TECH SUPPORT: Best Original Song

Posted by · 12:15 pm · December 9th, 2010

I guess I’ve been pretty hard on the Best Original Song category this year. It’s not like any given year tends to have a deluge of impressive fodder up for consideration or anything, but on the whole, outside of a concentration of contenders that have a fighting chance at recognition, it just seems to be an uninspired lot of tracks in the mix for 2010.

Before diving into the fray, some quick reminding. The music branch’s rules are always in flux and over the last couple of years they have shifted, perhaps rightly, into a frame of assessing songs as they are used within the context of a given film. Let’s look at the official language from the Academy’s rules and eligibility literature:

An original song consists of words and music, both of which are original and written specifically for the motion picture. There must be a clearly audible, intelligible, substantive rendition (not necessarily visually presented) of both lyric and melody, used in the body of the motion picture or as the first music cue in the end credits.

That final bit is key as of late. Songs that happen to be used in some organic way within a film tend to have a leg up in this category because of the way contenders are viewed: via clips of their usage. Closing credits tracks are not immediately out of the hunt, as the above notes, but it’s fair to say that unless the credits are in some way a part of the overall film’s experience (like, say, “WALL-E”), they’re at a disadvantage.

Nevertheless, a song like Bruce Springsteen’s un-nominated “The Wrestler” from the film of the same name has more of an emotional impact starting up on black after the film’s somewhat ambiguous ending, so the rules are still problematic. But I’ll refer you to rule 16 IV B, C, D and E for more on the odd, arbitrary process.

To say the least, musicals are generally a good bet due to this recent shift. And at the top of that list this year is Disney’s “Tangled,” featuring original music from Alan Menken with lyrics by Glenn Slater. Disney and Menken shrewdly opted to submit only one song for consideration this year in the hopes of concentrating their chances rather than spreading them out and risking a split vote. That song is “I See the Light,” coming at a key moment toward the end of the second act of this very well-received animated endeavor. Expect a nomination.

Two other films count themselves as musicals this year, both from Screen Gems: “Burlesque” and “Country Strong.” The former in particular features the power ballad “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” written by six-time nominee Diane Warren and performed on screen by Cher. Cha-ching (maybe).

Also in the mix is “Bound to You” from Christina Aguilera and a handful of other tracks less likely to push through.

“Country Strong,” meanwhile, has two tracks up for consideration: “Me and Tennessee” and “Coming Home.” The former, written by Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, seems to be the featured song of the soundtrack, and indeed, it’s a killer tune. But I’m told it is the closing credits cue (performed wonderfully by Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw). “Coming Home,” on the other hand, is performed on screen by Gwyneth Paltrow, so perhaps that is the better play.

Elsewhere, there is perennial favorite in the field Randy Newman. Newman’s signature has been all over the Pixar films since day one, and particularly on the “Toy Story” franchise. This year, he wrote “We Belong Together” for “Toy Story 3,” which plays over the closing credits of the film and could get docked as a result.

Another song that could face harsher scrutiny given that it plays over the closing credits is John Legend’s “Shine” from “Waiting for Superman.” But on its side is the fact that the credits in fact forward the story with visual factoids, much like “An Inconvenient Truth,” which brought Melissa Etheridge a win here for “I Need to Wake Up” in 2006.

Rounding out the field of strongest contenders would be Dido and A.R. Rahman’s “If I Rise” from “127 Hours.” The song offers a haunting melody and trickles in during a key point in the film. It could be something to watch for.

Beyond that, it’s slim pickins. Of course, who knows what sort of “Loin de Paname” is lurking this time around. I imagine there are any number of original songs that might be featured in a creative or interesting way in this or that film, so the field could be wider than all of this, but I’ll pinpoint a few that stick out for me.

Eddie Vedder was out and out shafted by the music branch three years ago for his wonderful contributions to “Into the Wild.” This year he has another song in the hunt, though it’s well under the radar: “Better Days” from “Eat Pray Love.” I was clearly not the audience for that film and so, I’m sorry to say, I missed it. So I’m unsure how the song is used, but it’s a great track and worth a listen if nothing else.

Paramount is pushing hard for Jonsi’s “Sticks & Stones” from “How to Train Your Dragon.” Unfortunately, the song plays over rather unremarkable closing credits and is otherwise an up-tempo track that wouldn’t likely be considered Academy fodder.

I really dig the placement of Pharrell’s “Despicable Me” in the film of the same name, the overall rhythm of the tune, etc. But it’s an unlikely contender. Meanwhile, Sandie Shaw’s “Made in Dagenham” from that film is a nice throwback track which could make for a nice bit of variety, but the truth is I forgot how it’s used in the film.

But that’s just the top sampling, I think. Again, there could easily be a surprise in the cards so don’t be shocked in a little over a month if something comes from out of the blue. In the meantime, dig into the various possibilities via our Best Original Song contenders page here.

That does it for our analysis of the various below-the-line fields in this year’s Oscar race. Now it’s time to hear what the guilds have to say on the matter. But we’re not slowing down. Next week, come on back as our Tech Support Interview series kicks off with a look at the crafts of Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.”

