The nominations for the 2014 Oscars were announced yesterday. These include Joni Eareckson Tada's “Alone Yet Not Alone” from Alone Yet Not Alone, Pharrell's “Happy” from Despicable Me 2, Idina Menzel's “Let It Go” from Frozen, Karen O's "The Moon Song" from Her and U2's “Ordinary Love” from Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom. While the rules say the song has to be written for the film, that doesn't mean they have to sound so much like they were written for a damn film. You can practically feel a team of production assistants and second directors standing outside the studio pulling the strings on the majority of the typical corny Oscar song fare. They're all trying so, so hard to sound Oscarly.
The rules of the Best Original Song category stipulate that the song must contain words and music both specifically written for the film in question, and it must appear within the film or at the end credits. So that explains why the entire, brilliant soundtrack to The World's End was shut out. But some of our favourite musical moments in film were also overlooked – we'd prefer a song that can stand on its own, working both in the film itself, and as a song you could enjoy even without knowing it was part of a soundtrack in the first place.
The most glaring oversight here, in that light, is Lana Del Rey's “Young and Beautiful” from The Great Gatsby soundtrack. It's not only the best song from a movie of the year, it's one of the year's best songs period. When you add in the way it perfectly encapsulates the tragic romance at the heart of the story, the longing, the slipping away of youth, it seems like a no-brainer. Then again, considering her every move is pulled from the iconography of Hollywood's grand old golden years, an Oscar nod probably would've made Lana really happy, and a happy Lana is bad for her creative process.
This track from the Mia Wasikowska-starring Stokerpulls off the super-rare feat of sounding like an actual piece of music that anyone in the real world would actually listen to, which, if you've spent any time listening to the 75 songs that were eligible to be nominated this year, is a lot harder than it sounds. Its hypnotic groove, clattering beat, and icy cool flow aren't necessarily inspiring us to go see Chan-wook Park's film, but checking out more of Wells' music is definitely in order.
M83's music is always described as cinematic anyway, so they might as well get in on the soundtrack game. This track, featuring Norwegian singer Susanne Sundfør on vocals, has the towering presence and the massive scope of a mountain vista. Except one with a space ship hidden inside of it or whatever happened in this Tom Cruise stinker. The post-apocalyptic Oblivion fizzled with poor reviews, but don't let that effect your outlook on the song – it's evocative, bombastic, and imbued with the sense of isolation that makes movies about the future resonate.
The Great Gatsby was pretty much the only film this year with any sort of quality indie presence whatsoever, and, accordingly, it's got most of our favorite tracks of the bunch. This one from The xx is, as The xx songs tend to be, a slow-crawling romance where you're not sure if it's supposed to be a turn-on or a dreadful creep-out. “I said it's been a long time since someone looked at me that way /It's like you knew me”, Romy Madley-Croft sings, sounding like her lines were written for Daisy Buchanan herself. All in all it was probably far too subtle to get noticed in the year's slate of oxygen-sucking attention-magnets.
When you're writing a song for a film starring Julia Roberts, Sam Sheppard, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper, to name just a few, you're going to have to deliver a convincing performance. The Followhill boys dig deep into the dusty grooves of the road here with a song that does a good job of thematic story resonance, capturing the weariness and the resigned, sorrowful miles accumulated after a life of alcoholism and addiction at the heart of the film.
Considering songs from Sound City for consideration sort of feels like cheating, since the film, produced and directed by Dave Grohl, was about the historic Los Angeles recording studio where he and Nirvana recorded Nevermind in 1991 (and where we met him and Rick Rubin last year). For the film Grohl collected a group of all-star musicians to record a song with him on the equipment he salvaged. Among them were Paul McCartney, with whom he and the rest of Nirvana recorded the somewhat unfortunate “Cut Me Some Slack”, which, like the album itself, was nominated for a Grammy. The best of the bunch was this haunting number done with Stevie Nicks, who can't not be haunting come to think of it.
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