Editor’s note: Welcome to the sixteenth of a 32-part series dissecting the 84th 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!
A couple years ago, Ed Helms made an appearance on Conan O’Brien and asked to play a song from the movie The Hangover on the piano at the end of the interview. He wasn’t doing this because he wanted to plug* the film although his intentions were just as manufactured. He explained that because the little serenade his character plays to the groggy tiger was an original piece of music, it had a chance at a best song Oscar nomination and he wanted to appease the voters by playing the song on the air.
My recollection of this incident is an apt description of how this category has degraded over the years. Let’s take a look at the 80’s. Some of the highlights were “9 to 5”, “Arthur’s Theme”, “Fight the Power” (Do the Right Thing**), “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” (Dirty Dancing), “ Up Where We Belong” (Officer and a Gentleman), “The Power of Love” (Back to the Future), “Take my Breath Away” (Top Gun), “Let the River Run” (Working Girl), and “The Glory of Love” (Karate Kid II). All were worked seamlessly into the narrative. What’s more, a lot of these songs are not only memorable today but indelibly linked to the movie scenes in which they first were played.
Although you are all welcome to disagree in the comments section, it’s hard to think of many songs that have had much of an impact as songs were indelibly linked to scenes outside of musicals (which we’ll get to a little later) and children’s films.
Part of this is because songs like “Vanilla Sky,” “Hands that Built America,” (Gangs of New York), and “Things Have Changed” (Wonderboys) are just tacked onto the end credits which eliminates any chance that they’ll be associated with a movie scene at all. Did the Oscar-winning Bob Dylan song “Things Have Changed” really have anything to do with the movie Wonderboys?
As for the musicals over the last decade, songs were memorable from Chicago, Dreamgirls, or Phantom of the Opera because they were originally memorable when they were written as Broadway plays. In the case of all three of these musicals, additional songs were written for the movie for the express purpose of making the musical Oscar-eligible in a music-related category. The publicity from performing a live number from your show on the Oscar telecast can’t hurt.
All this brings us to a justified point where only two films were voted high enough in quality to be worthy of an Oscar nomination (unlike other categories, voters for best song select nominees through rating and not by ranking. Songs have to receive an average vote of 8.25 out of 10 to make the cut).
Considering the number of song nominees hasn’t ever been this low, this could be a good wake-up call that songs need to be more memorable and organic to the films themselves. The report from Entertainment Weekly that Madonna’s Globe-winning song from W.E. wasn’t included as a nominee because it “appeared too late in the film’s final credits to be eligible” is a good sign that the rules are encouraging this trend.
As for the two nominees, there’s something to celebrate in each of them. “Real in Rio” (from Rio) would stand to reward Brazilian musician Sergio Mendes of Brazil 66 fame and the unofficial Brazillian national anthem “Mas Que Nada.” Sergio Mendes’ work isn’t a case of a Disney songsmith throwing four chords and some inspirational lyrics together for a standard chart-topper (hello, half of the best song winners of the 90’s). It would diversify the collection of best song winners in an exciting way to add a piece of Brazillian samba to the mix.
The other nominee, “Man or Muppet” from The Muppets was written by Bret McKenzie from “Flight of the Conchords” and an Oscar win for him would be a thrilling justification of FotC fandom for those who used to watch the HBO show and fawn over the creativity with which McKenzie (and creative partner Jermaine Clement) would spin a wide variety of song genres into humorous supplements to their narrative.
*For those unfamiliar, “plugging” is sending out a film’s stars to do publicity leading up to the film’s release. It’s the lifeblood of the talk show industry.
**Did not get nominated, but a good example nonetheless.