It’s like a perfect battle. New guard vs. old school. The power of youth vs. the experience of the established. Trash vs. class. The faceoff between “Bound to You,” Christina Aguilera’s “Maybe This Time” moment toward the dramatic climax of Burlesque, and “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,” Cher’s torch song belted as if from the depths of a movie career gone all too predictably sour with age, is one of those Oscar matches that elevates a category that in many other years seems as rote and irrelevant to the artistry of movies as Best Visual Effects. Here, at last, is a pair of nominees that, despite the general shittiness of the movie vehicle carrying them, legitimately pays tribute to the integration of form, content, and intent. These two songs say more about the stars singing them than Burlesque, a frivolous stab at camp, ever attempts. That the category pits diva against divette is just the cherry on top.
Oh, wait. Am I looking at the wrong list? What?! You’re telling me Oscar’s music branch ignored both? Even the one penned by Diane Warren? Make that Golden Globe-winner Diane Warren? They drafted an awkward four-song slate just to avoid making room for just one of the two? And this after new regulations forcing the powers that be not just listen to songs, but actually see how they’re used in their films? Maybe we really have seen the last of the big, Fosse-cribbing musical template.
Instinct, and recent history in this category, would suggest a win for “Coming Home” from Country
Song Strong. But even though it fulfills the “stands in for the main character’s emotional state during a pivotal moment of the movie’s dramatic arc” requirements of the category’s new order, that also means it stands in for vapid, shallow, flavorless filmmaking. And it does so in spades. “Coming Home” makes LeAnn Rimes’s Con Air “Love Theme for a Vivisected Stuffed Rabbit” sound like Barbara Jean tracing the air in Nashville. It’s not out of the running completely, if only because given a choice between its strident A/C blandness and A.R. Rahman’s ambient attempt at musical existentialism, Oscar voters probably prefer the former.
No matter. If The King’s Speech threatens to undo nearly a decade’s worth of progress in Oscar’s Best Picture track record, this slate almost assuredly means we’re back to the era that brought Alan Menken his four Oscars. Menken is back again this year with “I See the Light” from Tangled. He’s facing reasonably stiff competition from Randy Newman’s latest Pixar ditty, but Toy Story 3 is a movie about growing up, moving on, and breaking old habits. Not exactly the theme song for what stands to be the most regressive Oscar night in recent memory.
Will Win: “I See the Light,” Tangled
Could Win: “We Belong Together,” Toy Story 3
Should Win: “4:33,” John Cage