Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

14 February 2016

Oscar Nominees 2016: Part 8 of 11 (Best Original Song)

1 Nomination
  • Original Song: Jimmy Napes & Sam Smith
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Christoph Waltz, Monica Bellucci, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott

I heard people thought this was boring. It wasn't as good as Skyfall, certainly, but apparently I was one of the only people in the world that thought it was sort of fun. Eh. Oh well. The opening sequence of Spectre was definitely its coolest setpiece, but in general I thought it was sort of fun. I loved Léa Seydoux and Monica Bellucci (obviously – why isn't she in more American movies??), and I liked the way that this Bond movie became a little bit more about the team of Q, M, Moneypenny, and Bond and not just the lone wolf himself. (Thomas Newman's score is excellent, too.) There were two main problems with this new Bond caper. One was that the villain sort of sucked. Everyone loves Christoph Waltz. The man has two Oscars and he works a ton, but he is totally flat in Spectre, and I am not even sure why. The villain's villainy in this film just isn't that interesting or sadistic, and by comparison he is just no match for the creepy/sexy/weird quality of Javier Bardem's Skyfall villain. The other problem is the film's just general tone which is morose and regretful. Skyfall was this, too, of course, but Spectre positively revels in the dead and the way they haunt us. The first sequence takes place at a Día de los Muertos celebration, but from there we get sad messages from the grave, a sad dying father who shoots himself, another sequence at a funeral where Monica Bellucci mourns her husband. The entire plot, even, is related to the idea that MI6 itself is a relic and needs to be retired. The tone is just too morbid: Bond needs a vivacious reboot for sure. (I think one of the problems with James Bond nowadays is that he and those films are both sort of inextricable from the nostalgia that exists about previous Bonds and previous Bond films. Both of the Mendes Bond movies attempt to deal with that nostalgia head on, with, it seems to me, differing levels of success.) Frankly, I am not so crazy about Sam Smith's weepy song, either, and was a little surprised to see "The Writing's on the Wall" get nominated, but here it is, and I expect it to win now that it's here. It seems like a sensible consensus choice.
Will Win: Original Song
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #42 out of 67

1 Nomination
  • Original Song: David Lang
Director: Paolo Sorrentino
Cast: Michael Caine, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, Paul Dano, Robert Seethaler, Luna Mijovic, Heidi Maria Glössner, Helmut Förnbacher, Ed Stoppard, Paloma Faith, Jane Fonda, Madalina Ghenea, Tom Lipinski, Chloe Pirrie, Mark Gessner, Nate Dern, Alex Beckett, Roly Serrano, Leo Artin

This was one of my favorite movies of the year. It is a lot like Sorrentino's previous film La Grande Bellezza in style, although Youth is a much more sentimental movie, and one that explores feelings a great deal more than Bellezza. I still adored it; Sorrentino's frames are so rich, so full, and his filmmaking is so confident. It's just amazing movie-making. I think he is a master. I have to say that I was a little surprised that the Academy didn't like this more than it did. Jane Fonda was pretty close to scoring her eighth Oscar nomination for her turn as an aging actress, but it didn't happen. Maybe this was Fox Searchlight's fault for the way it promoted it, or maybe Sorrentino just isn't people's thing. I don't really understand. If any movie this year is specifically aimed at old white men it is definitely this one. Perhaps this underlines my very serious theory about the real Academy voters not actually being old white men but being old white women (old Academy wives). Youth is very male. It's nominated song, David Lang's "Simple Song #3", is absolutely gorgeous and there was no question about its nomination. It's not a pop song, so that will hurt it with voters, certainly, but I have been listening to it for months now. It's a real feather in David Lang's cap. I should also note that it is a very important part of the film itself, much of the film's action revolves around the song, and we hear little phrases from it throughout the film, so that when we hear it in its entirety in the film's third act, it has the ability to be deeply moving.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: Original Song
My Rating: #3 out of 67

Fifty Shades of Grey
1 Nomination
  • Original Song: Ahmad "Belly" Balshe, Stephan Moccio, Jason "DaHeala" Quenneville & Abel "The Weeknd" Tesfaye
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Marcia Gay Harden, Eloise Mumford, Victor Rasuk, Jennifer Ehle, Luke Grimes, Max Martini, Callum Keith Rennie, Rita Ora, Dylan Neal

