When looking at the history of the Best Original Song category of the Oscars, there are a lot of really great songs. Lately, it’s been a bit disappointing. Too many studio movies just throw in a new song in the credits and then submit that. Sometimes, they’re fine songs but it’s disappointing they weren’t used in the actual film.
So just like last week, I’m going to highlight some recent examples of film scenes that used original songs well. (Only a few of them were even nominated for the Oscar. I guess they all can’t be Country Strong.)
“You Know My Name” – Casino Royale
“The coldest blood runs through my veins.”
Bond songs are usually as fun as their movies. All you had to do back in the day was awkwardly turn the title of the film into a pop song while juxtapose the lyrics with naked women. With the reboot, everything was changed. The song wasn’t just singing “Casino Royale” over and over again, but instead a cold criticism of Bond himself. The title sequence was inventive and avoided the silhouettes of cleavage. It’s almost like they were taking it seriously…
“Landry Day” – Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog
“That’s the plan. Rule the world. You and me. Any day.”
Here’s my first cheat. Sure this never played in theatres, but it’s 45 minutes long, made by professionals, and is freakin’ brilliant. This online musical got a lot of attention because it was something interesting happening during the writer’s strike and it was created by geek god Joss Whedon and starring Neil Patrick Harris. The first act opened with a three minute monlogue that set up the world. It was a bit exposition heavy but still charming. Yet once the first song started, everyone was hooked. It’s cute, clever and everything you would want from a Whedon musical. Sure songs like “My Eyes” and “Slipping” are stronger, but this one holds a place reassuring this was going to be something special.
“Bangers, Beans and Mash” – Get Him to the Greek
“Love, there’s things I’ve never said. I need to get them off my chest before I’m dead. I feel so bloody dead.”
When the movie is about music, then the music really needs to be good. This movie is filled with songs by Infant Sorrow and its lead Alexious Snow (Russell Brand). Most of them are pretty silly (“The Clap”, “African Child”) but it’s evident why he would be so popular in this world. When he finally gets to the Greek theatre, he plays the song his father recommended and he opens the show strong. Then he plays a surprisingly poignant song. As raunchy as the film is, the movie had a strong sense of sadness. All of his misadventures further distanced himself from the people he wants to be closest to. The imagery of this song are not associated with the partier, but the man alone in his house. Yet true to the Infant Sorrow fashion, there are suggestive words. Judd Apatow said, “It’s a song that makes me cry, but then I realize it could just be a dick joke.”
“Rock Me Sexy Jesus” – Hamlet 2
“He lays down science, it really blows my mind. But He’s also got abs that transcend space and time.”
The film was a bit of a disappointment, but this scene completely delievered. The whole movie is a build up to the inevitable failure of Steve Coogan’s Hamlet 2 play. It is riddled with time travel, daddy issues, and light sabers. More importantly it has the song “Rock Me Sexy Jesus.” It’s so catchy and the ridiculousness is too silly to be controversial. In fact, that’s what saves the day. The religious protesters realize it isn’t blasphemous…He’s kicking Satan’s ass! The linked clip only shows portion of the scene so go find this one.
“It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” – Hustle and Flow
“It’s f***ed up where I live, but that’s just how it is. It might be new to you, but it’s been like this for years.”
Everybody laughed when this was nominated and laughed more when it won the Oscar. On its own, it’s a fine rap song with a catchy tune. The reason why this list even exists is because with the emotional connection of their films, the songs have an added weight to them. Making music isn’t just about expressing Djay (Terence Howard) but could be his way out of lifestyle. Everything is on the line so this song has to be good. He’s nervous; Shug’s (Taraji P. Henson) is nervous. But then it all clicks and it’s powerful.
“Falling Slowly” – Once
“Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice. You’ll make it now.”
This list isn’t ranked, but this would be the number one. When I walked in to the theatre, I knew everybody was buying the soundtrack. I made a stupid mental declaration I wasn’t going to follow suit. I’m lucky I didn’t have 3G because I would have tried to buy it right there in the theatre. It’s not just that the songs are good—they are—it’s that they’re used beautifully. Music is what connects these two. It’s how they are able to convey their emotions and pain. Together, they were able to make someone really special. This is the scene when they first realize how in sync they are and it’s one of the most romantic moments I’ve ever seen in a movie. Pure and beautiful.
