Monday, July 21, 2014

OVP: Original Song (2013)

OVP: Best Original Song (2013)

The Nominees Were...

"Alone Yet Not Alone," Music and Lyric by Bruce Broughton and Dennis Spiegel, Alone Yet Not Alone (nomination was rescinded-we'll talk about it below)
"Happy," Music and Lyric by Pharrell Williams, Despicable Me 2
"Let It Go," Music and Lyric by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, Frozen
"The Moon Song," Music and Lyric by Karen O and Spike Jonze, Her
"Ordinary Love," Music and Lyric by Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen (U2), Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

My Thoughts: We now move into the sound tech categories, and to the fun of the Best Original Songs of 2013, which were, after years of the mundane and eyebrow-raising, actually quite fun.  The 2013 Best Original Song had not only the shock of an out-of-nowhere nomination that was later rescinded, it actually contained two songs that were major radio hits.  Let's listen in...

We'll start with the biggest of those radio hits.  "Happy" was the first Oscar-nominated song to hit Number One since Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" seventeen years earlier, a remarkable achievement considering during the 1980's Oscar-nominated songs were regularly some of the biggest chart-toppers on Billboard.  I hardly have to explain the song-it played in your ear constantly through the earlier part of the year.  The actual vocals in the song are exquisite, with Pharrell doing his best Curtis Mayfield.  The song also goes with the spirit of the film and is better than the movie.  It's fun, delightful, and a nice change of pace for a category that frequently has favored the somber in recent years.  Plus, it's just nice to have an actual hit in this race, adding some relevance to the category with the audience at home (and didn't you just love Lupita, Amy, and Meryl dancing with Pharrell in the song?).

The other major hit was from Frozen, that being "Let It Go."  Disney has had a long history of great climactic songs in their movies, and regularly win Oscars for them.  There's a reason for this, though.  Not only is a song like "Let It Go" quite musically strong and really fun to sing along to and listen to, but it's pivotal to the structure of the movie.  This category, in my opinion, isn't just about having a great piece of music, but also about finding a way to incorporate the song into the film.  There are only rare exceptions where an end credits song so well balances and adds to the film that it must be honored (like, say, "My Heart Will Go On")-most of the time it's just filler as you leave your seats.  Disney's songs add to the plot, and "Let It Go" is the pinnacle of the music in the film, showing when Elsa is putting her fears and past behind her.  It's a great scene in the film, and wonderfully sold by Idina Menzel's gravity-defying vocals.

An example of the opposite, where it's simply a song to clear the seats, would be "Ordinary Love."  This is not by any stretch of the imagination a bad song-it matches well with some of the more mellow U2 songs of the past decade and I'm surprised it didn't translate to more radio play.  However, the song doesn't really add anything to the film.  This is a movie in desperate need of some personality-it's dour, dry, and boring.  I complained about this in the review, but why was this not added throughout the movie as a theme, perhaps to give the push that Mandela is making onscreen seem more like a journey than a trudge.  Instead of that film-assisting task, this song is simply relegated to play while you find out who was the key grip, which helps no one.

Her certainly finds a way to push its song into the middle of the movie, and does it exquisitely.  While the Karen O version of the song plays over the credits, like "Moon River" before it, we get two different versions of the song to ponder in the film.  The song is a key moment in the romance between Theodore and Samantha, as Scarlett Johansson's breathy and delicate alto musters through the lyrics and we realize that they have fallen deeply in love.  It's a beautiful moment in a film brimming with them, and I love the way that the movie juxtaposes it with the more commercial version over the credits.  It also helps that the song is not only well-positioned, but a great little ballad.

The final nomination is the one that was infamously yanked from the nomination lineup.  I have maintained since it happened that "Alone Yet Not Alone" did nothing that larger films like The King's Speech and The Artist have been doing for years in their quests to win Oscar nominations and wins.  This nomination should not have been rescinded merely for a campaign violation because it seems far too arbitrary and for whatever the reasons (whether it was protesting the quality of the film or the subject matter), it seems extremely unlikely that if "Let It Go" had done what "Alone Yet Not Alone" did that we'd be seeing Disney lose their nomination, and so this was very unfair.

Therefore I'm going to consider it for the OVP, but not for very long.  The song and film are awful, and while it is certainly important to the plot of the actual film (it's sung multiple times in the movie, including in a pivotal scene late in the picture), it's a terrible piece of music, and quite frankly, I think I'd reach my "react only to the specific attribute of the film" limit (one of the goals of the OVP) if I had to honor such a horrendous movie.  Sounding like the sort of thing you'd hear on a 1 AM infomercial on PAX TV, this didn't deserve to lose its nomination, but it definitely didn't deserve to be nominated in the first place.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Globes love their musical celebrities in this category, though they oddly didn't realize that "Happy" would be getting a second major headwind (otherwise Pharrell surely would have been mentioned).  As it is, they continued the trend of not giving their trophy to the Oscar winner (they picked "Ordinary Love" over the only other AMPAS-cited number, "Let It Go").  They also found room for "Atlas" from Catching Fire (Coldplay) and "Sweeter than Fiction" from One Chance (Taylor Swift), both of which would have made considerably better choices than "Alone Yet Not Alone."  Finally they oddly featured "Please Mr. Kennedy," from Inside Llewyn Davis (the draw of Justin Timberlake being a nominee being too much for them) even though it's questionable on whether it's original or just a parody (Oscar deemed it ineligible).  I also question how anyone could cite the only really bad song in a film brimming with wonderful ones.  As for sixth place, I think it was probably Lana del Rey's "Young and Beautiful" which carries through The Great Gatsby and seemed certain to be nominated before Bruce Broughton entered the picture.
Songs I Would Have Nominated: I do miss the days when The Lord of the Rings and their great, movie-defining themes got nominated in this category, but alas Ed Sheeran's "I See Fire" couldn't make the cut.  The same goes for The Civil Wars with their haunting "Finding North" in the documentary A Place at the Table.  If Melissa Etheridge can win for a documentary, this surely could have been nominated (it's not even just an end credits song!).
Oscar’s Choice: I suspect that the grand slam hit that "Happy" became after this nomination probably shook up this race enough to make it close, but "Let It Go" had months worth of momentum on its side, and Frozen was a colossal critical and commercial hit that surely needed two trophies, so it got them.
My Choice: I'm also going to be a sucker for the princess movie and give this to Frozen.  I'll follow it with Her, Despicable Me 2, Mandela, and way in the rear Alone Yet Not Alone.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  I'm sure there's someone out there who wants to make the argument to give this trophy to "Happy", so what's the case?  Is everyone else behind "Let It Go" or does someone want to vouch for another nominee?  Did anyone actually like Alone Yet Not Alone?  And what original song was the best in a movie in 2013?  Share in the comments!

Past Best Original Song Contests: 2009, 201020112012

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