This is awful. I've written in detail about how I think this film is a kind of rape fantasy, so I won't really go into anything about this movie here, but I will say that I was super into this song when it came out (the song is "Earned It" sung by The Weeknd). It really is a great tune with a great beat and The Weeknd is this kind of neo-R&B artist, that I will admit to liking a lot. So I was loving this song, and listening to it rather a lot – which is when I noticed that the chorus rhymes the lyrics "So I love when you call unexpected / 'Cause I hate when the moment's expected". And now I can't get out of my mind that expected and unexpected aren't so much words that rhyme as they are, you know, the same word. But whatever, I keep trying to let it go. It's still a fun song. (But goddamn, this movie is bad, if not downright offensive.)
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: #66 out of 67

The Hunting Ground
1 Nomination
  • Original Song: Lady Gaga & Diane Warren (Beyond the Lights, Pearl Harbor, Music of the Heart, Armageddon, Con Air, Up Close & Personal, Mannequin)
Director: Kirby Dick

It is, perhaps, one of the great ironies of this Oscar season that another of the nominated original songs is from a film that attempts to document the problem of rape on college campuses. If Fifty Shades of Grey is a film where no always means ask again, The Hunting Ground is a film that wants to combat the real danger to which many women are subject on college campuses across the country. The Hunting Ground is doing really well when it is using testimony to inform its audience of the real crisis in USAmerican higher education, whereby the schools, which should be interested in helping students, in keeping students safe, and in, well, basic ethical principles, have become beholden to the dollars of their donors, particularly fraternity members, who prevent these institutions from dealing with absolute epidemic of sexual violence that exists on our campuses. The Hunting Ground is not a great film, though, and it jumps from story to story in a way that often feels inorganic and awkward. In many ways the film is not about taking on the universities using Title IX, and when the film is not about this, it feels messy. Still, when it is about this The Hunting Ground is, frankly, terrifying. In any case, this issue is close to my heart, and I am glad we are talking about this more frequently, more openly, and more vehemently. There is no more important issue on college campuses today, if you ask me. As for the song, Gaga sings, and the lyrics are chilling. Diane Warren – who wrote the very popular pop songs from Armageddon ("I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing"), Up Close & Personal ("Because You Loved Me"), and Con Air ("How Do I Live")received her eighth nomination for "Til It Happens to You" (why it is missing that other l in the title I am not really sure), but she will have to go home empty handed yet again. One day, Diane, one day.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A
My Rating: Unranked (Documentary)

Racing Extinction
1 Nomination
  • Original Song: Antony Hegarty & J. Ralph (Chasing Ice)
Director: Louie Psihoyos

This movie is a serious wake-up call. The images of the thousands of shark fins removed from slaughtered fish are chilling enough, but Racing Extinction also spends a great deal of time on the way manta rays are being driven to extinction so that their gills can be harvested. And it documents the acidifying of the world's oceans. Racing Extinction is a truly sobering look at the planet and what we are doing to it. This movie should convince absolutely anyone that we need to change our way of living and become better caretakers of the planet on which we live. It is simply unacceptable – in fact the film's argument is that it is mass suicide – for us to continue to destroy this planet. I am sold, and I encourage everyone to watch this movie. J. Ralph also composed the haunting melody that underscored the Jeff Orlowski environmentalist documentary Chasing Ice, but the song from Racing Extinction, "Manta Ray", also boasts the talents of Antony Hegarty, the second transwoman ever to be nominated for an Academy Award (the first, by the way, was Angela Morley, the composer of The Little Prince and The Slipper and the Rose). Antony's lyrics are truly haunting: "Without biodiversity / I'm nothing / It's like I never existed // Without my home / With no reflection / I cease to exist //  And my children / Are dying now / Inside me". Yikes. Because Racing Extinction's subject matter is "how do we get this information out to people?" I am hopeful that the filmmakers use the Oscars themselves as a platform for their important message.
Will Win: N/A
Could Win: N/A