Thursday, June 9, 2011

Favorite Oscar-Winning Original Songs

The category of Best Original Song was first introduced at the 7th Academy Awards in 1934. Each year the song writers and composers who are members of the Academy of Motion Picture Art and Sciences (AMPAS) nominate 3-5 songs that were written especially for a film and then the Academy as a whole votes for the best one.

The genre with the most songs on my iPod is Soundtrack. I love movie scores and original movie songs. The right song can make a world of difference to particular scene. In the late 80's to late 90's Disney ruled this category, winning it seven times in 11 years. People often refer to this period as the Second Golden Age of Disney.

However, within the last 10 years or so a new trend has sprung up: Instead of the song fitting into a scene in the movie, the song is more of a companion piece to the film and often plays during the end credits. Usually the song will be lyrics set the movie's score or the other way around, with the movie's score being based on the song.

Here are a few of my favorite Oscar-winning original songs:

"Moon River" from Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
By Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer 

"Moon River" is one of the most famous songs ever written for a film. It's a song about having a dream, wanting something greater that what you have now. When we first meet Holly Golightly, she seems like a bit of a floozy with good intentions, but then she sings this song. Holly is sitting on her fire escape in very simple clothes (very unlike the high-fashion she wears the rest of the movie) playing the guitar and singing. I love that this is actually Audrey Hepburn's voice. (She was dubbed in My Fair Lady.) She sings the song with such longing and the audience gets to see a new side to Holly.

"When You Believe" from The Prince of Egypt (1998)
By Stephen Schwartz

Stephen Schwartz has written some of the most famous musicals of the last 40 years: Wicked, Pocahontas, Godspell, Children of Eden, Enchanted and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, to name a few, but this song is his crowning glory, in my opinion. After years of religious education I didn't think there was yet another way to tell the story of Moses, but when I first saw The Prince of Egypt when I was about 11, I was blown away. This movie is so incredibly well done. It appeals to all age-groups and almost everyone I've talked to finds it incredibly moving. "When You Believe" is sung by Miriam, Moses' sister, and Moses' wife, Tzipporah. The Hebrews' prayers to God have gone unanswered and they are beginning to lose faith. This song lifts their spirits (and the audience's) during their exodus from Egypt. The lyrics, which include some Hebrew, are beautiful. The story of Moses is epic to begin with and this song makes it more so. I get chills when I watch this scene.

"Fame" from Fame (1980)
by Michael Gare and Dean Pitchford

"Fame" is another song about having big dreams, but unlike "Moon River" it is upbeat and more confident-sounding. The singer wants, above all, fame and is willing to do whatever is takes to get there. My mom has the original Fame record album and I first heard this song play on my dad's record player in the kitchen of my house. It got me tapping my toes immediately and the next day I went out and rented the movie. The song plays during an awesome scene where all the kids from the performing arts school dance in the streets and on top of cars in New York City. Recently, there was a remake of Fame and, as with most remakes, it was not nearly as good as the first. The original is the only way to go.

"You'll Be In My Heart" from Tarzan (1999)
By Phil Collins

The music in Tarzan is different from other animated Disney movies. The songs comment on the scenes instead of the characters actually singing them. A bunch of Disney movies have one or two songs like this ("Circle of Life," "Can You Feel the Love Tonight") but in Tarzan every song is like this EXCEPT for "You'll Be In My Heart." Kala sings a simple version of it to baby Tarzan near the beginning of the movie. Since this is the only song sung by a character, it makes it stand out. The song has the universal messages of acceptance and unconditional love. The full version, sung by Phil Collins, is so uplifting and heart-felt.

"Into The West" from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)
By Howard Shore and Annie Lennox


The thing I love about this song is that a lot of the lyrics are straight from Tolkien's original text:

And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.

Those are the final lines of Frodo's journey in the book. There are different interpretations of what happens to Frodo in the West. I believe the Undying Lands are a metaphor for Heaven, thus Frodo is dying. "Into The West" is about death, but it is not sad, it's hopeful. It's about the beauty of death and how dying means a new beginning. Though the song plays during the end credits, the melody is heard throughout the movie. Interestingly, it plays during scenes about death. For example, there is a huge sweeping version of the melody during one of the most memorable moments from the film, Sam and Frodo on the slopes of Mount Doom. Frodo is ready to give in to the power of the Ring and perish, and Sam saves him. "I can't carry it for you, but I can carry you!" Check it out. 
"Streets of Philadelphia" from Philadelphia (1993)
By Bruce Springsteen

This song plays during the opening credits of Philadelphia. It is set to images of real people from many walks of life in Philadelphia. The song is a rock ballad about love, loss and change. You listen to it and picture a destitute person with hard life and has very little hope left. I love that this is a Bruce Springsteen song because it shows the incredible range he has.

"My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic (1997)
By James Horner and Celine Dion

Many people regard this song as a pop cheese-fest, but I think it's a beautiful song. Jack and Rose's story is one of the most epic love stories of modern times and it deserves a powerful, dramatic song. This is a classic case of lyrics being set to the movie's score, which also won the Academy Award. I'm not a fan of Dion's other music, but there is no denying she an incredible voice. This song is so hard to sing (watch almost any season of American Idol for evidence) and she sings it with real emotion and heart.

"Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head" from Butch Cassidy the Sundance Kid (1969)
By Burt Bacharach and Hal David.

A lot of people don't know that this classic song was originally written for a movie. This scene from Butch Cassidy is one of my all-time favorite Paul Newman scenes. Katharine Ross sits on the handlebars of his bike as they ride through the countryside. The thing I love most about it is that the main characters of the movie are gangsters and criminals, but they are also just people who enjoy the simple things in life like goofing around on a bike. The song is so care-free and fun.

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