The Academy Award nominations have been announced and it’s safe to say they’re notorious for sweeping its ‘Best Original Song’ category under the rug as if it were a neglected cousin. If it’s only providing voters with a small number of choices – as in 2012, where Bret McKenzie’s ‘Man Or Muppet’ from The Muppets and ‘Real In Rio’ from Rio were the sole nominations – then they’re snubbing some of the year’s best songs. While many winners of the category are just plain horrible, there’s been deserving silver screen conquerors of the category also. We take a look at both sides, starting with the (rare) times when the Oscar Judges actually got it right, followed by instances when they – to put it nicely – really didn’t.
1. ’Falling Slowly’ – Glen Hansard & Markéta Irglová (from Once)
The song from the little 2006 Irish film that could, which not only saw both the Frames frontman and his then-partner collaborate musically but act in the film together. The lilting number begins as a piano-led duet before progressing towards orchestral heights. It won against three songs from Disney’s Enchanted and ‘Raise It Up’ from August Rush at the 2007 awards.
Easily one of the best winners in the category’s history, The Boss’ ballad also picked up four Grammys including ‘Song Of The Year’. Winning in 1993 at the 66th annual awards, the song complimented the film, which was the first ever mainstream piece of cinema to openly acknowledge the Aids epidemic. ‘Streets Of Philadelphia’ remains Springsteen’s most recent Top 10 hit. It reached the top spot in France, Austria, and Germany, while peaking at #9 and #2 in the States and the UK respectively.
Another Curtis Hanson-directed winner, Eminem’s 8 Mile may have received mixed to positive reviews, but the film’s main song, which deals with the struggles that Marshall Mathers’ thinly veiled alter-ego,‘B-Rabbit’, encounters, has become one of his most iconic tracks. The song’s 2002 victory was the first time a hip-hop song had claimed the award. ‘Lose Yourself’ beat out slections from Frida, Chicago, Gangs Of New York and The Wild Thornberrys Movie. The song also won the rapper five Grammys at the 46th annual event.
Winning the award for the first time this century, Dylan’s folk track featured on the soundtrack to Wonder Boys, a Curtis-Hanson directed dramedy based upon the book of the same name. ‘Things Have Changed’ won in a relatively tough year, beating out songs from Björk, Sting, and two-time Oscar winner Randy Newman. The track also won a Golden Globe in that same year and has since been used in the Showtime series Brotherhood as well as twice in NCIS.
2013’s winner was epic, classy and sophisticated, just as you would expect a song from a blockbuster movie to sound like. With long time collaborators, Paul Epworth and Adele, writing this number for the 23rd Bond film. Along with the singer’s incredible vocals, there was little doubt about who would take out this year’s category. Given the panning the Oscars got a year before, the Adele track was a safe choice against other nominees from films like Ted, Life Of Pi and Les Misérables.
It’s hard not to love this track from one of Disney’s greatest films; the iconic 1994 animated feature is symbolic of childhood memories for those who grew up in that era. With lyrics by Tim Rice and music by the singer himself, this track also won a Grammy for Best Pop Male Vocal. It was a #1 hit in France and peaked at #4 in the US. Given that three of the five nominations that year were for The Lion King, with Rice and John also nominated for ‘Circle of Life’ and ‘Hakuna Matata’, the pair were bound to go home with the award. The lion’s share as it were…
With music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Dorothy Fields (the first female to win in the Best Song category), this song from the 1936 film Swing Time was only the third winner of this award ever. Yet it still to this day stands out as one of the best songs to be crowned by the Academy. Seth Macfarlane, host of the 2013 Academy Awards ceremony paid tribute to the film by singing ‘The Way You Look Tonight’ during his opening monologue. While Astaire’s character sang it in the film, the track has also been covered by Bing Crosby and his-then wife Dixie Lee as a duet, while Billie Holiday also recorded a version in the same year that the film was released.
Donna Summer’s dancefloor anthem won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award in 1978. Paul Jabara was responsible for the music and lyrics of the track and received the award, beating out the much-loved Grease tune, ‘Highly Devoted To You’. Summer contributes vocals to two songs on the Thank God It’s Friday soundtrack, amongst other singers such as Diana Ross and Thelma Houston.
This soul-funk number reached the top of the US charts in 1971 before eventually claiming the Oscar in the same year amongst four other nominees. Hayes was the first African American to not only win in this category but for any non-acting award. Jay-Z has since sampled the song in his track ‘Reservoir Dogs’ from his 1998 Vol.2…Hard Knock Life album.
From the Maggie Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell, and Jeff Bridges starring film about a washed up country singer, comes this track that also won at the Golden Globes in the same category. While Bridges sang the song in the film, Bingham’s version was included on the soundtrack and also his 2010 album Junky Star, although Bingham and his backing band The Dead Horses appear in the film performing alongside Bridges. The track won in a year where two strong contenders from Princess And The Frog, were also nominated.
