OSCAR GUIDE: Best Music (Original Song)

Posted by · 11:11 am · February 22nd, 2010

Nora Arnezeder in Paris 36Year after year, the original song category tends to prove that something is broken in the music branch of the Academy.  But to be fair, that’s a bit of a half-truth overall, as the original score field has begun to loosen up a bit and allow for newbie talent to get a foot in the door as of late.

Still, when it comes to voting on the songs with a seemingly arbitrary system, not to mention a rash of rules that feel made up along the way (and overtly subjective at that), the branch certainly makes a given tune earn it with one hell of an uphill climb along the way.  That having been said, the category nailed down a decent slate of nominees this season.

The nominees are:

“Almost There” from “The Princess and the Frog” (Randy Newman)
“Down in New Orleans” from “The Princess and the Frog” (Randy Newman)
“Loin de Paname” from “Paris 36”
(Reinhardt Wagner; Frank Thomas)
“Take It All” from “Nine” (Maury Yeston)
“The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” from “Crazy Heart” (T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham)

The music branch screens each song’s implementation in a given film, so tunes that work organically or within the context of a narrative tend to have a leg up.  This has obviously eliminated most songs that merely play over the closing credits, in some cases, ousting the year’s best track.  So it goes.

Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” was always bound to land a couple of nominations in the category, and from day one, those two songs seemed to be obvious calls.  “Almost There” is classic mid-narrative Disney toon musical stuff, an assessment of the main character’s plight performed beautifully by Anika Noni Rose with a swagger only Randy Newman could give it.  It’s a breezy tune that doesn’t over-stay its welcome and so, no matter how trite the lyrics might be, it’s perfect for the film.  And for obvious reasons, it’s perfect for the branch.  Every single nominee this year, mind you, is performed on screen.  It would have been delightful to see Rose sing this one on the telecast, but as we’re all aware, those plans have been scrapped in favor of snippets per nominee.

Listen to “Almost There”:

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The other song nominated from “The Princess and the Frog” was “Down in New Orleans,” a bayou-inspired Dr. John track written, once again, by Randy Newman.  The song serves as bookends for the narrative, which makes its usage somewhat unique compared to the other contenders.  It’s also worth pointing out that the Academy at large tends to like cultural, flavorful music in both the score and the song categories, so one never knows.  If an upset might be lurking, I might almost be inclined to look here.  But all pretenders to the frontrunner’s crown seem to have incredibly weak arguments to me, so I wouldn’t get too wrapped up in overly considering such things.  And yet again, it would have been quite the hoot to see Dr. John perform on the Oscars.  Oh well.

Listen to “Down in New Orleans”:

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Speaking of cultural tracks, one of the biggest surprises the morning of February 2 was Christophe Barratier’s “Paris 36” finding a place alongside the usual suspects in this category with “Loin de Paname.” The song, written by Reinhardt Wagner and Frank Thomas and performed by actress Nora Arnezeder, is certainly delightful.  It’s an ode to the city of Paris, nostalgic, airy.  Like Bad Blake would say, “That’s the thing about the good ones.  You’re sure you’ve heard them before.”  But even though the song is performed on screen, I’m still a bit surprised that it received a nomination.  It doesn’t have any particular thematic impact, though it does land at a bit of a transition point for Arnezeder’s character.  At the end of the day, however, it’s doubtful most Academy members saw the film, so, enjoy the nod.

Listen to “Loin de Paname”:

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A few weeks ago I held my breath with the hopeful anticipation that the horrid “Cinema Italiano” wouldn’t make the cut in the category, that if the branch had to recognize “Nine,” it would do so for “Take It All.” I was so relieved.  The song is performed by Marion Cotillard (who gives the film’s best performance) at a key moment in the story.  Furthermore, it is written into the narrative in a much more organic way than the other tunes on the soundtrack, the number existing much more in the minds of the characters, harkening back to “Chicago” in many ways.  Of course, it’s a bit of a dud lyrically.  But it swings, it’s fun, it’s a high mark of revelation for the character, so hey, it makes for a fun nomination.  How great would it have been to see Cotillard perform it on the show?

