Editor’s note: Welcome to the thirty-first of a 33-part series dissecting the 83rd Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read any other posts regarding this event, please click the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!
by The Mad Hatter from The Dark of the Matinee
The Best Original Song category is a bit of an odd bird nowadays. Let’s skip past oddball rules that govern The Academy’s musical arm that rule quite a few original songs ineligible – that’s a debate for a whole other day. Instead, let’s zero in on the way original songs are used in films nowadays.
Once upon a time, films went out of their way to include a memorable song. These tunes would not only become indelibly hinged to the movies that spawned them, but would gain a life of their own as a stand-alone track.
Think “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from THE WIZARD OF OZ
Think “Everybody’s Talkin” from MIDNIGHT COWBOY
Think “Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing
Hell, think the theme from SHAFT!!
But in the nineties, and even more so in the new millennium, soundtracks have become a bit of an afterthought. No longer are producers feeling out musicians for new songs they may want to contribute. Nor are they going to one artist to write a whole album’s worth of songs for their film (Well, unless that artist is Eddie Vedder). Nay, these days, most soundtracks are a musical director trying to dazzle us all with an iTunes playlist…hoping to give an old song a new cache by playing it under just the right scene.
As such, the songs nominated in this category are getting weaker and weaker by the year…and more often than not, picking the winner becomes a gimme: Just listen for the one good one in that list of duds. Unfortunately though, even the winners aren’t really winners. I dare anyone to hum me eight bars of “I Need to Wake Up”…or even tell me what film it came from without looking it up.
That’s the state of it gang: nowadays for every “Falling Slowly” there’s also an “Into The West”
Looking at this year’s crop, I’m lacking one thing for two of them: context (namely for their use in COUNTRY STRONG and TANGLED). Might not seem like its all that important, but where recent winners like “The Weary Kind” are concerned, hearing their role within the film can make a ton of difference.
Still, we venture on…
“Coming Home” from COUNTRY STRONG
While it’s not enough to make me sit through this Gwyneth Paltrow opus, I really wish I had the context for this song. I’d wager it makes a sliver of difference. Then again, this take on the song is exactly what the academy gets when they nominate the songs – they’re not allowed to be sent screeners, only cd’s/mp3’s and/or sheet music.
If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that Diane Warren wrote this song, as it really plays like the sort of power ballad she became known for. While its possible that it’s role within the film makes all the difference, I wouldn’t bet heavily on this tune.
(Sidebar: To my American friends – am I way off base in thinking this track will get a lot of play next fall during Homecoming Weekend?)
“If I Rise” from 127 HOURS
Sonically, this song is actually quite interesting, and it is rather evocative of its films more introspective moments. Unfortunately it’s also entirely weightless and builds to nothing (where’s Diane Warren when you need her?). Actually that’s a lie – it builds to an oddly included children’s choir around the 2:55 mark. Close, but no gold guy for you this time Jai Ho.
“I See The Light “ from TANGLED
Now this is more like it. Here we have a solid ditty rather befitting the category. The House That Walt Built has accompanied one of their best animated films in a decade with the sort of film that sort of songs they used to give us year after year. Unfortunately, that’s also the hitch – it sounds too much like the sort of songs they used to give us year after year. Listen to that lift into the chorus – sounds a bit like “A Whole New World” no? Later in the chorus, a waft of “Go the Distance?” And here and there, traces of “Part of Your World”
It’s a contender for sure, if not a familiar contender.
“We Belong Together” from TOY STORY 3
Last but not least, Randy Newman. Again. Randy and John Ratzenberger must have the same agent given their involvement with Pixar though the years.
Like “I See the Light”, Randy’s tune seems familiar…only this time the familiarity hinges back to Randy himself. I listen to this and I can easily place it over the end credits of A BUG’S LIFE…or MONSTERS INC…or CARS…or the original TOY STORY…or…
If Randy has one thing in his favour, it’s the snappiness of this tune. This is the only nominee with a real beat, and given how many nominees through the years are earnest weepies designed to play over the end credits, Oscar just might be willing to reward something with a great beat that you can really dance to.
One of the weakest years for the category – weak enough to make one wonder if the category should be retired. But of these four, I’d put money down on Randy Newman to get his second Oscar in far less time than it took him to nab his first.