This column is dedicated to the memory of Ronni Chasen,
a patron of composers and musicians in the film industry,
a bright spirit, a missed soul.

[Photos: Screen Gems, Walt Disney Pictures, WENN]

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37 responses so far

  • 1 12-09-2010 at 12:57 pm

    A.J said...

    *Raises Hand*

    Do songs from 3D films get screened in 3D or 2D?

  • 2 12-09-2010 at 12:58 pm

    Parrill said...

    Is anything from Scott Pilgrim eligible?

    I’d love to see Beck or BSS at the Oscars.

    Out of what you mentioned I only really like the Tangled and Jonsi songs. The rest are just meh.

  • 3 12-09-2010 at 1:15 pm

    Mr. F said...

    The Scott Pilgrim songs (garbage truck, threshold, and Ramona) were written by Beck for the film, so they should qualify, unless he decided to to submit them. Based on placement and how it is used in the film, I’d say that Threshold is their best shot, a long one shot, but I would like to see it nominated.

  • 4 12-09-2010 at 1:34 pm

    Matt King said...

    I just caught “Tangled” yesterday, and it was great. Definitely a throwback to the Disney of old, and yet with some absolutely beautiful CG animation.

  • 5 12-09-2010 at 1:35 pm

    Kevin Klawitter said...

    To be fair, I believe Springsteen’s song wasn’t disqualified because it was run during the credits, it was disqualified because it was released on Springsteen’s solo album “Working on a Dream” before the film was released.

  • 6 12-09-2010 at 1:47 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I think: Tangled, Burlesque, 127 Hours, Waiting for Superman, Toy Story 3. Or another song for Burlesque substituting for one of the latter not making it.

    Of course, you never know when another Paris 36 is around the corner.

  • 7 12-09-2010 at 1:52 pm

    forts said...

    Smart of Disney to only submit “I See The Light” since it’s clearly the best song in the film. Submitting the others would just cloud it like last year how I’m sure “Down In New Orleans” took away from “Almost There.” I’m not so sure about “We Belong Together” since it’s kind of a crappy song. Not like “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” or “When She Loved Me” which were actually… good.

    I see Tangled, TS3, Country Strong, Burlesque, and 127 Hours making it even though “Shine should take that last spot.

  • 8 12-09-2010 at 1:53 pm

    JJ1 said...

    Totally forgot about Country Song; which could have multiple noms.

    Though, could this be a year of 3 noms?

  • 9 12-09-2010 at 2:00 pm

    Maxim said...

    Unlike Inception (where I feel the ending is implied by virute of being ambigious), I don’t think that there is any doubt about what happens at the end of the Wrestler.

    Also, AJ asked an interesting question, though considering that all 3D films play in 3D (I don’t think there is such a think as a 3D only digital film, among other things, I would be really suprised if those segments do that kind of “special treatment”.

    And that seems to be the key phrase there.

  • 10 12-09-2010 at 2:18 pm

    Vn said...

    ‘We belong together’ is kind of a dissapointment compare to the other two classic songs from Toy Story 1 and 2, but considering how bad are all the songs these last years, it’s a pretty damn funny song.

    I think this year is even worse than last year. Maybe the Oscar is not going to be given. Who knows..

  • 11 12-09-2010 at 2:19 pm

    Sarah El said...

    Ahh I wish Despicable Me’s Despicable Me would get inclusion. It really was clever, good, and well-placed in the film. I’m still rooting for it, even if it is on the lower end of likelihood.

  • 12 12-09-2010 at 2:40 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Kevin: Springsteen’s song wasn’t disqualified. It was perfectly eligible. It simply wasn’t nominated.

  • 13 12-09-2010 at 3:19 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    And Working on a Dream was released in January 2009. Springsteen wrote the song specifically for the film at Rourke’s request.

    Good question on 3D though. I’m not sure.

  • 14 12-09-2010 at 4:59 pm

    Mitchell said...

    Oscar Talk questions?

  • 15 12-09-2010 at 5:01 pm

    mikhael said...

    The locked ones are i think 127 hours’ if i rise and tangled’s main song. but for me 127 hours has the best original song. it’s a a greatly composed song and it suits perfectly for the movie itself.

  • 16 12-09-2010 at 5:18 pm

    Jeremy said...

    “Let’s Get Lost,” The Bat for Lashes/Beck combination from “Twilight: Eclipse”, is beautiful and worthy of consideration. I’d also consider Metric’s “Eclipse (All Yours)” from the same film.

    And speaking of Metric, they offered my favorite song on the “Scott Pilgrim” soundtrack (“Black Sheep”). I believe it’s an original composition, and its staging in the film is electric.

  • 17 12-09-2010 at 5:23 pm

    mikhael said...

    Black sheep was already in Metric’s album i think before the movie came out. I heard that Grizzly Bear composed the songs for Blue Valentine, i’m still waiting for that one.