Listen to “Take It All”:

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Alright, enough foreplay.  This category is certain to go T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham’s way.  “The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart” is the epitome of everything this branch wants out of an original song contender, and it’s popular enough to get a fair shake from the Academy at large.  We watch its assemblage over the entire course of the film’s second half, leading up to a wonderful performance of the track, Colin Farrell’s vocals giving way to Bingham’s as the credits start to roll.  Pitch-perfect delivery, and you know what?  The song kills.  It sums up the character’s plight in strokes of nuance rather than with heavy-handed, lazy songwriting.  And the honor will most certainly kick-start a vibrant country music career for Bingham.  The opportunity, and the talent on display, is too hard to pass up, surely.

Listen to “The Weary Kind”:

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Will win: “The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart”
Could win: “Take It All” from “Nine”
Should win: “The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart”

Should have been here: “Depression Era” from “That Evening Sun”

Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart

What do you think deserves to win this year’s Oscar for Best Original Song? Have your say in the sidebar poll!




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40 responses so far

  • 1 2-22-2010 at 11:39 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    The category is a joke this year. The Weary Kind has no competition whatsoever.

  • 2 2-22-2010 at 11:58 am

    Speaking English said...

    It doesn’t have competition, true, but the two “Princess and the Frog” songs are wonderful.

  • 3 2-22-2010 at 12:09 pm

    JP said...

    I liked the songs for Princess and the Frog (not on the Menken scale but good). The Weary Kind is also a fine song if a little melodically and harmonically simplistic. Disappointed that “You’ve got me wrapped around your Finger” from An Education didn’t make it in or “Help Yourself” from Up in the Air was ineligible.

  • 4 2-22-2010 at 12:11 pm

    Fitz said...

    I hate country music and I liked Weary Kind. That should say it all.

  • 5 2-22-2010 at 12:23 pm

    ScreenSavour said...

    Hear hear, JP. “Help Yourself” would have been a fine contender against “The Weary Kind,” had it been eligible and Sad Brad Smith submitted it.

    I’m steadfastly loyal to “The Weary Kind,” but “You’ve Got Me Wrapped Around Your Finger” from An Education and “Hideaway” from Where the Wild Things Are would have been welcome additions to the category instead of the numbers from Nine and Paris 36.

  • 6 2-22-2010 at 12:25 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    There were better songs in The Princess and the Frog. But this category needs to be scrapped pronto.

  • 7 2-22-2010 at 12:47 pm

    Andrew R. said...

    You found the lyrics to Take It All to be a dud? Really? I think it’s quite the contrary.

  • 8 2-22-2010 at 12:58 pm

    Hans said...

    ITA with everyone about “You’ve Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger”. Believe it or not, this is one of my favorite categories every year, if only because I’ve grown up listening to a wide variety of music. I’m currently working on making a playlist on my iPod of as many song nominees as I can find. It’s an eclectic list so far, to be sure, and I acknowledge that the Academy often gets it wrong, but this year is a fine mix of nominees.

    Among all the shenanigans Shankman & Co are pulling, I was disappointed to see the Song performances go. Before I became an Oscarphile, it was through the performances that I learned about films like Once, Les Choriste, etc., simply because of the music. I mean, frick, what the heck was Shankman expecting? That the academy would nominate a Taylor Swift song or something because it was used in the background of a chick flick?

  • 9 2-22-2010 at 1:08 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    A bit on the nose, Andrew. But that’s a stylistic choice, I’m aware. I just don’t like Yeston’s work very much.

  • 10 2-22-2010 at 1:27 pm

    Stéphane said...

    Hans,
    I believe I can help you with that collection. I have all but about 30 of all nominees dating back from 1934. Perhaps Kristopher could put us in touch?

  • 11 2-22-2010 at 2:11 pm

    Craig said...

    Did Help Yourself from Up in the Air not count or something? Because that scene was masterful.

  • 12 2-22-2010 at 2:15 pm

    Danny King said...

