Looking Back At Oscar’s Best Original Songs

Since this Sunday is Oscar night, I’d thought I’d take a look back at a few “original songs” that have been nominated (or won) for an Oscar.  (As I’m looking through the list, I am shocked that nothing from Simon & Garfunkel’s soundtrack to The Graduate was nominated.  As Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers has been saying lately, “Damn you Oscar!”)

Bruce Springsteen – “The Streets of Philadelphia” (Philadelphia, 1993)

I would have picked “The Wrestler”, but shockingly it was not nominated for Best Original Song.  (Damn you Oscar, again!)  Streets of Philadelphia does some quality lyrics from Springsteen: “I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone” that captures the image of a man wandering around the streets desolate and alone.  However, musically I find it to be pretty bland – it sounds like Springsteen just discovered a drum-machine.

Elliot Smith – “Miss Misery” (Good Will Hunting, 1997)

If there are any other reasons for hating “My Heart Will Go On” other than the fact it’s trite and soul-less, it’s Smith losing “Best Original Song” to it and Celine Dion.  A heartbreaking song from Elliot Smith (who wrote quite a few of those) about a break-up.  Trying to come to terms with it, he asks the girl whether she actually does miss him, or in fact lying to herself.  He tells her that he “keeps a good attitude”, but meanwhile drowns his sorrows with Johnny Walker Red.  Without a doubt, Smith’s best known song and though it’s the “popular one”, it’s among his best.

Bob Dylan – “Things Have Changed” (Wonder Boys, 2000)

“I’ve been trying to get as far away from myself as I can,” Dylan declares half-way though this song.  A good portion of this song is extremely cynical – “I used to care, but things have changed”, “All the truth in the world adds to one big lie”.  But there’s also some humor beneath the cynicism – “I’m well dressed, waiting on the last train”, and the image of Dylan dressing in drag and then later picking up a woman and pushing her around in a wheel-burrow is hilarious.  Overall, in contrast to his younger self, Dylan tries to convince himself that it’s easier not to worry about the problems of the world.

Eminem – “Lose Yourself” (8 Mile, 2002)

When this song came out, who knew that Eminem could write a song that was inspiring and positive?  While Eminem has plenty of good songs, this is the closes thing he came to perfection. The intro is one of the most famous pieces of music from the past decade, and a hook that is triumphant and catchy.  He starts out nervous: “His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on his sweater already”. As the song gains momentum, he gains confidence and realizes this is life or death: “Success is my only motherfucking option, failure’s not”.   While the song will always be linked to 8 Mile, it took on a new meaning when it was used in the Chrysler commerical earlier this year.

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