Song(s) of the Week #12: The 94th Academy Awards
The 94th Academy Awards are rapidly approaching, and the one question absolutely no one is asking is, “Who will win Best Original Song?” Because, I mean… it’s Lin-Manuel Miranda. Sure, Disney didn’t submit the surprise smash hit “We Don’t Talk About Bruno'' for nomination, but I don’t think that’s going to hold him back much, do you? But it might come as a surprise that there are four other songs nominated in that category this year. And in the spirit of the Oscars- namely taking works of art and arbitrarily declaring one to be better than the others- we’re going to rank them all from worst to best. Won’t that be fun? Well too bad, we’re doing it anyway!
#5) "Somehow You Do"- Four Good Days
You're probably familiar with the phrase, "Always a bridesmaid, and never a bride", and boy howdy does that phrase some up Diane Warren. This song marks her thirteenth Oscar nomination in over three decades, and it seems very unlikely that her unlucky streak's going to end this year. Across her storied Hollywood career, Miss Warren has written songs ranging from great (like Mannequin's "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now") to absolutely terrible (like Con Air's "How Do I Live"). "Somehow You Do" falls somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, but leaning mostly towards the latter.
To be fair, a lot of this comes down to personal taste. I'm not a fan of country music, so of course a song performed by Reba McEntire that isn't the theme song to her hit sitcom Reba isn't going to be my cup of tea. I'm also not into end credits songs, especially ones that come at the end credits of a movie as overwrought as Four Good Days. Perhaps if the movie were better I'd be feeling a little more charitable to its end credits? (Then again, Con Air being fucking awesome doesn't make me any more inclined to give "How Do I Live" a pass, so probably not.) But even with all that considered, it's just not a great song, with generic uplifting lyrics and boring music. I have to assume the Academy just nominates Diane Warren out of habit at this point (that would explain how they even heard of Breakthrough), and hopefully one day it pays off for her. But it won't be this year, nor should it be.
#4) "Be Alive"- King Richard
While last year's Best Original Song lineup was largely dominated by the end credits plague, this year's nominees are a bit less monolithic. Only two of the songs are confined to the end credits, which is a nice change of pace. "Be Alive" is definitely the better of the two, in the sense that it's mostly just kind of a generic end credits tune. The collaboration between DIXSON and Beyonce probably gels with people who are more into Beyonce than I am, but it's not like I hate it or anything. Beyonce's voice is as great as always and the song is filled with clever lyrics, so it's not a total loss. It honestly fits in with King Richard pretty perfectly- not great, but still entertaining nevertheless. And really, it was about damn time Beyonce became an Oscar nominee. So yeah, not my favorite, but I'm not against its nomination or anything.
#3) "No Time to Die"- No Time to Die
Two years after making its Oscar debut, Billie Eilish's "No Time to Die" will finally gets its shot at the award proper. (Boy, could you imagine if they didn't wind up nominating it? That'd be awkward.) The Daniel Craig era of James Bond has had its ups and downs, but one thing has always remained consistent- the theme songs perfectly reflect the movie they're attached to. Whether it's the straight up banger that is Casino Royale's "You Know My Name" or the confusing mess of Quantum of Solace's "Another Way to Die", from the really-awesome-provided-that-you-don't-think-too-closely-about-it of Skyfall's title track or the pure dog shit that is "Writing's on the Wall" from Spectre, you can't say that the theme songs are misleading. And "No Time to Die" continues the tradition, letting you know that the movie which follows will be... fine? Mostly fine? Too emotional for its own good maybe, but... fine? It has good parts, but mostly underwhelming, but I guess it's fine.
Ok maybe that's a little harsh. Honestly, my problems with "No Time to Die" have less to do with the song itself, which is pretty damn good on its own, but the scene surrounding it. While No Time to Die's opening credits aren't as baffling as Spectre's, they are still pretty weird. It's like the filmmakers couldn't decide on a consistent motif and just threw everything at the wall to see if it'd stick, to very little success. Strangely, it also feels like the credits were made far before the song (which can't be true), as the sequence never really matches with the song's energy. That's obviously not something you'll notice listening to the song on its own, but Song of the Week IS about the use of songs within the film more anything, after all. But again, that weird disconnect probably makes it a great fit for the film, which never quite comes together in a satisfying way.
But at least the song is nice to listen to on its own, even if it doesn't reach the heights of the better Bond themes of the Craig era. Had No Time to Die hit its original release date, Billie Eilish would probably be an Oscar winner by now, easily dominating last year's fairly weak lineup. Alas, the delay seems to have most likely ended her chances for that, but I'm sure she'll have plenty of opportunities in the future.
#2) "Down to Joy"- Belfast
Look, let's get it out of the way- Van Morrison is an anti-vaccine idiot and an asshole, and it is kind of weird that his music is all over Belfast. But you know what? It's still damn good music, and that applies to his original track "Down to Joy", which also serves as the film's opening credits song. I honestly had no idea that the song was original to the film until Oscar time rolled around- it sounded like the sort of thing my dad had been listening to for years- but I can't deny that it sets the tone for the film perfectly. I'm fairly certain I'm the only person who'd rank this song this highly on their list, for either political or artistic reasons, but if I'm doing an honest ranking, this is where it would land. Music is largely subjective after all (moreso than most mediums), and this song just works for me. Perhaps that's because I just love Belfast more than most people seem to. Who's to say?
#1) "Dos Oruguitas"- Encanto
The clear frontrunner this year, both in terms of quality and likelihood to win, is Encanto's surprisingly controversial entry in the category. On the one hand, I kind of get why people think one of the other songs should have been nominated. Encanto is a musical, after all, and one would hope the film would prioritize one of the film's many creative musical numbers over the song performed by a singer who's not even in a character in the film. Hell, that sounds like the sort of thing I'd complain about, and I admit that "Dos Oruguitas" wouldn't be my pick for the best song in the movie. It's not bad or anything, it's just that I find a lot of the songs more interesting.
But I can see Disney's logic for pushing this song over the others. Disney typically has better luck with their animated films' more serious songs, which typically play better out of context and probably appeal to the Academy's more snobby members who don't want to award a cartoon. These serious songs are rarely the film's best (with "Beauty and the Beast" from Beauty and the Beast being the exception that proves the role), and I myself would prefer the more idiosyncratic, film-specific songs to get rewarded. But that's not the world we live in, and it's silly to get worked up over such things now.
And besides that, it's hard to argue that "Dos Oruguitas" isn't a worthy nominee in its own right. It's a beautiful song, which makes fantastic use of a simple arrangement and beautiful Spanish lyrics. Plus it doesn't hurt that the song is the emotional linchpin of the film, playing over probably its most affecting scene. (Imagine that, a Tony-winning songwriter understanding the importance of marrying a song to story.) I found myself getting a little emotional rewatching it before finalizing my rankings, and I'm sure I'm far from the only one. And if the whole point of this column is to analyze how songs work within their films, it's hard to argue that "Dos Oruguitas" would be anything short of a worthy winner. Besides, if it's really that big a deal to you that "We Don't Talk About Bruno" didn't get nominated, just view the award as a recognition for Miranda's work on the film as a whole. They used to give out awards for that sort of thing, but that's a story for a different time.
For now, we can only wait and see what the future holds for these Best Song nominees. Will Miranda finally get his EGOT, or will someone pull an upset? Will Vance Morrison get an awkward round of applause? And will the nominees actually get to be performed during the fucking ceremony itself this year because god damn it, I am not watching the Red Carpet coverage, I have a limit?!
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