It's no secret that the Best Original Song category has been something of a crapshoot since the turn of the millennium. Sure, there are have been some instant-classic winners, such as "Skyfall" (Skyfall) and "Falling Slowly" (Once), but in between the category has seen rough times, including years with only four, three, or even two nominees (the disastrous 2011 field). It's odd, you would think, that with Hollywood putting a least a little more faith in movie musicals that there would be more quality songs for this category. The problem, of course, is that most of those movie musicals are stage-to-screen transfers, with maybe an obligatory song written for eligibility but otherwise featuring songs that fans are already familiar with. In the meantime, this category catches all manner of hastily-produced songs that, at best, just play over the end credits of a Best Picture nominee.
Last year, we got lucky in that two of the four remaining nominees ("Alone But Not Alone," from the film of the same name, having been disqualified) were major pop hits as well: Pharrell Williams rode "Happy" (Despicable Me 2) to the top of the pop charts, while winner "Let It Go" (Frozen) was as inescapable as the film that spawned it. This year, of the five nominees, none were major hits, but the breakdown includes a lush ballad from an aging country legend ("I'm Not Gonna Miss You," from Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me), an empowering gospel-tinged rap anthem ("Glory," from Selma), the goofy earworm from The LEGO Movie ("Everything is AWESOME!!!"), and two ditties from original movie musicals: the Diane Warren-penned "Grateful" (from Beyond the Lights) and "Lost Stars" from Begin Again.
Having not seen Beyond the Lights, I can't speak with any certainty about the placement of "Grateful" within the film. "Lost Stars," however, is exactly what a Best Original Song winner should be. The song plays a prominent role in the film, functioning as the central composition that Gretta (Keira Knightley) will find success with, as well as the peace-offering from her pop-star ex-boyfriend Dave (Adam Levine). Begin Again is as much a film about the unique joys of the creative process as it is a traditional underdog story, and throughout the film we see "Lost Stars" evolve from just Gretta and her guitar to a full-blown pop arrangement by Dave.
It's the final version that shines the brightest (no disrespect to Knightley and her impressive chops). It's a pop song through-and-through, but it manages to be both contemporary and timeless; it doesn't chase current pop trends or tether itself to the sound of any particular time period. It rises into a joyous burst of a finale, with Levine's falsetto lifting the song into a state of exuberance. Though it perhaps contends with "Everything is AWESOME!!!" as the catchiest song in the category, it is without a doubt the most memorable.
Ultimately, the winner of Best Original Song should be, in equal measure, well-integrated into the film and a great tune in its own right. "Lost Stars" fits that description to a tee, and would be a worthy addition to the list of winners in this category.