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‘Barbie’ Dominates Original Song Category at Oscars; John Williams and the Late Robbie Robertson Among Score Contenders

Two songs from “Barbie” are Oscar-nominated, part of a diverse collection of songs and musical scores nominated for the 96th annual Academy Awards.

“What Was I Made For?” by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell, and “I’m Just Ken,” by Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt, were chosen by the 390 voting members of the Academy music branch. Three “Barbie” songs were shortlisted (Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night” being the third) but only two can be nominated, per Academy rules.

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The “Barbie” songs are already considered frontrunners, and if either number prevails on March 10, the Oscar will go to a pair of songwriters who already have one of those golden statues. Siblings Eilish and O’Connell won for 2021’s James Bond film “No Time to Die,” while Ronson and Wyatt were two of four 2018 winners for Lady Gaga’s song “Shallow” from “A Star Is Born.”

They will compete against Jon Batiste and Dan Wilson’s “It Never Went Away” from “American Symphony,” Diane Warren’s “The Fire Inside” from “Flamin’ Hot” and “Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People)” by Scott George, the Native American chant from “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Batiste is a previous winner as co-composer of the 2020 Pixar film “Soul.” For Warren, it’s her 15th nomination in 36 years of penning tunes for the screen, without a competitive win; she received an honorary Oscar in 2022 for her body of work.

Bypassed by the music branch were songs from “Asteroid City,” “The Color Purple,” “Flora and Son,” “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” “Past Lives,” “Rustin” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” For the past several years, 15 songs have been chosen for the shortlist and members whittle the number down to a final five.

This year’s score nominations were harder to predict. Ludwig Göransson, a previous Oscar winner for 2018’s “Black Panther” and a song nominee for its 2022 sequel “Wakanda Forever,” earned his third nomination for Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” Göransson has already won the Golden Globe and Critics Choice Awards for the film.

Robbie Robertson received a posthumous nomination for his music for Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.” He died Aug. 9. The guitarist and songwriter for the Band was the son of a Native American, and so his 10th collaboration with Scorsese — after everything from “The Last Waltz” to “The Color of Money” — was especially close to his heart. The film is dedicated to him.

Robertson is the seventh person to be posthumously nominated for an original dramatic score. The history dates back to 1942, and Frank Churchill’s score nomination for “Bambi”; the others include Victor Young (“Around the World in 80 Days,” 1956, a winner), Alfred Newman (“Airport,” 1970), Raymond Rasch and Larry Russell (“Limelight,” 1972, also won) and Bernard Herrmann (“Obsession” and “Taxi Driver,” 1976).

The music branch also chose Laura Karpman’s jazzy “American Fiction” score. This is Karpman’s first Oscar nomination, although she has five Emmys, is a former music-branch governor and a co-founder of the Alliance for Women Film Composers, and is widely credited with helping diversify Academy membership.

Karpman becomes only the fifth woman to be nominated for composing original dramatic music for the screen; three have won (Rachel Portman for 1996’s “Emma,” Anne Dudley for 1997’s “The Full Monty” and Hildur Guðnadóttir for 2019’s “Joker”).

Ninety-one-year-old John Williams received his 54th nomination for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.” The legendary composer and five-time Oscar winner has long held the record for most-nominated musician in Oscar history, and is the most-nominated living individual for Oscar overall. He was nominated for the first three Indiana Jones movies, starting with “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in 1981.

English composer Jerskin Fendrix received his first Oscar nomination for his first film score: “Poor Things,” the Yorgos Lanthimos sci-fi comedy-drama with Emma Stone.

There were really only two surprises among this year’s nominees: the inclusion of the Osage Tribal Singers’ “Wahzhazhe” from “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which virtually no one predicted; and the fact that none of the shortlist’s three scores from animated movies (“Elemental,” “The Boy and the Heron” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”), all widely acclaimed, made the cut.

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