Through the years, the Academy Awards category of "Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song" has received more than its fair share of derision. Simply put, it is the Oscar that gets no respect, partly due to the sometimes-questionable presentation of the nominated tunes on the night of The Big Show. Perhaps it is these very and varied production numbers, added to my already undying love for anything even remotely show tune-y, that makes Oscar's Best Songs something of a "guilty pleasure" of mine. In fact, I dare say it is my favorite Oscar category, the first one I instinctively scan the list for when the nominations are announced.
So naturally, this year's nominations were a bit of a disappointment for me, as only three songs (from only two films) made the finals. However, it was a mixed blessing, as (unlike in most years), all the nominees are deserving of winning. And those nominees are:
- “Down to Earth” from WALL-E(Walt Disney), Music by Peter Gabriel and Thomas Newman, Lyric by Peter Gabriel.
- “Jai Ho” from Slumdog Millionaire(Fox Searchlight), Music by A.R. Rahman, Lyric by Gulzar.
- “O Saya” from Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight), Music and Lyric by A.R. Rahman and Maya Arulpragasam.
“O Saya” starts off Slumdog Millionaire with a driving, percussive beat as the two young protagonists are chased through the slums of Mumbai. The lyrics comment on the onscreen action ("They can't touch me") while alluding to the characters' futures ("One day I'll be a star"), and this perfectly captures the desperate situation Jamal and Salim are in, and the lengths they'll each go to escape it.
In contrast, the other Slumdog song “Jai Ho” is a high-energy finale heard at the beginning of the end credits and inter-cut with a dance number right out of Bollywood led by lovebirds Jamal and Latika in the middle of a train station. This infectious fantasy sequence serves as the "happily ever after" to this Dickensian tale and (despite some people's misgivings about it) is a large reason why so many audiences around the world have embraced Slumdog Millionaire, as it follows the old show biz maxim to leave them dancing in the aisles.
The third and final nominee, WALL-E's “Down to Earth”, also acts as an epilogue to the film in question. As Gabriel's plaintive yet inspiring vocals tell about "snow up on the mountains ... rivers down below" and sending the "seeds out in the breeze", the expressionistic end titles sequence depicts the rebirth of our planet through the evolution of art. This song too provides a happy ending, as the words and music wrap you in a comforting belief that there is hope for Mother Earth after all.
So whose name will be called on The Big Night? I think Rahman will get the score award for his overall work on Slumdog, while the song trophy will go to Newman and Gabriel. The Academy will want to (finally) honor Newman, and they love giving this particular prize to superstar recording artists like Gabriel (for example, such past winners as Elton John, Bob Dylan and Melissa Etheridge).
In any event, with three excellent compositions to choose from (and their eagerly awaited live performances on February 22), they (and we) are all winners in my Oscar Song-loving book.