Sunday, February 19, 2012

This Is My Song Encore. More Film Songs That Merited Best Original Song Nominations

Yesterday, I wrote of eight songs eligible for the Best Original Song Oscar but which failed to get a nomination.  Today I will cover the next seven, starting in 1973.

Knockin' On Heaven's Door
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
On this point, I am willing to cut the Academy a bit of a slack.  Knockin' On Heaven's Door is a beautiful and brilliant song (what can one expect from Bob Dylan).  However, the song itself is remarkably short (around two and a half minutes long) so I can see how it got lost in the shuffle.  Moreover, Guns & Roses' cover has always struck me as better than the original (in the same way Jimi Hendrix's All Along the Watchtower is better remembered than Dylan's original).  Fortunately, Bob Dylan DID win a Best Original Song Oscar for Things Have Changed from Wonder Boys, so I feel that things eventually turned out well. 

1973 Best Original Song winner: The Way We Were (The Way We Were)

Stayin' Alive
Saturday Night Fever
I don't care what anyone says: whenever any of the songs the Brothers Gibb wrote for Saturday Night Fever begins to play, people suddenly LOVE disco.  If that weren't the case, why is the soundtrack one of the most successful in history?  It is because the songs are just so good, and this is another case of being spoiled for choice.  One could easily have picked the pulsating Night Fever, the loving More Than A Woman, or the gentle love song How Deep Is Your Love and each would have been a brilliant choice to WIN, not just get nominated.  However, for me I went with the first song from Saturday Night Fever.  Quite simply, the song is instantly recognizable, and whenever you hear just the first few notes, your body movements start to shift and if one is listening while walking, one starts to strut.  The brilliant mix of the swaggering lyrics about being a 'woman's man' mixed with Maurice Gibb's falsetto is amazing, and anytime Stayin' Alive is played, one gets down. 

1977 Best Original Song winner: You Light Up My Life (You Light Up My Life)

The Jazz Singer
I've seen The Jazz Singer (which technically speaking is a remake of a remake), and I can vouch for the fact that it's not a very good film.  Neil Diamond is not an actor, but he did as good a job as he could given...he's not an actor.  However, one thing Diamond does do well is write songs, and the songs he wrote for The Jazz Singer are simply wonderful.  While Kol Nidre and Hava Nagila weren't eligible (something about having been written millenia before the movie) The Jazz Singer does have some songs that have entered into regular rotation on the radio.  You have Love On The Rocks, you have Hello Again, but for my money, the best is America.  This song speaks to the American immigrant experience, and given that Americans today take greater pride in being able to trace their ancestors to Ellis Island rather than to the Mayflower, it says something about how Americans see themselves.  An argument could be made that Diamond borrowed lyrics from My Country 'Tis of Thee, but given that they are only thirteen words out of the whole song, I think that would be a bit nitpicky. 

Call Me
American Gigolo
Somehow, Call Me fits perfectly into the narcissism and seediness of American Gigolo.  It also helps that Debbie Harry's vocals fit perfectly in the song's mixture of eroticism and hardness.  There's an energy and intensity to Call Me, and the suggestiveness of the lyrics would work perfectly, especially in the opening to American Gigolo, with nothing but Richard Gere, driving his fancy car and getting all sorts of fancy duds (which we can imagine he earned through the pleasure of his charms).   

I'm Alright
There's a perverse irony in I'm Alright in that Caddyshack is really both a raunchy comedy and a social satire on elitism confronting the onslaught of the hoi polloi.  If you listen to the lyrics, I'm Alright is a remarkably upbeat, peppy song that feels so bizarrely out of place with both the more risque aspects of Caddyshack and some of the lunacy within it.  Still, somehow it works: the slobs will beat out the snobs, so we know that they will be Alright in the end. 

