The Best Song Oscar category is eagerly anticipated every award season. It’s the biggest honor for songwriters’ contributions to the cinematic experience, and usually one of the most competitive categories in the entire awards ceremony. Pop stars, movie composers, and songwriting industry veterans all put their hats in for the chance to come away with one quarter of an EGOT.
With dozens upon dozens of brand-new songs vying for Oscar attention in the category, many deserving songs are snubbed, slipping through the cracks between longlist, shortlist, and eventual nominations. Every year, there’s always one that got away…
1 “Carolina” by Taylor Swift — ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ (2022)
2022 was a massive year for pop star Taylor Swift; not only did she release her 10th hit album Midnights and break Ticketmaster records (and the ticket platform itself) for her upcoming Eras Tour, she also dipped into filmmaking herself. Her short film of her song “All Too Well (Ten Minute Version)” was well received and briefly had Oscar buzz. Buzzy as well was Swift’s contribution to the soundtrack of Where The Crawdads Sing, “Carolina,” a seeming surefire contender for 2023’s Best Song nominees.
Alas, even with a Golden Globe nomination, Swift failed to get an Oscar nomination this year. If she made it into the final lineup as an additional nominee, “Carolina” would face off against “Naatu Naatu” by M.M. Keeravaani and Chandrabose from RRR, “Hold My Hand” by Lady Gaga from Top Gun: Maverick, “Lift Me Up” by Rihanna from Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, “This Is A Life” by Son Lux, Mitski, and David Byrne from Everything Everywhere All At Once, and “Applause” by Diane Warren from Tell It Like A Woman.
2 “So May We Start?” by Sparks—’Annette’ (2021)
A polarizing darling at Cannes, Leos Carax‘s oddball rock opera Annette seemed like at least a sure thing come awards season when it came to its score by the cult favorite, omni-genre band Sparks. The opening song, “So May We Start?,” especially makes an impression. In one take, the cast of the film and Sparks themselves leave the recording studio and walk down the street singing the song alongside a choir of adults and children.
“So May We Start?” is the most easily digestable song in the complex and layered score of the film. Its matter-of-fact yet snarky lyrics, catchy tune, group vocal harmony, and Sparks’ presence are instantly memorable. How it didn’t charm the Oscar voters to get it on the ballot remains a mystery.
3 “Somebody Desperate” by The National— ‘Cyrano’ (2021)
Cyrano, Joe Wright‘s cinematic adaptation of Erica Schmidt and The National‘s musical based on the Edmond Rostand play, seemed to have Oscar buzz baked into it. The lead performance by Peter Dinklage is heartbreakingly vulnerable, and the film’s production design and period aesthetic are lush and gorgeous. Alas, since much of the lovely score was written for the earlier stage incarnation, the majority of songs that make up the movie score weren’t eligible.
The National did contribute a new song, the haunting unrequited love song “Somebody Desperate,” for the credits. If the movie didn’t suffer from a limited Los Angeles engagement followed by a wide release delayed until Oscar deadlines came and went, perhaps it could have made a stronger impression on voters. The movie in general didn’t get much love outside a costume design nomination, which is a shame for a movie musical of this caliber.
4 “Now You Know” by Weird Al Yankovic — ‘Weird: The Al Yankovic Story’ (2022)
Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is a riotous twist on the music biopic formula that could only come from the twisted mind of parody master Weird Al Yankovic. Daniel Radcliffe plays the pun-loving accordion whiz in a career origin story that chronicles his rise to fame in the 1980s, as well as a torrid (and imagined) relationship with pop diva Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood.) Celebrity cameos abound, and Yankovic even unrecognizably shows up as a ruthless record producer.
Yankovic’s song “Now You Know” pokes fun at the whole concept of Oscar bait closing credits songs. The song recaps the entire movie, becoming longer and more elaborate, and even has multiple fake endings! Since the film never got a cinematic release window, only playing festivals then heading straight to Roku, “Now You Know” missed Oscar eligibility it rightfully deserved to have. Justice for Weird Al!
5 “Nobody Like U” by Billie Eilish and Finneas — ‘Turning Red’ (2022)
Disney and Pixar’s Turning Red is a coming-of-age comedy brimming with early 2000s nostalgia. Teenage Mei is growing up, her relationship with her mother is complicated, and she starts turning into a giant red panda whenever she gets too excited about anything, especially 4*Town, her favorite boy band. Domee Shi‘s 2002-set feature-length debut captures all the highs and lows of adolescence in a colorful and era-approriate way, especially in its soundtrack.
Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas are already Oscar winners for their theme to the James Bond movie No Time To Die, so it seemed like a sure bet that whatever the two came up with next would also prove Oscar catnip. For Turning Red, the siblings provided the music and lyrics for all the songs sung by Mei’s favorite band, including the pop pastiche “Nobody Like U.” Their efforts were uniformly delightful, but perhaps due to recent winner bias, they sadly weren’t shortlisted for 2023.
6 “No Dames!” — ‘Hail, Caesar!’ (2016)
An underrated Coen Brothers gem, Hollywood ensemble comedy Hail, Caesar! follows the goings-on in the backlot of Capitol Pictures. There’s overarching intrigue involving the leading man of their gladiator epic (George Clooney) being kidnapped and held for ransom, threaded through scenes of many different genres of movie being filmed at the studio.
One of the movies being filmed is a musical starring Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum,) playing a sailor about to head out for months at sea with only other sailors for company. The big ensemble number “No Dames!” is a great showcase for Tatum’s terrific dancing, and the song itself is a cheeky, full-throttle throwback delight. The Oscars usually adore a good love letter to Hollywood, so “No Dames!” never getting a Best Song nomination is a bummer.
7 “Atlas” by Coldplay — ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ (2013)
Movies based on popular young adult novels often have eclectic soundtracks, with mood-setting music by a variety of artists that when put together fit the film’s energy and character beats. The Hunger Games franchise is no exception, with soundtrack albums that complement the films beautifully. Catching Fire, arguably the best in the series, also has some of the best songs in any recent young adult movie.
Catching Fire‘s credits song “Atlas” comes courtesy of British alt-pop-rock icons Coldplay, who are no stranger to music awards, but have yet to taste Oscar gold. Their suitably epic song for the credits is emblematic of Katniss’ determination and bravery throughout the movie. “Atlas” is even interpolated into the score of the film itself, in the track “We’re A Team” – when a credits song is so good it ends up in the orchestral score, an Oscar nomination should be a sure thing!
8 “Come What May” — ‘Moulin Rouge!’ (2001)
Baz Luhrmann’s romantic musical extravaganza Moulin Rouge! bursts at the seams with songs. Its score is a hybrid of unique covers of existing pop songs and a series of intricate yet effortless pop song mashups, like the swoony “Elephant Love Medley.” Among the pop covers, there’s one song that stands out as sounding original and Oscar-ready – the climactic love duet “Come What May,” sung by Christian (Ewan McGregor) and Satine (Nicole Kidman.)
What’s surprising is that “Come What May” wasn’t actually eligible for an Oscar. Since the song was initially written and copyrighted for use in Luhrmann’s earlier film Romeo + Juliet, it couldn’t qualify as an original song for Moulin Rouge! This beloved movie musical not having a Best Song Oscar still feels wrong over twenty years later.
Disney aren’t the only studio making animated musicals with fantastic, Oscar-worthy songs. The underrated 2018 Sony Pictures Animation film Smallfoot is a musical, a fact all of its marketing hid extremely well. The movie’s delightful songs were written by Grammy winner and Tony nominee Wayne Kirkpatrick and his Tony nominee brother Karey Kirkpatrick, who also directed the animated yeti comedy.
One of the standout songs in the score is “Wonderful Life,” sung by Zendaya, who voices yeti girl Meechee (of “Zendaya is Meechee” meme fame.) The sequence is animated beautifully and the song itself is a gorgeous anthem to exploring and loving the magic hidden in the world. If the Oscars paid more attention to non-Disney animated musicals, maybe these singing yetis would have had a shot.
10 “Ja Ja Ding Dong” —’Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’ (2020)
Netflix’s comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is a cheeky homage to the real-world music competition that captures the world’s attention every year and has launched artists like ABBA and Måneskin to international acclaim. The campy comedy follows a hapless Icelandic sibling duo (Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams) who end up becoming their country’s only eligible Eurovision contestants after the competition is wiped out in a freak boating accident. Their hilarious journey to the finals is full of comedic shenanigans and thrilling musical moments.
One of the songs from Eurovision Song Contest actually did get an Oscar nomination, McAdams’ gorgeous 11 o’clock number “Husavik (My Hometown.)” In some years, movies with multiple eligible songs get on the ballot twice – take La La Land‘s double nomination for “City of Stars” and “The Audition.” So why not a double dose of Eurovision with its gleefully innuendo-laden crowd pleaser “Ja Ja Ding Dong”?