Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far .
Today, Todd Liebenow of Forgotten Films is here to look at the Best Original Song Category.
Best Original Song
I’ve always been a big fan of movie music. After all, my formation as a film fan came in the 1980’s, when producers didn’t just strive to make a hit film, they also wanted to create a hit soundtrack, as well. When I say, “Alexa, play my 80’s movie songs playlist,” she’s got almost 150 tunes to cycle through. I guess I’m a little obsessed with the subject. But I often fear that the days of truly iconic movie songs are far in our past. The songs just don’t tend to be terribly memorable these days. One need only look to the Oscar winners of recent years to see what I mean. For every well-deserved victory, like 2011’s champ “Man or Muppet,” we get dreck like “Writing’s on the Wall” from Spectre. As Bond themes go, I’d sooner have given a golden boy to a-ha’s theme from The Living Daylights than that clunker.
This year we have five nominees in the Best Original Song category and for once I’ve actually seen a fair number of the films these songs are from. Let’s take a look at them one by one.
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings”
from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
When the question of who are your favorite working directors comes up, the answer that springs from my lips immediately is always “the Coen brothers.” One of the things I really appreciate about them is the way they use songs in their work. Their last several outings have definitely proven their prowess when it comes to weaving music into their films, but this song from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs promptly became one of my favorite Coen Brothers moments of all time. It certainly helps that western music has a special place in my heart. My wife and I used to frequent a chuckwagon dinner here in Colorado where the meal was followed by a cowboy band singing these types of songs. This style of music is part of the fabric of this region I call home. As far as I’m concerned, this one is a new classic that fits in perfectly with the cowboy standards of the past.
“All the Stars”
from Black Panther
There’s a lot of things I loved about Black Panther, but the music is not an element that left an impression on me. Granted, this is not my style of music. I wouldn’t have known who Kendrick Lamar and SZA were until…(checks watch)…four minutes ago when I hit play on the YouTube video for this song. As soon as I heard the beat kick in I realized…oh yeah, this is the song that played over the end credits. It’s decent enough, the music is good, though I didn’t appreciate that it’s hard to decipher many of the lyrics. The lyrics that start the song sound like the person is singing through an empty toilet paper roll…maybe that’s a thing now, but I like to know what the lyrics are. I’m weird that way.
“The Place where the Lost Things Go”
from Mary Poppins Returns
I haven’t seen Mary Poppins Returns yet, and have purposefully avoided listening to the songs until I can see the film. I had to make this one exception to write this article. I think I’ve avoided the songs so far because it is the element of this film I was most nervous about. Mary Poppins is one of the greatest movie musicals of all time. While I had no problem with Disney making a sequel over 50 years after the original, one hurdle that would be hard to get over was the fact that there would be no songs by the Sherman Brothers. That’s one tough act to follow. Not knowing its context within the film, “The Place where the Lost Things Go” seems like it’s the “Feed the Birds” of this new incarnation. It’s a sweet song, but it also feels like it’s trying a bit too hard to be that emotional musical moment. “Feed the Birds” makes me tear up every time I hear it. Having heard this song just once, I found it very pretty, but I didn’t have an emotional swell.
So, let me just get this out of the way…I hate politics. When I was a young man I spent a lot of time focused on the subject. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that spending so much energy dwelling on such things is detrimental to both my mental and physical well being. So yeah, a documentary about Ruth Bader Ginsberg is never gonna rank high on my most anticipated movies list. The subject at hand, though, is the song, not so much the movie. Though, I feel like the reason this song was nominated is more because of the film’s subject matter than the song itself. In all honesty, I feel the song is not very well produced. For some reason, the rousing lyrics are being drowned out by a pulsing beat which even the powerful pipes of Jennifer Hudson can’t push past. Don’t get me wrong, the song is well-intentioned, but it just does nothing to stand out from the crowd.
I do believe, though, that this would’ve been one of the two songs performed on this year’s Oscar broadcast back when the Academy was trying to trim some time. Again, it all goes back to that subject I hate…politics. The other song would’ve been…
from A Star is Born
Remember how I said that I feared the days of truly iconic movie songs were gone? Well, there are always exceptions. Not since Frozen’s “Let it Go” has there been a movie song that has exploded like this one has. “Shallow” is a song that is both tender and bombastic, and which perfectly suits the movie it is from. I don’t think there is any question that this is the frontrunner of this year’s contest…which could also factor into some other major awards, specifically Best Actress. It is conceivable that some Oscar voters may see Lady Gaga as a shoo-in to take home a statue for the song category, which may cause them to put their support behind a different nominee in the acting category. This would help out Glen Close in her effort to change her current score of seven nominations and no wins.
We’ll find out for sure in just a few days when we hear these songs trimmed down to about a minute and 20 seconds each on the big Oscar broadcast. You go Academy!