Monday, January 25, 2016

OVP: Original Song (2014)

OVP: Best Original Song (2014)

The Nominees Were...

"Everything is Awesome," Music & Lyric by Shawn Patterson, The Lego Movie
"Glory," Music & Lyric by John Stephens & Lonnie Lynn, Selma
"Grateful," Music & Lyric by Diane Warren, Beyond the Lights
"I'm Not Gonna Miss You," Music & Lyric by Glen Campbell & Julian Raymond, Glen Campbell...I'll Be Me
"Lost Stars," Music & Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois, Begin Again

My Thoughts: We move into the aural categories at the Oscars of 2014 today, and considering it's the mid-teens (that sounds odd...what exactly are we calling this decade again?) you have the return of the major music stars.  Honestly-one of the coolest trends of the past few years, especially since they changed the way that the Oscars vote on this category is that we're getting songs people have actually heard and singers people will actually recognize.  As a result, this was one of the more show-stopping performances the Oscar ceremony got in a while, though with Lady Gaga, The Weeknd, and Sam Smith the show in a few weeks may give it a run for its money in terms of star power.  Still, it's not about the performance as is so often the case for picking a victor here, but instead about how good the song is and how well it is utilized in the film in which it's featured.

This is why I am so desperately in love with "Lost Stars" from Begin Again, one of those movies that sort of haunts you and lingers with you for months after, even if you might not have loved it initially when it came out (which I did-I was a fan from the get-go, even if it could never approach the perfection that is Once).  The song reverberates throughout the film, and we actually get dual versions of the song-the more stringed-down, in-tune with the picture performance from Keira Knightley and the pop-friendly single from Adam Levine.  The film makes you want to not like the Levine version, but I'm such a sucker for Maroon 5 that I actually loved both and the Levine version is the one that regularly pops up on my iTunes shuffle.  Honestly it's hard to compete with this title-it's so full of life, lyrically lovely, and it is the backbone of the film and Keira Knightley's transition in confidence first in her career and then later in her love life.

However it's not the only song of this bunch to strike a major chord with me and the audience, as "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" pulls off a similar trick.  The final song that Glen Campbell ever wrote or recorded, the song is powerfully-felt like much of Campbell's music, and is a heartbreaking end to the film.  The song plays like a classic country song should (with pangs of regret, amidst honesty about love), and speaks the simple truth about Campbell's condition (that, thanks to forgetting, he won't remember his wife that he so admires throughout the film).  I don't always love end credit songs, but considering that the final moments of the film are actually dedicated to how the song is featured in the movie, it's impossible to call this an end credits song and it so perfectly sums up the film that it feels like it had to have already been in Campbell's canon of classics.  That it isn't is a shock, but thankfully he got this one out just in time.

Few people in the music branch have been craving that Oscar longer than Diane Warren.  A major player in the 1980's and 1990's at the Oscars (her first six Oscar-nominated songs were in the Billboard Top 10, and two made it to Number One), she has never won an Oscar and after she got rejected recently for "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" from Burlesque (despite her finally taking home the Golden Globe), I kind of wondered if Warren might be out of the Oscar game as her gigantic ballads have gone out of fashion in an era of acoustic and hip-hop songs gaining favor with the Academy.  However, Warren found herself once again on the Oscar shortlist with "Grateful," a song which was barely a blip on the radar compared to her other six mammoth hits, and there's a reason for that.  Despite Beyond the Lights being a musical, this is an end credits song that doesn't reverberate in the same way that "Blackbird" does in the movie, and Rita Ora doesn't give it much in terms of feeling or heart.  As a result, it feels like a pretty uninspired entry in Warren's canon, and this seems to have been the first time she got in based on her name alone rather than radio play or making an impact.

A song that did chart, though not as high as I think it might have been expected to do so considering the names behind the actual song, was "Glory," from Selma.  The song became a major moment at the Oscars this past year, and was decidedly the best performance of the night, with John Legend and Common commanding the stage.  However, it's worth noting that this doesn't quite play the same way in the film.  No doubt the song retains its passion, and in many ways it keeps the momentum of the final moments of the film going, but it's played over the end credits and I feel like it loses some of its luster when you aren't seeing it in a gigantic way like at the Oscars.  I wasn't struck by the song as being connected to what we had just seen on screen in the same way I was "Lost Stars" or "I'm Not Gonna Miss You" and for me that matters for this category, even if admittedly I liked this actual song better as a radio play than one of those two tunes.  This is best Movie Song, and "Glory"'s position over the end credits makes it feel more like a compliment than something entrenched in the movie.

The same cannot be said for The Lego Movie's "Everything is Awesome" which plays on repeat throughout the film.  The song is an ear worm, and it's questionable whether or not it approaches good writing or lyricism (the mid-song rap feels more like an SNL skit than anything else, though that may just be the Lonely Island talking), but it's infectious and matches the mood of the movie it is in perfectly.  I like that the song plays with the brand of Legos and their uniformity ("everything is awesome, everything is cool when you're part of a team") considering the movie veers dangerously close to being simply a commercial at select points of the film, and that it's genuinely, consistently funny which is the sign of a good novelty song.

Other Precursor Contenders: Despite the Oscars renewed penchant for major radio stars, the Golden Globes still outdoes it in this regard, choosing only to copy Oscar in terms of "Glory," (which won its trophy), and instead picking songs by the likes of Lorde ("Yellow Flicker Beat" from Mockingjay, Part 1), Lana del Rey ("Big Eyes," from Big Eyes, which feature the immortally bad lyrics "with your big eyes...and your big lies"), Patti Smith ("Mercy Is" from Noah) and Sia (did you know that Sia wrote the original song from the lambasted new edition of Annie?).  All told, no one throws down with the star-loving HFPA and wins.
Songs I Would Have Nominated: By AMPAS standards, this is actually a pretty strong list and one that they should be proud of pulling together.  While it isn't exactly what I would have created, I will say that only one of the songs is crying out to be replaced, and man do I wish they'd gone with the elegant final ballad from The Hobbit "The Last Goodbye."  Peter Jackson has made a point of putting music as a central theme of his sextet of films, and while they have hardly been ignored (two songs nominated, one for the win), this was a beautiful end to the series and I would have loved for it to get a moment at the Dolby.
Oscar’s Choice: Oscar was all about spreading the wealth last year (every single one of the eight-wide Best Picture field took home a trophy) and so we saw Selma get its victory with "Glory."
My Choice: "Lost Stars" has graduated to my favorite songs of all-time list so if you're a religious reader of this blog you'll know that it was an easy win here.  I'd follow it with Glen Campbell, Selma, The Lego Movie, and Beyond the Lights way in the back.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Were you with me in cheering for Begin Again or were you all about the Common/John Legend duet?  Do you think Diane Warren will ever win an Oscar?  And are you angry at me for putting "Everything is Awesome" back in your head?  Share your comments below!

Past Best Original Song Contests: 20082009, 2010201120122013

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