With an Oscar, four Emmys, three Grammys and three Tonys under his belt, not to mention a Kennedy Center Honor, Hollywood Walk of Fame star and AFI Life Achievement Award, Mel Brooks is unquestionably among the most celebrated entertainers and filmmakers of all time.
At age 96, Brooks is active as ever and, nearly five decades since his last nomination, back in the Oscar conversation with a Best Original Song bid for “At the Automat,” a tune he composed for the documentary feature The Automat.
The film, directed and produced by Lisa Hurwitz, shines a spotlight on Horn & Hardart, the food services company founded by Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart that operated the first food service automats in Philadelphia and New York City. It traces the rise and fall of the automats and features appearances by the likes of Brooks, Carl Reiner, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Colin Powell, and other famous figures who had a fondness for the now-defunct restaurants.
Brooks’ tune is a loving and nostalgic tribute – and, should he score a Best Original Song nomination for it, it would not mark his first appearance in the category. In 1974, Brooks scored not one but two Oscar bids – in Best Original Song for “Blazing Saddles” (from the eponymous comedy classic) and Best Adapted Screenplay for Young Frankenstein. While neither nomination translated to a win, Brooks at this point already had his trophy, having scored the Best Original Screenplay prize for The Producers six years earlier.
Emmy wins would arrive in Variety Writing (for The Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris Special) and Comedy Guest Actor (three consecutive victories for Mad About You), with Grammys on the horizon in Comedy Album (The 2000-Year-Old Man in the Year 2000), Musical Theater Album (The Producers) and Long Form Music Video (Recording The Producers: A Musical Romp With Mel Brooks). All three Tony wins arrived on the same night in 2001, as Brooks swept Best Musical, Book of a Musical and Original Score for The Producers.
Will Brooks continue his remarkable awards run and stage an Oscar comeback this year? Let’s take a look at this year’s stacked Best Original Song field.
Per usual, there is no shortage of contenders vying for slots, with an array of music superstars and past nominees and winners in the hunt.
Among them are last year’s Best Original Song winners, Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell, back in contention with “Nobody Like U” from Turning Red, and the prior year’s honoree, D’Mile, eligible here for “Stand Up,” a tune he composed with Jazmine Sullivan for Till. Another recent winner, Lady Gaga, is also in the mix, this time with “Hold My Hand” from Top Gun: Maverick, a film poised for heaps of recognition this awards season.
Speaking of Best Picture contenders that could surface here, there’s “This Is a Life,” composed by David Byrne, Ryan Lott and Mitski for Everything Everywhere All at Once, “Vegas,” composed by Doja Cat for Elvis and “Lift Me Up,” composed by Tems, Ludwig Göransson, Rihanna, and Ryan Coogler for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Taylor Swift is seeking her first Oscar nomination with “Carolina” from Where the Crawdads Sing, as are LCD Soundsystem, eligible here for “New Body Rhumba” from White Noise, and Joe Jonas with a bid for “Not Alone” from Devotion.
Past Oscar winners and nominees who could surface include Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, composers of “(You Made It Feel Like) Home” from Bones and All; Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, composers of “Carried Away” from Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, alongside Ari Afsar and Mark Sonnenblick; and Marc Shaiman, composer of “Love Is Not Love” from Bros, alongside star Billy Eichner. And never to be underestimated is Best Original Song mainstay Diane Warren, who could pick up her 14th career nomination with “Applause” from Tell It Like a Woman.
In the mix, too, is “Naatu Naatu,” composed by Kala Bhairava, M. M. Keeravani, Rahul Sipligunj for RRR, a film that has proven a worldwide sensation.
With more than a dozen formidable contenders, you’d think it may prove challenging for a small documentary like The Automat to break through. It should be noted, however, that documentary features have a rich history of surfacing in Best Original Song, with contenders like “I’ll Fight” (from RBG), “The Empty Chair” (from Jim: The James Foley Story), “Til It Happens to You” (from The Hunting Ground) and “Manta Ray” (from Racing Extinction) scoring nominations in recent years.
The Automat isn’t the lone documentary feature with a real shot here. There’s also “My Mind and Me,” composed by Selena Gomez for Selena Gomez: My Mind and Me, and “Dust and Ash” from The Voice of Dust and Ash, composed by J. Ralph, a three-time nominee in this category. Over the past 10 years, five Oscar ceremonies have seen a documentary recognized in Best Original Song, so none of these features are to be underestimated.
Voters’ penchant for honoring tunes from documentary features, coupled with the chance to again honor a true living legend, might just be the combination needed to secure a slot in this bustling category.