    All awards season, I’ve agreed with you regarding the love for “The Weary Kind.” For me, it is, along with Bridges’ performance, the reason to see the film. Every time I listen to the song, which is quite often, I think about how great of a character Bridges created, and how powerful of a film this could have been. I still enjoyed it to an extent, but the beautiful, original lyrics really make you notice the cliched and predictable elements of the film’s script.

  • 13 2-22-2010 at 3:11 pm

    Ryan G said...

    “The Weary Kind” reeks of too much melodrama and self-importance, considering that it serves as the climax to a rather bland film. While Bingham practically cries the lyrics through fits of tears, I had to wonder how that meshed with a film that lacked similar emotional force.

    Jeff Bridges and “The Weary Kind” are a poor man’s Mickey Rourke and “The Wrestler” (and both should have won Oscars last year.)

    Nevertheless, it’s catchy as hell and has little competition. So it will win.

  • 14 2-22-2010 at 3:37 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Should have led that comment off with a “now for something completely different.”

    “The Wrestler” comparison is and always has been a lazy criticism. There’s nothing there beyond the fact that both stories are about washed up professionals. Call the comparison police on most of cinema history, I suppose…

  • 15 2-22-2010 at 3:41 pm

    Me. said...

    I love Loin de Paname even if I haven’t seen Paris 36. Christophe Barratier is the director? AWESOME! I loved Les Choristes!

  • 16 2-22-2010 at 3:51 pm

    Billy Singerle said...

    The Music Branch of the Academy went with 5 nominees for Best Song just to solidify how clueless they really are and just how content they are with nominating Randy Newman but only awarding him an Oscar every 20 years!

  • 17 2-22-2010 at 4:27 pm

    RJL said...

    Stéphane and Hans… I have most of the AMPAS songs as well. Probably missing a few more than 30 though, but would be interested in comparing if Mr. Tapley would put us in touch.

  • 18 2-22-2010 at 5:01 pm

    MovieMan said...

    Will win: “The Weary Kind” from “Crazy Heart”
    Could win: “Down in New Orleans” from “The Princess and the Frog”
    Should win: “Take It All” from “Nine.”
    Should have been here: “All is Love” from “Where the Wild Things Are,” “You’ve Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger” from “An Education.”

  • 19 2-22-2010 at 5:53 pm

    Hans said...

    Stephane & RJL…Yes, I would appreciate that!

    Kristopher?

    (My playlist, btw, is very young, so I will guarantee that I would mostly just be mooching off you guys, if that’s all right =) )

  • 20 2-22-2010 at 6:02 pm

    Glenn said...

    “The category is a joke this year.”

    And see here I was thinking this was the best lineup this category has seen in a very long time since it’s gotten rid of the credits sequence songs and so forth.

    You guys wanting to know about all the original song nominees, I warn you that at least 50% of them are just unfindable. I know artists like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby did versions of a lot of nominated songs, but the versions from the films themselves can be very hard to come by, obviously the older they are the harder they are to find. A lot of older movies nominated for Original Song were nothing more than 40-second nursery rhyme type songs such as “Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte”. I tried for a few months to find them all, but it is impossible. You would have to get the movies themselves on DVD to hear them all.

  • 21 2-22-2010 at 6:03 pm

    Glenn said...

    Oh, and anyone thinking they should see “Paris 36” because of it’s nomination? don’t. It’s terrible in so many MANY ways.

  • 22 2-22-2010 at 7:07 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I don’t collect them, sorry.

  • 23 2-22-2010 at 8:10 pm

    Ryan G said...

    Kristopher,

    I never claimed that the comparison to “The Wrestler” is anything original, so I’m not sure where you’re going with that. You can’t just dismiss arguments because you’ve heard them before…

    The similarities between the films, the main performances, and the songs are quite strong, as anyone who has seen both could attest.

    It’s unfortunate timing that the far inferior work seems poised to go home with two Oscars, while the other left empty-handed.

  • 24 2-22-2010 at 8:18 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I just don’t think there is a comparison beyond simple parallels that you can draw to any number of projects. They shouldn’t even be brought up together, and therefore, yielding for Crazy Heart such back-handed disapproval because folks like you are choosing to view it through the prism of The Wrestler.