  • 18 12-09-2010 at 5:30 pm

    Tom said...

    The off-putting nature of the film probably makes it a no-go, but the song I’ve liked most this year is the title tune from Life During Wartime. Why does no one ever mention it? It’s even part-written by Academy favorite Marc Shaiman.

    Again, the fact that voters will hate the film will work against it, but, once upon a time, “More” was nominated, despite being from the vile Mondo Cane, so I continue to root.

  • 19 12-09-2010 at 5:30 pm

    Jeremy said...

    Mikhael: What album is that? I’ve looked through their catalog, and I can’t locate it.

  • 20 12-09-2010 at 6:06 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I’d give the win to “I See the Light,” for sure. Watch that song in context with THAT scene and there’s just not topping it.

  • 21 12-09-2010 at 6:07 pm

    Speaking English said...

    I’m rooting for “I See the Light” all the way. Watch that song in context with THAT scene and there’s just no topping it. Magical, emotional scene where that song just soars.

  • 22 12-09-2010 at 6:52 pm

    Mr. F said...

    Jeremy: “Black Sheep” was recorded for one of their albums but was never released. Then Edgar Wright heard it and decided to use it for the movie.

  • 23 12-09-2010 at 6:58 pm

    Jeremy said...

    Got it, thanks. Weird that they never released it on album, it’s a heck of a song.

  • 24 12-09-2010 at 7:08 pm

    Alex said...

    What about “Pimps Don’t Cry?”

  • 25 12-09-2010 at 7:25 pm

    Leo said...

    I think the Cher ballad from Burlesque is the weakest song from that movie, it sounds dated, Diane Warren just repeats herself. Cher’s other song “Welcome To Burlesque” should be getting more attention, it has everything an original song needs, it has that musical song quality to it, it is well constructed into the story, it is a good song.

  • 26 12-09-2010 at 7:46 pm

    Speaking English said...

    No way. The reason that Cher ballad works so well is precisely because it sounds so old-fashioned.

    Oh, and sorry for that weird double posting up there.

  • 27 12-09-2010 at 9:40 pm

    Hans said...

    I love I See The Light. Honestly, I hope I’m not blaspheming here, and this may just be a post-movie high from seeing it yesterday, but it might have just beat TS3 for top animated film in my book for the year. I certainly have a desire to see it again that’s stronger than my desire to want to see TS3 again.

  • 28 12-09-2010 at 10:13 pm

    M said...

    I think two songs from Burlesque will get in, namely Cher’s “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me” and Christina’s “Bound to You.” Both were fairly well worked into the context of the film and are really strong tracks. There’s usually one film that garners multiple nominations in this category and given the fact that Burlesque is the only real “musical,” and Tangled is only submitting one track, I’d give Burlesque the leg up in this category.

    Also Tangled’s “I See the Light,” is a shoe in although compared to past Disney classics, not to mention Alan Menken’s other past Oscar winning songs, this song doesn’t quite measure up, in my opinion. Though admittedly the song is a standout moment in that film.

    The last two are really more up in the air. If the academy wasn’t so critical of songs played over end credits, I would say John Legend’s “Shine” would be a definite contender.

    Lastly, it’ll either be 127 hours “If I Rise,” or the title track from “Country Song”.

    With these potential nominees, at the very least they would have an interesting set of performances if they decide to bring them back to the telecast. Hopefully they do as last years show was one of the most dry and boring shows in recent memory.

  • 29 12-10-2010 at 12:20 am

    A.J said...

    I feel special for asking a good question. I’m sure one day songs from 3D films will be screened in 3D but probably not this year.

    I love “I See the Light” and it’s the first Menken song to be ingrained into the film. You really need a background of the film to get they lyrics and what it means to the story. All of his other songs (meaning the nominated ones) could be taken out of the context of the movie and make perfect sense. “I See the Light” requires you to know the story to fully understand the song. I don’t know if that’s better or worse.

  • 30 12-10-2010 at 5:52 am

    Glenn said...

    I cannot remember the TS3 song at all.

  • 31 12-10-2010 at 7:04 am

    Joey said...

    Is “O Children” by Nick Cave from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I eligible?

    I can’t find if it was published or used previously.

  • 32 12-10-2010 at 7:15 am

    Joseph said...

    Agree on the “I See The Light” love. And the scene it is used in is one of my favorite scenes of the year. Hope it wins.

  • 33 12-10-2010 at 11:18 pm

    obamasavior ofworld said...

    If i Rise..amazing melody

  • 34 12-11-2010 at 8:07 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I wonder if one of the up-tempo tracks from “Burlesque” could spring a surprise here, given that their staging is so brashly eye-catching. Tightly crafted songs, too.

    “Made in Dagenham” is a closing credits track, by the way.

    And good call on “Life During Wartime,” Tom — I have no idea if the song’s even been entered, but it has real emotional heft and is very creatively used.

  • 35 1-19-2011 at 7:46 am

    Steve Michael said...

    My Choice is “if i rise’ from 127 hours…so haunting one … (: