This Year’s Best Original Song Category Featured More Puzzling Omissions Than Any Other

I swore I would stop caring about the Oscars, and specifically the Best Original Song category, after “Please Mr. Kennedy” from the frustratingly beautiful Inside Llewyn Davis was deemed ineligible (UH OH) by the Academy for being a “take-off on a parody of a satire.” But three years later, I can’t help but be disappointed by this year’s crop of Best Original Song nominees.

They are: two songs from La La Land, “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” and “City of Stars,” both of which are fine, but, if provoked, I bet you can’t sing a single lyric from either; Justin Timberlake’s gratingly cheerful “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from Trolls; Lin-Manuel Miranda’s soaring “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana; and something called “The Empty Chair” by J. Ralph and Sting from Jim: The James Foley Story. La La Land has to be considered the omnipresent frontrunner (although I’m rooting for Moana), but there’s not a single earworm, like previous winners “Let It Go” or “Skyfall,” in the bunch. There could have been, though, if the Academy had recognized the original basic bitch.

What defines an Oscar winner? For an actor or actress, it’s usually for a performance that’s either showy (like Denzel Washington in Fences) or understated (Casey Affleck in Manchester By the Sea); for a director, it’s control and vision; and for an animated movie, it’s falling under the Disney umbrella (Moana and Zootopia). But Best Original Song is harder to determine — there’s no such thing as an “Oscar bait” song. It’s the category that awards John Legend and Common for Selma‘s civil rights anthem “Glory,” but still recognizes the Lonely Island’s endearingly goofy “Everything Is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie. Best Original Song is impossible to predict, which is something I should have kept in mind when I thought Sing Street was a lock.

If you haven’t seen Sing Street yet, you really should. It’s charming, and lovely, and easy to watch, and even easier to relate to: A boy forms a band to impress a girl. The Irish comedy-musical was nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes, and both of writer/director John Carney’s other song-heavy films, Once and Begin Again, were nominated for Best Original Song (Once even won), but Sing Street was shut out of the Oscars. As was — and this was predictable, but it still stinks — Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, despite giving us this masterpiece.

The hook in “Mona Lisa” is just as indelible as the one in “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” and anyone who argues “I got that sunshine in my pocket” is a “better” lyric than “Mona Lisa, you’re an overrated piece of sh*t” should be locked in a room, Daryl Dixon-style, and forced to watch Trolls on repeat for a year. Again, there’s no such as a “perfect” Best Original Song winner, but it should be two things: catchy, and one of the first things you associate with whatever movie it’s in. That’s why I can live with “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and “City of Stars” being nominated — in 10 years, they’re what I’m going to remember about Trolls and La La Land, other than Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone’s outfits. (“How Far I’ll Go” — the “before-the-journey” ballad that’s a staple of all Disney musicals — also makes sense, because, well, Lin-Manuel Miranda.) But “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”? That’s not a great song; it’s a great performance by Stone, and that’s an important distinction. As for “The Empty Chair,” I only made it 10 seconds before closing the video.

Here’s how I — a fool who dreams — would re-do the category.

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” (Trolls)
“City of Stars” (La La Land)
“Drive It Like You Stole It” (Sing Street)
“How Far I’ll Go” (Moana)
“Mona Lisa” (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping)

Oh wait, “Mona Lisa” wasn’t eligible? Let’s try again…

“The Ballad of Wiener-Dog” (Wiener-Dog)
“City of Stars” (La La Land)
“Drive It Like You Stole It” (Sing Street)
“How Far I’ll Go” (Moana)
“I’m So Humble” (Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping)

You’ll notice “Can’t Stop the Feeling” has been replaced with “The Ballad of Wiener-Dog” from Wiener-Dog. I did this for two reasons: 1) the song is called “The Ballad of Wiener-Dog,” and 2) you can’t stop the feeling, but you can try to contain it. Best Original Song: that’s the riddle of the Oscars.