  • 25 2-22-2010 at 8:36 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    Kris, that argument makes no sense. You might as well say, “Crazy Heart shouldn’t be compared to The Wrestler because it shouldn’t be compared to The Wrestler.” You’re just asserting that drawing (rather obvious) parallels between the two are inappropriate without addressing them. You don’t have to view it through any “prism,” it’s right there in plain sight.

    When even the positive reviews mention Aronofsky’s film as a comparison it Crazy Heart, your rather flippant dismissal of Ryan G’s observation comes off as bitterness over falling for a lazy retread of several older, better movies (not just The Wrestler).

  • 26 2-22-2010 at 9:11 pm

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    Kris, I love you, but this thread is reminding me of something you said back in November:

    “While it might be unfair to reduce it to a “country-music ‘Wrestler’” (as The Hollywood Reporter’s Steven Zeitchik did yesterday without having seen the film), that is nevertheless a pretty streamlined way of describing the narrative.”

    (see http://incontention.com/?p=16772)

    The only reason I remembered this statement so clearly is because I loved “The Wrestler” SO much, and your comparison made me that more excited to see “Crazy Heart”.

    Though of course each film stands fully on its own, the two definitely do bear more than a passing resemblance to each other: the fallen glory of a professional who is desperately trying to fill the empty shell of lost greatness and make that one big comeback; the unlikely relationship with a younger single mother who hesitates to give her heart to him; the brilliant, raspily-sung closing track that is so poignant and thematically-relevant. I think it’s downright impossible not to see the two films’ similarities.

    I’m not trying to say that “Crazy Heart” can only be seen through the Wrestler prism; all I’m doing is contesting your argument that the two “shouldn’t even be brought up together” when, for me, you were the first one to do just that.

  • 27 2-22-2010 at 9:13 pm

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    (Sorry for the double post; I posted again and removed the link, so that my comment wouldn’t have to await moderation.)

    Kris, I love you, but this thread is reminding me of something you said back in November:

    “While it might be unfair to reduce it to a “country-music ‘Wrestler’” (as The Hollywood Reporter’s Steven Zeitchik did yesterday without having seen the film), that is nevertheless a pretty streamlined way of describing the narrative.”

    The only reason I remembered this statement so clearly is because I loved “The Wrestler” SO much, and your comparison made me that more excited to see “Crazy Heart”.

    Though of course each film stands fully on its own, the two definitely do bear more than a passing resemblance to each other: the fallen glory of a professional who is desperately trying to fill the empty shell of lost greatness and make that one big comeback; the unlikely relationship with a younger single mother who hesitates to give her heart to him; the brilliant, raspily-sung closing track that is so poignant and thematically-relevant. I think it’s downright impossible not to see the two films’ similarities.

    I’m not trying to say that “Crazy Heart” can only be seen through the Wrestler prism; all I’m doing is contesting your argument that the two “shouldn’t even be brought up together” when, for me, you were the first one to do just that.

  • 28 2-22-2010 at 10:10 pm

    Danny King said...

    The scene that really showed me how much Crazy Heart took from The Wrestler was the hospital scene after Bridges’ crash. Not to harp on this too much because The Wrestler is a far superior film, but if you compare the hospital scenes in those two films, Crazy Heart is basically a virtual copy of the scene after Rourke’s heart attack in The Wrestler.

  • 29 2-22-2010 at 11:18 pm

    The Z said...

    This is nice since it’ll prove to be the only opportunity many of us will have to hear these songs.

    Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s still something. – a filmed (or even live) segment with the cast of “Glee” or the clips/scenes from the films where the songs appear. We were only told that the nominees will not be invited to perform:

    http://oscar-watch.ew.com/2010/02/16/best-song-nominees-oscars/

    That leaves a substantial window for other means of presenting the songs…

  • 30 2-23-2010 at 12:05 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I don’t mind being outed with that, Nic, but that was obviously a reference to pre-release chatter, the best way to explain it to someone who hasn’t seen it. It’s a different thing entirely to let the comparison play out into the actual criticism of the thing.

  • 31 2-23-2010 at 1:24 am

    Matthias Zucker said...

