I Wrote This For You
When looking at the history of the Oscars’ Best Original Song category, 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 over the credits and then submit that. Sometimes they’re fine songs, but it’s disappointing that 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.”)
“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 juxtaposing the lyrics with naked women. With the reboot, everything 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 that happened during the writer’s strike and it was created by geek god Joss Whedon and starred Neil Patrick Harris. The first act opened with a three-minute monologue that set up its 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 of reassurance that 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 singer, Aldous 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, “Greek” has a strong sense of sadness. All of Aldous’ misadventures further distance him from the people to whom he wants to be closest. The imagery of this song is not associated with the partier, but the man alone in his house. Yet, true to the Infant Sorrow fashion, there are suggestive words. “Greek” producer 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 delivered. 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 lightsabers. 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 of the songs’ emotional connection with their films, songs that add weight to the story. Making music isn’t just about expression for DJay (Terence Howard) but could be his way out of his pimp lifestyle. Everything is on the line, so this song has to be good. He’s nervous; Shug (Taraji P. Henson) is nervous. But then it all clicks and it’s powerful.
“Raise your hopeful voice, you have a choice. You’ll make it now.”
This list isn’t ranked, but this would be No. 1. When I walked in to the theater, I knew everybody was buying the soundtrack. I made a stupid mental declaration that 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 theater. It’s not just that the songs are good — they are — it’s that they’re used beautifully. Music is what connects “Once’s” two characters. It’s how they are able to convey their emotions and pain. Together, they were able to make something 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 Cuarón, 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 with whom you surround yourself. 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 the guys have a good time doing it.
“We are Sex Bob-omb! We’re here to make you 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 Sex Bob-omb keeps winning the Battle of the Bands because its 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 Sex Bob-omb’s awesome skills create a giant gorilla to combat the Katayanagi Twins’ dragons, what’s impressive is Sex Bob-omb itself. The band finally has the energy and the song to be the group it wishes it were, the one Knives always sees.
“Let’s Duet” – “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story”
“Let’s duet in ways that make us feel good.”
A forgotten film under the Judd 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 its 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 spiritual level. “Walk Hard” uses music to make them realize they would really like to have sex with each other. And that’s OK!
“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 theater, 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 Flyin’ ” – “Crazy Heart”
“Heart (Broken)” – “Dr. Horrible: Commentary! The Musical”
“That’s How You Know” – “Enchanted”
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”