will win: “Let It Go” from “Frozen”
Could win: “Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”
Should win: “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2”
Should have been here: “Young and Beautiful” from “The Great Gatsby”

It's a shame Lana Del Rey's “Young and Beautiful” couldn't make the cut. That sly, though never verified, campaign to discredit it as a previously conceived song stunk to high heaven, but maybe it was a success in the end. Anyway, we may be pretty close to flipping a coin between U2 and “Frozen,” but in this category, when in doubt, pick the musical.

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Who should have been here instead? Have your say in the comments section.