We're counting down the final hours to the Super Bowl of all awards shows, and while all the buzz is on how many awards the "Brokeback" boys will ride off with, controversy is brewing in the musical categories.
As soon as "It's Hard out Here for a Pimp" -- a song from the rap-centered drama "Hustle & Flow" -- was nominated, everyone began scratching their heads, wondering just how this song would be rendered on Oscar night, famous for squeaky-clean musical performances.
The song aptly describes what Terrence Howard's movie is about, and the scenes of him recording it make up some of the film's pivotal moments.
In 2003, Eminem opened Oscar's door for rap and hip-hop, although he didn't show up to perform "Lose Yourself" or collect his trophy. That precedent could help Three 6 Mafia, the southern rappers who wrote the song Howard performs.
Still, the profanity-laced lyrics might be too much for the image-conscious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Show organizers will no doubt be sweating and grateful for the five-second time delay.
Three 6 Mafia has already assured the Academy that the sanitized version has been purged of F-bombs and N-bombs, and will meet ABC broadcast standards.
"We took out all the cuss," rapper Paul "DJ Paul" Beauregard, who co-wrote the song with Jordan "Juicy J" Houston and Cedric "Frayser Boy" Coleman, told The Associated Press.
In one case, the rappers found a tamer alternative to "f---ed up," singing instead, "It's messed up where I live but that's just how it is."
It's not the first time a song has been cleaned up for the Oscars' delicate ears. The Academy faced a similar controversy in 2000, when "Blame Canada" from "South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut" was up for best original song. The show turned to actor-comedian Robin Williams to perform a sanitized version, which was turned into an old-time Hollywood extravaganza.
Phil Collins won that year for "You'll Be in My Heart" from "Tarzan."
New Rules Limit Original Songs
Leaving "Pimp's" racy lyrics aside, changes in Academy rules for best original song have changed the competition. Under the present criteria, a song cannot run under dialogue. It has to be clearly audible, and eligibility applies if it's the first song in the end credits.
Additionally, Academy members now have to rate potential nominees on a 6-10 scale with nominees having to score 8.25 or higher.
Because of these changes, the recent Golden Globe winner -- Emmylou Harris' "A Love That Will Never Grow Old" from "Brokeback Mountain" -- was ineligible for Oscar glory.
In fact, there are only three nominees for best original song. And one of them, "In the Deep," has generated controversy by potentially violating another Academy rule. The tune was used in an unreleased film prior to "Crash."
Kathleen "Bird" York, who co-wrote the song with Michael Becker, will perform it Sunday. York might be better known for her recurring role on "The West Wing," but her ethereal-sounding vocals left an indelible mark on the drama about race relations in Los Angeles, and her musical career has been on an upswing ever since.
Having the songwriters perform their own songs marks a change from last year, when the Academy tapped singers like Beyonce Knowles and Antonio Banderas to perform nominated songs.
Whether or not "In the Deep" violated the rules should have no bearing on the song's chances. The voting deadline is over, and there's practically zero chance it could be excluded at this point.
The third nominee is Dolly Parton, a country-music mainstay famous for crossover hits that connect with mainstream America. Twenty-five years ago she was nominated for "9 to 5" and lost out to the theme from "Fame."
This year, she's nominated for "Travelin' Thru" from "Transamerica," the story of a man about to undergo a sex-change operation. When she first heard about the film, Parton recalled that she thought it was about a retired couple traveling across the country in an RV.
After she found out what the movie was about, she drew inspiration from people she'd met through the years. The result was an uplifting, pro-tolerance song that might bring Parton one of the coveted statuettes Sunday night.
High Score for Foreign Composers
In this year's Best Original Score category, it's perennial Oscar darling John Williams against the world. Williams, the only American-born nominee in the category this year, received two nominations. The contenders in this category are:
"Brokeback Mountain" -- Gustavo Santaolalla
"The Constant Gardener" -- Alberto Iglesias
"Memoirs of a Geisha" -- John Williams
"Munich" -- John Williams
"Pride & Prejudice" -- Dario Marianelli
Argentina-born Santaolalla's prolific scoring resume includes "Motorcycle Diaries," "21 Grams" and "Amores Perros." Additionally, he is one of the most successful Latin rock producers. He's worked with Juanes and Cafe Tacuba among others, and owns Surcor, a Latin indie music label. The flawless American West-sounding score highlighted by the pedal-steel guitar underlies his talent, and he could collect his first Oscar as part of the "Brokeback" sweep.
Iglesias, Spain's most sought-after composer, has scored the last five Pedro Almodovar films, and his work on "The Constant Gardener" featuring a well-placed cornucopia of world-music beats from East Africa helped galvanize director Fernando Meirelles' vision. Iglesias' talent will no doubt make him a Hollywood favorite in years to come.
Italian-born Marianelli is a virtual unknown in the United States, but his period-piece composition for "Pride & Prejudice" featuring French classical pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet does not disappoint. An Oscar win on Sunday may be premature, but Marianelli follows the footsteps of Italian greats like Nino Rota and Ennio Morricone, and will undoubtedly be nominated again in the future.
Williams should be recognized as one of the most lauded artists in Academy Awards history, with 43 nominations and five Oscars. The double nomination for "Memoirs of a Geisha" and "Munich" is impressive, but he may be canceled out by competing against himself.
While "Geisha's" intense score featuring traditional Japanese instruments wowed critics and audiences, "Munich's" Middle-Eastern flavored score didn't create much of a buzz.
Though Williams' two nominations could split his votes, this category is his to lose. Let's hope his mantle is big enough for a sixth Oscar -- a problem anyone in showbiz would like to have.