1. ‘My Heart Will Go On’ – Celine Dion (from Titanic )
Canada has been responsible for some exceptionally bad music over the years (Justin Bieber, Nickleback), but none as overrated as this bellowing songstress. James Cameron’s Titanic won 11 gongs in 1997 and was at the time the highest grossing film, until Cameron’s own Avatar finally bested the billion-dollar record in 2010. It’s no surprise that the Academy decided to bestow James Horner (music) and Will Jennings (lyrics) with the award, given the film’s universal success. But this soppy and excruciatingly cringe-worthy song is one of music history’s most painfully drawn out ballads. The fact that it beat out Elliot Smith’s ‘Miss Misery’ from Good Will Hunting makes the song’s win even more upsetting.
Horrible songs are meant for YouTube viral purposes only. Yet in 2005, the Academy cemented its reputation for treating its ‘Best Original Song’ category like a stepchild with Three 6 Mafia’s win amongst only two other nominations. How the song from Hustle & Flow was chosen above ‘In The Deep’ from Crash is mind-boggling, although neither deserved to potentially lose to Dolly Parton’s nomination for ‘Travelin’ Thru’ from Transamerica. It was a bad year for music in movies according to the Academy, yet the Golden Globes still managed to find four nominations, eventually crowning Brokeback Mountain’s ‘A Love That Will Never Grow Old’ by Emmylou Harris.
The Academy Awards are meant to be prestigious, right? Then why bestow this formulaic and tiresome pop ballad with an award? Coming from the film of the same name, ‘You Light Up My Life’ was written and composed by Joseph Brooks, with the musician beating out four other contenders at the 1977 awards. ‘Nobody Does It Better’, sung by Carly Simon for The Spy Who Loved Me, should really have took out the award in a particularly weak field of nominees. Simon however, was no saint herself…
What’d we tell you? 1988 was another year in which a mediocre song was bestowed the Oscar in a field of only three nominees. Winning over ‘Calling You’ from Baghdad Café and ‘Two Hearts’, written by Phil Collins for Buster, ‘Let The River Run’ fails miserably at being an anthem of female empowerment. The song from the Working Girl, a romantic comedy, won in a year where unfortunately nothing better was nominated.
The sad fact that ol’ Madge saved the 1990 Oscar from going to Jon Bon Jovi’s ‘Blaze Of Glory’ for Young Guns II once again demonstrates this category’s horrid track record. Other songs from films like The Godfather Part III, Home Alone and Postcards From The Edge only furthers the notion that 1990 was a pitiful year for music in film (according to the Academy anyway). Madonna attempts to be classy, but sounds gravelly deep and anything but sexy on this ‘jazz’ number. But don’t be too surprised if the singer’s name alone won her the statuette, instead of the song.
A beloved musical for many children, but this particular offering doesn’t even show off the best that musicals have to offer. But what makes ‘Chim, Chim Cher-ee’ such an unworthy winner of the 1964 award isn’t so much that it’s awful but because it won against ‘It’s My Kind Of Town’, sung by Frank Sinatra, which originally appeared in Robin And The 7 Hoods. The song is one of Sinatra’s strongest movie hits - an undoubtedly blasphemous ruling!
If you thought ‘It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp’ winning was an absolute joke, then open your ears to this one. This musical number, which features what some might call a half-rap, beat out Burt Bacharach’s ‘The Look Of Love’, which appeared in the original Casino Royale. Composer and writer Leslie Bricusse won the Oscar in 1967 for the original Dr. Dolittle film. And the less said about the Eddie Murphy remake and it’s four(!) sequels, the better.
Soppy love ballads have always been a curse that has afflicted the Best Song category, but this soggy number from (ironically) The Towering Inferno melts your brain in a way few others do. With music and lyrics by Al Kasha and Joel Hirschhorn, the song prevailed in 1974, a truly dismal year for music in films. McGovern’s wailing voice is horrible enough to suggest that Mel Brooks’ theme from Blazing Saddles would have been a far more deserving winner. At the very least Brooks would have provided a winner’s speech worth tuning in for.
With Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross, and Peter Allen all collaborating to make this Oscar-winning song, you would think so many names would at least result in a half decent track. But of course, in this case you would be wrong. How this cringe worthy track ever won over the Lionel Richie and Diana Ross duet ‘Endless Love’ (from the film of the same name) at the 1981 awards is anyone’s guess. Although the ballad is incredibly soppy, at least it is somewhat reputable compared to the dour ‘Arthur’s Theme’.
Proof that Disney can produce as many clunkers as classics. Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and repeat offender Celine Dion all contributed to this Oscar winning duet in 1991. Better form is expected from Menken, who has contributed to the Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and more recently, Enchanted soundtracks. The posthumous award came after Ashman’s death, with both the songwriter and Menken nominated twice more for their work on the music of Beauty And The Beast. While the songs unfortunate pairing of Menken and Dion (the real Beauty and Beast, respectively) should have ruled them out of contention for the award, given that Bryan Adams’ ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ from Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves was also nominated, we probably should be thankful that the latter didn’t win.