    It’s the weakest lineup for the category in as long as I can remember. The Princess and the Frog songs are nice and certainly serve this wonderful little film well, but they’re hardly great compared to some other stuff that could’ve been here, “Loin de Paname” makes me think AMPAS would’ve wanted desperately to nominate an Edith Piaf chanson from La Vie En Rose, but couldn’t because they’re not original, so they made up for it here. Except that song doesn’t sound all that original either. It’s the cliché of what French music is.

    The bottom of the barrel however is Take It All, a completely uninspired song and an uninspired nomination, taking the perfunctory bonus song written for the film version of the musical. I Move On from Chicago wasn’t the best song from that film either, but the only one that qualified. Then again, Nine simply has no good songs, so instead I would’ve liked a deserved nomination for “I See You” which, sappy and 90s as it is, is an emotional summary of the film the the perfect exit music for it, especially in the way that it incorporates the theme of the score, as does “Only You” from The Young Victoria, so beautifully performed by Sinead O’Connor, about which I wonder why it never got any consideration. Was it ineligible or something?

    Anyways, no beating The Weary Kind, and it should take the award (à la Things Have Changed or Falling Slowly) even though in its (relative) subtlety, it doesn’t seem to conform much to current AMPAS taste in music. It’ a good thing for Bingham that there’s no really big name in competition this year.

  • 32 2-23-2010 at 2:11 am

    Movie_Dearest said...

    Over the years, I too have collected most of the Oscar nominated songs from 1934 to the present. Most of them are the original soundtrack versions, or at least the next best thing. Still, there are 38 elusive ones that I haven’t got yet. Would kill for a copy of “Cry Freedom”, for example.

  • 33 2-23-2010 at 3:16 am

    Mateo said...

    I would also like to get in touch with you Best Song Collectors. Up till now I only collected the winners. I got all of them, though perhaps not all in the version of the movie. Kris, could you connect us?

  • 34 2-23-2010 at 5:06 am

    Nicolas Mancuso said...

    Fair enough, Kris.

  • 35 2-23-2010 at 7:18 am

    stylewriter said...

    I have to disagree with you, Kris, about this year’s slate. While this may truly be a list of the five best songs the options weren’t all that impressive in the first place. A definite off-year for movie music.

  • 36 2-23-2010 at 9:33 am

    daveylow said...

    Someone wrote above that they don’t like country music but they liked The Weary Kind. That says a lot. The Weary Kind starts off well but then puts you to sleep.

  • 37 2-23-2010 at 9:57 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Robert: Just read your asinine comment. It doesn’t make any sense, though. The second paragraph in particular is rather…left field. And pointless. Typical.

  • 38 2-24-2010 at 12:02 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Ah, yes. How “typical” of you to dodge what I said in favor of smug dismissal. Is it THAT difficult to act like an adult when faced with criticism?

  • 39 2-24-2010 at 12:36 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yeah, when the criticism only seems to make sense as willfully argumentative.

    I find using The Wrestler as a guide to criticize the film because it has a similar trajectory lazy criticism. Simple as that. If you want to be juvenile and call into question how I genuinely feel about the film: “Comes off as bitterness over falling for a lazy retread of several older, better movies?” Give me a fucking break.

  • 40 2-24-2010 at 1:49 am

    Robert Hamer said...

    Believe me, you’re the last person I would criticize just for the sake of it, since it’s almost guaranteed to bring out the worst in you.

    It does make for some interesting reactions, though. What exactly qualifies as “lazy” criticism, for example? Would that include pointing out the obvious (Like, oh I don’t know, Crazy Heart having the same story, themes, and marketing campaign as The Wrestler)? That *might* be true since anyone with eyes and a functioning brain can see it, and it may be more productive to point out other reasons why a movie like Crazy Heart fails, but if it’s such a noticeable flaw, why not just acknowledge it and stop being so damn petulant?

    But I’ll be fair to you and apologize for trying to read your mind when it came to explaining your snippy reaction to this sticking point. I hate that too, and I shouldn’t have done it. The rest of my criticism still stnads, though. Crazy Heart is unoriginal. Period.