Academy Awards Project: Best Original Song
Here comes the most exploitable category at the Academy Awards: The Best Original Song category. Here, you will find many major recording artists that release a hit single that gets attached to a film. This promotes the artist through a music video (usually featuring clips from said film), and the film as well (seeing as you now must see the film where this song came from). Having said that, none of the nominees this year (for once) feel cheap. Sure, there are definitely weaker songs than others, but none of these feel like lazy cash (or trophy) grabs. Yes, I said that, even with some of the most popular musicians out there being featured here. A good original song tells the heart and soul of the film in a few minutes. This can be a reprise (of sorts), as a song featured during the ending credits. This can be the show stopping moment found within the middle of the film that felt better to do through song as opposed to narration. We all know who will win this year anyways, so let’s just get into it. Here are the nominees for Best Original Song, ranked in order from worst to best.
Biggest Snub: “The Big Unknown” from Widows-Sade
This isn’t just about Sade releasing new music for the first time in years. No. This has to do with the soothing resolution that “The Big Unknown” offers after a whirlwind of a film. The song is layered, textually mesmerizing, and soothing. It is the perfect afterthought that dictates the empowerment of those that made it through the trip to hell and back in Widows. This is the perfect way that the film could have finished, and this is more than a strong contender; it should have been an essential one. Again, Widows getting shut out is bad enough, but the oversight that the Academy had with this song is mind boggling.
5. ”I’ll Fight” from RBG-Diane Warren
This gets some kudos because Jennifer Hudson is a powerful enough singer to bring this song to great new heights. Otherwise, I hate to say it, but this feels like a weaker effort by the master Diane Warren. At the end of the documentary RBG, the song almost feels like the perfect fodder to highlight you leaving the theatre, rather than forcing you to stay. The lyricism is highly typical, and it’s too bad because the message is a profound one. The intentions are good, and Hudson’s execution is great; otherwise, this is very forgettable.
4. ”When a Cowboy Trades his Spurs for Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs-David Rawlings and Gillian Welch
This is a cute folk-country diddy that concludes the first chapter of Buster Scruggs (appropriately, the one about Buster Scruggs). It is a nice, fantastical moment that serves as Scruggs’ comeuppance for tempting fate one too many times, as he literally sprouts wings and ascends into heaven. That’s about it. It’s just a decent, relevant song found in the middle of the film. How “Wrapped Up” from Vox Lux, any of the other Mary Poppins Returns tracks, or, hell, Sade (see above) didn’t make the cut over this is a little questionable, when these other songs do more to describe a character and film. Again, this is a cute moment, and a decent song, but that hardly makes it deserve more of a precedent.
3. ”The Place Where Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns-Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman
Mary Poppins! We were just talking about you! It’s interesting that this is the only Mary Poppins Returns song to make the cut, but it was a very good one to go with. This is one of the more meaningful songs in the film; that isn’t to say that the other songs aren’t noteworthy, but they tease your imagination to do some mental exploration, whereas “The Place Where Lost Things Go” allows you to dig deep into your heart. It’s nice to see Emily Blunt command the screen as a prominent singer, and this tune is a great example of how Poppins is about rejuvenating your soul, more than it is about escaping the world. This is a definite leap in quality from what we have seen so far.
2. ”All the Stars” from Black Panther-Mark Spears, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, Anthony Tiffith and Solana Rowe
I’ve got to be honest. If I was ranking songs based on how the songs themselves are, this would have been in first. Damn, is “All the Stars” a great song (perhaps one of the best singles of 2018, no joke). Kendrick Lamar’s verse is raw, and it culminates the many themes of Black Panther (power struggles, fighting for one’s rights, the misappropriation of hierarchy, and more). SZA is an absolute siren with the main hook of the song. The production is hypnotic. The beat is infectious. This just is, flat out, a phenomenal song. Within Black Panther, it wraps up the comic book ride perfectly, and it makes the wait for that post-credits scene far from a chore; it is a pleasure.
1. ”Shallow” from A Star is Born-Lady Gaga, Mark Ronson, Anthony Rossomando and Andrew Wyatt
”Shallow” would have easily been second if this was based on personal tastes alone (it, too, is one of the best singles of 2018). In this category, “Shallow” has to win hands down. You see it being built by its lead characters. It becomes the turning point of Ally’s career when she exposes her heart on stage. This is undeniably the single that catapulted Ally into the stratosphere, and we fully get why. It is a powerful ballad that ties her personal life with her dreams of something greater. It demands vocal prowess (and Lady Gaga delivers; also Bradley Cooper ain’t so bad himself). It resonates throughout the film, and lingers in the back of your mind the entire time you see Ally take the next step in each phase of her career. Yeah. No contest. When it comes to the relevancy these songs have with their respective films, “Shallow” is easily the best original song of the year.
Our Predicted Winner: Do I even need to go into this? “Shallow” from A Star is Born. Duh. Although, I would not be apposed to “All the Stars” Winning (but this is about predictions, after all).
Our Academy Awards Project is an ongoing series that will continue until all the categories have been ranked and reviewed. Tune in Monday to Saturday for a new category each day.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.