How To Solve The Oscars’ Music Problem

The Oscars have a problem… well, two really… oh yeah, there’s also three and four… OK, they’ve got a bunch. But one of the most glaring is the Best Original Song category.

Because only two minor songs were able to get themselves nominated this year, this problem has come to the fore. But this year is clearly not an aberration. Sure, sometimes something worthwhile like “Lose Yourself” from 8 Mile or “Things Have Changed” from Wonder Boys or even that song from Once are able to rise to the top. But, most of the time, the nominees are either trite tunes from children’s movies, or the one new throw-in from a musical, or whatever leftover Randy Newman found in his notebook.

This is a shame, at least as much of one as anything involving the Oscars can be, because music and film have a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship, enriching each’s meaning through their juxtaposition. So, let’s help Oscar loosen his head from his ass, and at least get one of his problems solved.

Leave Best Original Score Alone

A composer writes the score for a movie, and the voters pick the one that makes them tear up the most. Done and done.

Lighten Up On Best Original Song

The problem with this category is that they treat songs the same as scores, when they’re obviously quite different. First of all, how did we get here. According to Wikipedia:

The original requirement was only that the nominated song appear in a motion picture during the previous year. This rule was changed after the 1941 Academy Awards, when “The Last Time I Saw Paris”, from the film Lady Be Good, with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, won. Kern was upset that his song won because it had been published and recorded before it was used in the film. The song was actually written in 1940, after the Germans occupied Paris at the start of World War II. It was recorded by Kate Smith and peaked at number 8 on the best seller list before it was used in the film Lady Be Good. Kern got the Academy to change the rule so that only songs that are “original and written specifically for the film” are eligible to win.

Really, Jerry? Who the fuck complains because they WON an Oscar? Douchebag.

The biggest problem with this category is the requirement for the song to be composed “specifically for the film”, even if they’ve never been released before. Of course, trying to adjudicate the intention of the artist is ridiculous. Actors are able to be nominated for roles they mailed over from Broadway, for instance. There was some talk of taking away Stevie Wonder’s Oscar for “I Just Called To Say I Love You” from The Lady In Red, because it had been started years previously. Granted, a horrible fucking song, but any rule that almost takes an Oscar from a blind man needs to be changed. Also, this rule excludes any songs that rely on sampled or reworked material, which obviously eliminates much of rap, such as “Gangsta’s Paradise” from Dangerous Minds.

Calm the fuck down, Oscar! No wonder you only get the dregs from musicals and hacks. Stop worrying about when a song was started… you don’t try to figure out if an Original Screenplay is a rewrite of something the author didn’t sell ten years earlier (at least, I hope you don’t). If a song hasn’t been released on an album before the movie is released (and as a single more than, say, three months before), it’s Original. And get over the sampling thing… it’s been 30 years.

Create A Best Adapted Song Category

One of the problems with the music categories is that they’re a product of an earlier time, when composers like Irving Berlin and the hateful Jerome Kern were contributing to The Great American Songbook. That time has passed, and not recognizing that fails to recognize one of the most satisfying parts of moviemaking today.

Utilizing the right song can immeasurably improve a movie, and many of our greatest movie moments come from the marriage of the right song with a great image. It can be used to tie together an important montage, like “Layla” in Goodfellas or “A Quick One, While He’s Away” in Rushmore. It can be used to illustrate a character’s personality, like “Stuck In The Middle With You” in Reservoir Dogs or “Try A Little Tenderness” in Pretty In Pink. It can be used to leave the viewer with the resonance a great last line in a novel gives a reader, like “Just Like Honey” in Lost In Translation or “Where Is My Mind” in Fight Club. Obviously, this is much different than writing an Original Song, so the Academy should do for songs what it does for screenplays.

Some would argue that the same songs would be nominated over and over, but that just isn’t the case. This category would reward best use of a song… songs that have been used before either lose their potency or are weighed down by the memory of what’s come before. It’s not like anybody is going forget that “Tiny Dancer” was used perfectly in Almost Famous… and if a director uses it in a way that is superior, more power to them. Because this award would go to the director and the performing artist, it would also open the door to covers like “I Will Always Love You” from The Bodyguard.

So, there you go, Academy. You’re welcome. All I ask is that you please stop hiring Billy Crystal.

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Filed under David Simon Cowell, Film Has AIDS, Music Has AIDS

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