Monday, January 11, 2010

The Year of the Original Song

The cinematic year of 2009 will be remembered for many things, but the vast amount of impressive original songs is one thing that fascinated me throughout the year. I am a big fan of well-executed montages, and implementing the effectiveness of an original song is something that is highly underrated. Hopefully the many new songs we heard is 2009 is an indicator that this is an asset more and more filmmakers will try to take advantage of. 

It's a shame that the Academy's rules in this category are so picky because several of the year's best have been eliminated from Oscar contention, most notably Sad Brad Smith's "Help Yourself" from Up in the Air. It's a beautiful acoustic melody that plays over the film's important wedding sequence. The powerful melancholy tone might make it something that you don't want to listen to on a daily basis, but within the context of the film, it works to perfection. Considering how much work Jason Reitman puts into the music of his films, it should come as no surprise that he found this gem.

Another song from Up in the Air is titled just that. Kevin Renick sat down and wrote "Up in the Air" after he was fired himself in 2008, and when he had the opportunity to meet Reitman, he didn't hesitate to hand him the cassette. The song plays over the film's credits, and it is worth staying for if you haven't missed it already. It's decidedly simple, but the wise end-credit placement adds a whole different dimension the song after the entire film has played out. 

Perhaps my favorite original song of 2009 is Ryan Bingham's "The Weary Kind" from Crazy Heart. Aside from Jeff Bridges' lead performance, this song is the best thing in the film, and Bingham himself actually makes a cameo appearance early on as one of Bad's guitar players. The most satisfying part of this film was listening to this beautiful song after witnessing the struggle that Bridges' character endured throughout the entire film.

Moving on to a lighter, jazzier genre is Beth Rowley's "You've Got Me Wrapped Around Your Little Finger" from An Education. It is featured a couple times throughout the film and is also played heavily in the first half of the trailer, which I have embed below. Not only does it represent the characters and the story, but it also manages to capture the feeling of a laid-back tune from the 1960s. It is well-worth a listen if you haven't seen the film.

One tune that I didn't particularly fall for the first time I heard it was Mary J. Blige's "I Can See in Color" from Precious. It's a shame that it wasn't used more extensively in the film (it only plays for about twenty seconds) because it is able to further communicate the film's message of hope without sounding preachy. It is a soulful tune, one we might even believe is playing in the head of the main character, and it is has grown immensely on me over time.

One last song I would like to mention comes from a film I haven't yet seen, but one I am hoping will expand near me soon. It is Patterson Hood's "Depression Era" from That Evening Sun. The film stars Hal Holbrook in what looks to be a perfect character for him, and I have been wanting to see it for quite some time. This pleasant tune makes a small appearance towards the end of the film's trailer, which is sure to have you anticipating this film as much as I am.

Thanks to the team over at In Contention, who have been following the original song race all year, there are a few links below if you'd like to have a listen to a few of the complete songs I've mentioned above. 

What were some of your favorites?


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

The use of You Got Me Wrapped... in An Education was the best use of song in any film this year [barring Nine, of course]and the fact that the song is ACTUALLY really good only makes it better.

Matthew Lucas said...

Really? I didn't think any of this year's original songs were that memorable. Which is unusual. "The Weary Kind" is good, and "Someone to Fall Back On" from BANDSLAM is good too, but no one is paying attention to it.

Otherwise they mostly bored me.

Julian Stark said...

This year was a great year for music in film imho. Personal favorites include, but are not limited to:

1. Cinema Italiano. Kate Hudson (Nine)
2. Take It All. Marion Cotillard (Nine)
3. Dig a Little Deeper. Jenifer Lewis (The Princess and the Frog)
4. The Weary Kind. Ryan Bingham (Jeff Bridges Oscar vehicle... I mean Crazy Heart
5. Help Yourself. Sad Brad Smith (Up in the Air)
6. Down in New Orleans. Anika Noni Rose (The Princess and the Frog)
7. Almost There. Anika Noni Rose (The Princess and the Frog)
8. Try. Asher Book (FameAn Education)
10. A Sunday Kind of Love. Beth Rowley (An Education)
11. Smoke without Fire. Duffy (An Education)
12. Meet Me on the Equinox. Death Cab for Cutie (The Twilight Saga: New Moon)

Danny King said...

@ Andrew: I would agree that the placement of that song within An Education was very effective, even to the point where it was one of the highlights of the film for me.

@ Matthew Lucas: I really think this year had many more great songs that in years past. When I look at last year, "The Wrestler" and "Gran Torino" were the only ones that stood out in my mind.

@ Julian Stark: Great list. I really enjoyed An Education's soundtrack as a whole; Rowley did an excellent job. I've yet to see The Princess and the Frog, but if it has that many good songs, then maybe it's worth it.

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