I'm taking a break from MP3 posts this week to vent some righteous Oscar indignation.
Go ahead and check that box next to "Jai Ho" in your Oscar pool. For those who haven't seen this latest musical travesty to be graced with an Oscar nomination, here's a clip for your viewing pleasure:
Stirring, isn't it? If your definition of "stirring" happens to be overproduced world beat music that sounds like a rejected theme from the Travel Channel's latest book-your-own-adventure series. Call me culturally illiterate, if you must, but to have this Giorgo Moroder by way of Hanson and The Spice Girls track as one of only three nominations simply staggers my music-appreciating mind. Then again, Moroder's got a couple of songs that won Oscars ("Flashdance" and "Take My Breath Away."
Find out more about how this might have happened and get my picks for five songs that should have made it after the jump.
Slumdog Millionaire gives us not one, but two collections of processed noise, the second being O... Saya, which is the better of the two, saved from A.R. Rahman's excessive and uninspired production by the presence of M.I.A.
Adding the slightest note of legitimacy is Peter Gabriel's "Down to Earth" from WALL-E. As a devout lover of all things Gabriel, it hurts me to say that this doesn't stand a chance, because the Academy frowns on closing credit music, preferring tracks that actually play a role in the film. Yes, this will provide the requisite artist-at-the-piano moment that's a highlight of every Oscar telecast these days, but it's doomed to be overshadowed by one of these Slumdog tracks.
So how did we get here? Out of 49 eligible tracks, only three survive to make the cut, and the omission of Golden Globe winner "The Wrestler" by Bruce Springsteen sticks out even more boldly than Peter Nolan's snub for Best Director.
Blame it on the process. For those not in the know, the competition for Best Original Song is a tedium-inducing exercise that would drive most to hate film music. Each year, videos of the nominees are compiled and screened in a marathon session for the voters. Note the paragraph above, where I pointed out that there were 49 of them this year. At an average of three minutes per song, that's about the run time of The Dark Knight. As a concession to those who didn't want to spend two and half hours watching videos in a theater, the Academy made DVDs available for leisurely home listening.
Each voter grades the songs on a scale from 1 to 10. To get an Oscar nod, a song needs to score an average of 8.25. Only three songs made that cut this year. While I can see the thumping goth-rock of Repo! The Genetic Opera or the tireless cheeriness of High School Musical 3 failing to impress the largely older crowd of Academy voters, anyone with an appreciation for the role of music in movies should be able to see that "The Wrestler" is everything that a film song should aspire to be. Unfortunately for The Boss, it was number 47 on the playlist, which is alphabetical, and when you're that dragged out from low-tempo somber movie tunes (and there were a lot of them this year), you're not likely to be impressed. Taking the song out of context from the film, where it ties the story up, doesn't help.
These Slumdog tracks got a boost from Hollywood's hysteria for the film, but they also had a hidden edge: Out of 49 songs, they're the most different. After ballad, ballad, ballad, "Tubthumping" starts to sound good.
My advice to Bruce Springsteen is to keep the titles of all future movie songs in the "E" to "L" range, which has been very good to composers since the start of this decade. My advice to the Academy is to find a better selection process, so that the fans aren't stuck with another "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" being selected as the lesser of three evils.
After listening to the Best Song nominees, I found five songs that should have made the cut. I'll even set my beloved Peter Gabriel aside for them:
- "The Wrestler," Bruce Springsteen: It plays like an epitaph over the end credits, a simple, haunting song that captures the broken dreams of not just the film's character, but an entire class of people who've struggled for a piece of the good life, only to watch it disappear with the collapse of the world economy.
- "Up to Our Nex," Robyn Hitchcock: Another somber song at the bottom of the list, landing at 44th. An ode to dysfunctional romance from one of the great pop songwriters still plying the craft.
- "Little Person," Jon Brion: No doubt buried amid the excessive amount of slow-tempo ballads that crowded this year's Best Song eligibles, this track from Synecdoche, New York offers some of the best lyrics found anywhere in the past year. A song with hope at its center steeped in the imagery of everyday life.
- "Rock Me Sexy Jesus," Ralph Sall: Ok, Academy, you want a song that plays a role in the film? You want something that stands out? How do you miss this? Overlooking this showstopper from Hamlet 2 makes no sense. After all, you're the same Academy that nominated "Blame Canada" from South Park and, dare I say it again, gave an Oscar to "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." Sure, the song's a little derivative, but that's part of the point.
- "I Thought I Lost You," Miley Cyrus: Next to my A.R. Rahman bashing, this pick will generate the most noise, and I wouldn't take this over Peter Gabriel, but I'd still prefer it winning to either of the Slumdog tracks. Why? It was written by one of the stars of the movie and sung by two of them. That doesn't happen too often in Hollywood anymore. How about rewarding the effort, even if it is a bit of pop fluff?
I'd grouse about "Another Way to Die" not making the cut, but no James Bond theme has ever won an Oscar, so I knew that was coming.