According to The Hollywood Reporter, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and
Sciences, that bureaucratic jumble responsible for handing out Oscars, has reversed an
earlier decision to activate the long-dormant Best Musical category in time for this year's proceedings, and several
independent producers are taking that decision personally enough to mount an organized opposition.
The Best Musical category has technically existed, in one way or another, since the beginning of Oscar time, but over the years has gone through multiple revisions. Based on current AMPAS rules, a film's score must consist entirely of original music written specifically for that film in order to be eligible for nomination, and at least five eligible films must be released in a year in order for the committee to select a batch of nominations. Based on these rules, a film like Dancer in the Dark would be eligible for nomination; The Phantom of the Opera (based on a Broadway play) or Moulin Rouge (built around pre-existing pop songs) would not. In the category's current incarnation, an Oscar has never been awarded, because no single year has produced at least five eligible releases.
This year, seven films were initially considered eligible for nomination: The Disney cartoon Home of the Brave, with songs by multiple-Oscar-winner Alan Mencken; Greendale, a film shot on Super 8 by Neil Young; two micro-budget DV films, Open House and Big in Germany, both directed by Slamdance Film Festival co-founder Dan Mirvish; a Miramax-distributed French film called Les Choristes, The Polar Express, and Trey Parker/Matt Stone mad marionette melee Team America: World Police. However, on December 14, an AMPAS board met and decided first that The Polar Express and Les Choristes were actually ineligible due to the neglible narrative function of their songs, and second, that with a remaining pool of only five films, three would be gauranteed a nomination. The Academy Board of Governors issued a statement proclaiming this ratio "not in keeping with the level of accomplishmt" usually associated with an Oscar nomination. THR quotes Mirvish,
...they said something about how, 'With only five eligible films, the ratio of films that would get nominated wouldn't be up to Academy standards,' which is basically saying, 'Hey, if we liked the films it'd be fine, but we did not like the films.' So that's it. The Academy can play by their own rules.
Maybe, but that doesn't mean Mirvish has to. He and a group of cohorts are banding together under the moniker
The Coalition of the Musical, in order to issue The Indie Musical Challenge.
Mirvish's theory is, the real reason AMPAS chose to eliminate the category this year has to do with the fact that three
out of the five nominees were little-seen, powerless micro-indies (his own films, Greendale). Putting all
dubious proclamations of victimization aside, Mirvish also wisely points out that Hollywood has no vested interest in
producing risky, big-budget musicals based on unproven, original material, and that if the genre is going thrive (or
even survive), it will be owed to the innovation-through-desperation of independent filmmakers. So, to that end,
Mirvish announced, "With this Challenge, now is the time to help and inspire other filmmakers. And we're looking
forward to the Academy joining with us to encourage a new generation of musical filmmakers."
The Challenge itself can be read at www.indiemusicalchallenge.com. Meanwhile, Mirvish is also trying to secure a Best Song nomination for "Sellin' a Dream", a show-stopper sung by Sally Kellerman in Open House.