Oscar’s Best Original Song
Ah, the Academy Awards season. That magical time of year when everyone — from breathless E! channel news bunnies to the bagel guy at your corner deli — becomes a pundit, bandying about the names of front-runners and personal favorites with all the canny double-talk of a bookie on game night. EW’s own Oscar-picks Yoda, Dave Karger, provides his annual predictions, but he leaves out Best Original Song, and we don’t blame him. After all, we’re talking about an organization that recently bestowed the ultimate honor upon both platinum-toothed ersatz pimps (Memphis rappers Three 6 Mafia, in ‘06) and a little-known Uruguayan folkie (Jorge Drexler, in ‘05).
If you want a tip for your office-pool ballot, the only sure precedent seems to be that if Disney builds it, they will come (see past winners The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Tarzan, The Prince of Egypt, The Lion King…). That bodes well for ”That’s How You Know,” a sweet, frothy ditty from Enchanted (it’s already grabbed a Golden Globe nod), and Ratatouille’s Gallic trifle ”Le Festin.”
Honestly, though, we’d rather talk about who should win. While the Disney offerings are serviceable enough, they can’t begin to touch Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s street-buskers-in-love ballad ”Falling Slowly,” from the lovely little indie that could, Once. Another unforgettable duet? ”Anyone Else but You,” by avant-folk oddballs the Moldy Peaches, as crooned by Juno’s teen-parent paramours, Ellen Page and Michael Cera — alas, ineligible because it was originally released several years ago. (Speaking of Cera, doesn’t he deserve his own statuette for his gloriously awkward rendition of the Guess Who’s ”These Eyes” to a roomful of amped-up cokeheads in Superbad? Yes!) And just for putting himself out there, God bless Hugh Grant, gamely shaking his fortysomething bonbon as a hair-sprayed Simon Le Bon manqué in Music & Lyrics’ undeniably catchy ”Pop Goes My Heart.” As for other actors who (don’t usually) sing, Salma Hayek smoldered as a naughty nurse throughout Across the Universe’s ”Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” Marcus Carl Franklin’s charming young hobo nearly stole his fancy costars’ rolling thunder in I’m Not There, and Johnny Depp killed it, literally, in Sweeney Todd; their songs were a kick, even if none meet the Original rubric. Several from Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story do, but the not-even-double entendres of camp-infested numbers like ”Let’s Duet” are hardly more than YouTube fun.
On a completely different plane, Marion Cotillard’s all-consuming turn as Edith Piaf in the remarkable French-language film La Vie en Rose was devastating — more possession by the heartbreakingly talented songbird than mere performance. Eddie Vedder’s own distinctive vocals, rumbling and bone-weary, gracefully elevated the Sean Penn epic Into the Wild (”Guaranteed” got the Globe nod, but ukulele-laced ”Rise” is even stronger). Keeping in mind that Jay-Z’s excellent American Gangster album was only inspired by the film, the movie’s retro soul-burner ”Do You Feel Me,” by Anthony Hamilton, still qualifies and is a worthy contender. Kewpie-eyed Norwegian songwriter Sondre Lerche made a decent run at soundtracking this year’s gentle Steve Carell dramedy Dan in Real Life, though his string-heavy take on the Pete Townshend classic ”Let My Love Open the Door” may just outshine the film’s original songs.
Two other veterans of the short-form tradition — Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and brooding Australian troubadour Nick Cave — went wordless instead, crafting haunting, Best Score-worthy compositions for, respectively, There Will Be Blood and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (co-written by Warren Ellis). Will Smith, however, deserves a Least Original Synergy prize for hawking Bob Marley’s Legend in I Am Legend like it’s a revelation previously held in a vault by the Freemasons. If you’re going to be silly, do it with pride, as The Simpsons Movie’s ingeniously operatic ”Spider-Pig” did. After all, if a warthog and a meerkat could ”Hakuna Matata” their way into an Oscar nomination for The Lion King, why not this airborne porker?