"Slumdog Millionaire" leads the way in the Oscar music categories, with songs "Jai Ho" and "O Saya" nominated for best achievement in music written for motion pictures (best song) and A.R. Rahman nominated for achievement in music written for motion pictures (original score.)
"It's been a dream to get an Oscar," Rahman tells Billboard.biz. "I thought maybe one nomination -- but three? It's really something. I was so excited."
For best song, the nominees are:
"Down to Earth" from "WALL-E" (Walt Disney), Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, Lyric by Peter Gabriel
"Jai Ho" from "Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight), Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar
"O Saya" from "Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight), Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam, better known as M.I.A.
For best score, the nominees are:
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Paramount and Warner Bros.), Alexandre Desplat
"Defiance" (Paramount Vantage), James Newton Howard
"Milk" (Focus Features), Danny Elfman
"Slumdog Millionaire" (Fox Searchlight), A.R. Rahman
"WALL-E" (Walt Disney), Thomas Newman
In the best song category, the Academy has the option of nominating anywhere between three to five songs; this year, only three made the cut. Not nominated? Bruce Springsteen, who won the Golden Globe for the title track for "The Wrestler."
It's the first Oscar nominations for Rahman, Guizar, M.I.A and Gabriel; with his two on the day, it's Newman's tenth nomination. For score, it's Desplat's second nomination, Howard's eighth nomination and Elfman's fourth nomination. None of the nominees in either song or score have previously won a music Oscar.
Rahman was at home with his family in India, and received a call from his agent just before the nominations were aired on television.
"For years of marriage, my wife has been saying that I need to get an Oscar -- and I said 'How am I going to get an Oscar if I don't leave India?,'" he said, laughing. "She's the most excited. It's a proud moment."
Rahman said he's left messages with M.I.A., Guizar and his musicians, but in the chaos of the moment he hasn't been able to connect yet with any of them.
"I got a text message that said congratulations, and I actually thought the nominations were tomorrow," Elfman tells Billboard.biz, laughing. "I was like, what organization does awards the day before the Oscar nominations? I thought it was some Academy of Science Fiction thing or some foreign film society. That's when my friend wrote back 'it's the Oscars, dummy.'"
Elfman says he'll do as much promotion for the film in the month before the ceremony as possible -- bearing in mind that his score for "Terminator Salvation" is due in six weeks. "This is much different than the previous nominations when I was excited for me -- now I'm excited for the film," he said.
For "Wall-E's" Newman, the day brought two nominations -- and his career tally up to 10 total. He, like others, found out when his agent called in the early morning. "When you get a call that early someone's either died or you've been nominated," he tells Billboard.biz.
In his 10 nominations, Newman has yet to win, but "you never get tired of being nominated." He said he used to prepare a speech in case he won, but "after you lose several times, you think 'I don't want the index card in my pocket any more.' I guess I'll just say thank you and scurry off."
"I think I was snoring and drooling in my sleep," Howard tells Billboard.biz of receiving word of his nomination, which came via a 5:30 a.m. phone call from his agent, Sam Schwartz. "Randy Newman said it better than anybody -- being nominated is like having your birthday every day between here and the Oscars."
His work on "Defiance," a movie based on the true story of a Jewish rebellion during World War II, struck home for Howard, who found out he was Jewish in his late 30s.
"My grandparents came from eastern Russia and I really felt the connection," he said. "The whole thing was just very, very special. I owe a great debt to [director] Ed Zwick and [violnist] Joshua Bell."
"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" leads the nominations with 13; it's one short of the all-time Oscar nomination, 14, which is held by "All About Eve" and "Titanic."
Besides "Button," the other nominees for best picture are "Frost/Nixon," "Milk," "The Reader," and "Slumdog Millionaire."
The 81st Academy Awards ceremony will air live on ABC on Feb. 22 from the Kodak Theatre, and be hosted by Hugh Jackman.