"La Méme Historie" – Paris Je T’aime
“Life’s a dance, we all have to do.”
Anthology films are always tricky because there are always going to be good and bad segments. So even the best collection is a bit uneven. Setting a variety of stories in Paris is a fun idea and it was exciting to see new shorts by directors like Alexander Payne, Tom Tykwer, Alfonso Curaón, Gus Van Sant, Wes Craven, and The Coen Brothers. What wasn’t expected is that they would all intersect at the very end. To conclude the film, a lot of the characters run into each other at the bar and embrace themselves as long friends. It’s such a sweet moment, juxtaposed wonderfully with this song by Feist. It creates more of a loving setting to each of these characters and, of course, Paris itself.
“Bad Jokes” – A Prairie Home Companion
“Bad jokes, Lord I love them. Bad jokes, can’t get enough of ‘em. Oo oo oo whee, bad jokes for me.”
Robert Altman’s last film captured a wonderful tone of warmth. In many ways, it’s about death, but it’s also about the people you surround yourself with. It’s the family of friends. The ones who will always be there for you and the ones who can make you laugh. In respectful retaliation, Lefty (John C. Reilly) and Dusty (Woody Harrelson) decide to sing a song of bad (and occasionally dirty) jokes on air. Some are as bad as they claim, but most of them are very solid. It’s a last hurrah and having a good time doing it.
"Threshold" – Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
“We are Sex Bob-Omb! We’re here to makey ou think about death and get sad and stuff!”
Sex Bob-omb is not the best band in the world. Sure Kim Pine rocks it on the drums, but they keep winning the Battle of the Bands because their opponents keep bursting into coins. All of the fight sequences are metaphors for Scott’s confidence and interest in his relationship with Ramona. At this point, he’s angry, frustrated and is tired of all the BLEEP. That’s the perfect mentality for punk rock. As their awesome skills create a giant gorilla to combat the Katayanagi Twin’s dragons, what’s impressive is the most interesting thing is Sex Bob-omb. They finally have the energy and the song to be the band they wished they were, the one Knives always sees.
“Let’s Duet” – Walk Hard
“Let’s duet in ways that make us feel good.”
A forgotten film under the Apatow label is this dead-on spoof of musical biopics. As John C. Reilly’s Dewey Cox goes through every cliché possible, he has a song to accompany it. The breakaway song in the film is “Let’s Duet” because of it’s clever double entendres. The real reason it’s a hit is because Jenna Fischer is hilarious. She sells the sweetness, dirtiness, contradictions, and absurdity of it all. Once used music to have the characters understand each other on a complex even spirtual level. Walk Hard uses music to make them realize they would really like to have sex with each other. And that’s okay!
“The Wrestler” – The Wrestler trailer
“Have you ever seen a one-legged dog making its way down the street? If you’ve ever seen a one-legged dog then you’ve seen me.”
When you regularly see films at a Landmark theatre, you tend to see the same trailers over and over again. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because they tend to be trailers for good movies. Before I had seen The Wrestler I had seen the trailer a million times, which means I heard this song just as many. In the movie, the plot structure let me down but the character remains strong. This song exemplifies all that is fascinating and tragic about Randy the Ram. Oddly enough, my emotions were strongest for him before I paid for my ticket.
Honorable mentions include
“Fallin’ and Flying” – Crazy Heart
“Heart (Broken)” – Dr. Horrible: Commentary! The Musical
“That’s How You Know” – Enchanted
“Stu’s Song” – The Hangover
“Little Person” – Synecdoche, New York
Also from Television:
“It Ain’t Easy Being White or Brown” –Arrested Development
“I’ll Never Tell” – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
“Getting Rid of Britta” --Community
“Abigail’s Song” – Doctor Who
“The Ballad of Serenity” – Firefly
“Nothing Suits Me Like a Suit” –How I Met Your Mother