Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011

Best Original Song

"Coming Home," by Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey, from Country Strong
"I See the Light," by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, from Tangled (WINNER)
"If I Rise," by A.R. Rahman, Dido and Rollo Armstrong, from 127 Hours
"We Belong Together," by Randy Newman, from Toy Story 3

"Cheek to Cheek," "Pennies from Heaven," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Jeepers Creepers," "They Can't Take That Away from Me," "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," "Blues in the Night": these are just a few of the pop standards that were nominated — and lost — in the first decade of the Best Original Song category. The winners weren't lemons either: "Thanks for the Memory," "Over the Rainbow," "When You Wish Upon a Star," "White Christmas." In the 1930s and '40s, you could count on Hollywood to sign the best songwriters and get them to write instant hits and enduring classics. Seventy years from now, will anyone be singing "Coming Home" or any other of this year's nominees? Can anyone sing them now?

Newman, the grand old man of snarly lounge music, secured his 20th Oscar nomination for "We Belong Together," but it's nowhere near his best movie work, let alone his best song; an uptempo sing-along with brass accompaniment that, bizarrely, fights against the fraught emotions that writer-director Lee Unkrich so deftly created in Toy Story 3. Rahman's contribution, sung and co-written by Dido, locates an ethereal mood, suitable for desert loners, but it never really gets going; it's a long verse in search of a rousing chorus but not finding it.

Menken is the one nominee, besides Rahman in his Bollywood films, who made his career writing scores. Back in Disney's Renaissance period of animated features, he won Oscars for songs that also became pop hits: "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid, the title tune from Beauty and the Beast, "A Whole New World" from Aladdin and "Colors of the Wind" from Pocahontas. The animated-musical feature is out of fashion now (Newman tried to revive it with the 2009 The Princess and the Frog), but Menken reconnected with his old audience — and the young generation after it — with the hit Tangled. "I See the Light," sung by Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, isn't the most inventive of Menken melodies — it settles for a simple, medieval theme — but it's plenty plangent, fits the mood of the film and is the easiest for shower singers to remember. We vote for the Oscar-night light to shine on Menken.