1980 Best Original Song winner: Fame (Fame)

Fight the Power
Do the Right Thing
Do The Right Thing exploded on the American film scene, and even now, it still has an impact. Spike Lee's righteous call of fury on the subject of race has not lessened with time.  Accompanying him was Public Enemy's Fight the Power, with their call to take a stand against the oppressive forces holding back the African-American community serving as an anthem to a generation promised The Dream of Dr. King and finding it had yet to be fulfilled.  You had Chuck D.'s seething anger at seeing his community still suffering and the accomplishments of African-Americans dismissed or almost forgotten (by African-Americans themselves included) and Flavor Flav, the Court Jester of Hip-Hop, letting us know they were mad as hell and they weren't going to take it anymore.  Justice would be any means necessary.  Even today, Fight the Power still has relevance: can anyone say "Arab Spring"?  While Bashir Assad continues to tell the world (and himself), "Syria loves me", the Syrian people and the world shouts back, "Don't Believe The Hype".  Of course, in the strange course of history, when a rap song finally won Best Original Song, guess who won? 

1989 Best Original Song winner: Under the Sea (The Little Mermaid)

Exhale (Shoop Shoop)
Waiting to Exhale
Despite her later troubles, how she degenerated into both a parody of who she was and the sorry circumstances of  her death, Whitney Houston could deliver great songs.  She could belt out songs like the best of them (I Will Always Love You is a fine example of how a singer can go all out without making it overblown), but when the song called for a gentle touch, Houston could be so soft and tender with a lyric.  Exhale (Shoop Shoop) is a perfect example of how an artist (and that is what she was) could take a ballad and make it into a soft, lush love song.  I can't say that I liked Waiting to Exhale (I kept wondering how beautiful and intelligent women could keep falling for such a collection of users, abusers, and morons), but Exhale (Shoop Shoop) is a lovely song (again, even though the chorus, with the "shoop shoop" is a little illogical.  Houston herself once commented that when she read the lyrics, her reaction was to think that Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds simply ran out of words).

1995 Best Original Song winner: Colors of the Wind (Pocahontas)

I figure now that we have two Original Song nominees, 2011 will be seen as a lousy year for this category.  Of all the songs from The Muppets they could have nominated, they picked one of the worst (and one of the most self-consciously stupid).  Man or Muppet is showy in how the lyrics are suppose to be silly (if I'm a Muppet/then I'm a very manly Muppet--how genius).  I can't say that Bret McKenzie is another 'comedic genius' given I've never seen Flight of the Concords (and honestly, have no interest in doing so).  However, I always got the sense that McKenzie was mocking both the Muppets and the conventions of a musical.  That's within his right to do so, but I question how one can be rewarded for laughing at the thing he's been rewarded for. 

Real In Rio is a cute little song (and I love a good samba number as much as the next guy) but it's not the greatest song I've heard from a film all year (cue Star-Spangled Man from Captain America).  The only negative is that we would be stuck having to hear Jesse Eisenberg sing for time and eternity, and given he has no range as an actor (he ALWAYS plays the same nebbish character, even in the alleged Citizen Kane of our time: The Social Network), what makes one think he would make a great singer?  I'm not rooting for either of those, though if pressed I'd go for Real In Rio only because I DETEST Man or Muppet so much (even though I think that will win...unfortunately). 

I make a prediction: whichever one wins, it won't be remembered the same way such songs as White Christmas from Holiday Inn, The Shadow of Your Smile from The Sandpiper, Que Sera Sera from The Man Who Knew Too Much, Mona Lisa from Captain Carey, U.S.A., or the Citizen Kane of movie songs: Over the Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz are.  Those songs, along with others like When You Wish Upon A Star (Pinocchio), Flashdance...What A Feeling (Flashdance), Let The River Run (Working Girl), The Windmills of Your Mind (The Thomas Crown Affair) or the title song from Beauty & The Beast, are truly beautiful and will be remembered, perhaps more than the movie (when was the last time Captain Carey, U.S.A. or The Sandpiper were shown on television or rereleased).  I doubt Man or Muppet or Real In Rio will. 

Instead, when we think of them, we'll mention them in the same sentence as lesser Best Original Song winners like For All We Know from Lovers & Other Strangers, Sweet Leilani from Waikiki Wedding (which beat out They Can't Take That Away From Me from Shall We Dance) or You'll Be In My Heart from Tarzan (which beat out When She Loved Me from Toy Story 2, a song I'm not ashamed to admit always gets me crying).  When the actual winner is announced, the writer/writers will take the prize, make their speeches, and the world will forget their Oscar-winning song...because both of them are completely forgettable.

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