Today Cinema Romantico re-imagines the slowly-becoming-irrelevant Oscar category of Best Song as if it was one combined category and the songs did not have to be “original” or fit some other antiquated piece of Academy criteria and I and I alone was judge and jury in regards to the five nominees. (Note: this is the sixth consecutive year I have proposed an alternate Best Song category and this is by far the most impressive set of pretend nominees).
“Dancing in the Dark” by Kathleen Hanna and Tommy Buck in “Maggie’s Plan.” A certain sort of Springsteen fanatic will, as the Youtube comments on the above link suggest, quibble with the quality of this particular cover. Fair enough. I dig it. And I also dig it because in the film’s context it is sung at a ficto-critical conference in Quebec. And I dig that because it suggests that while so, so, so many boring reactionary Springsteen fans prefer dismissing this song because of the synth or because of the video writer/director Rebecca Miller is well aware “Dancing in the Dark” is actually a literary masterpiece.
“Moon Is Up" by The Rolling Stones in “A Bigger Splash.” Let Ralph Fiennes tell it in the best movie monologue of 2016: “I can tell you a little story about my contribution to Rolling Stones history. Just after Darryl came in and I was working with Don Smith, who’d done a lot of Keith’s solo stuff with me and we were at Windmill Lane in Dublin and it was raining. Non-stop Irish rain, it wouldn’t fucking stop and I was quitting smoking, so it was coffee, coffee, coffee and this song, which you are going to hear, it just wasn't fucking working. Keith is insisting no drums, you know? We’re working away and I think, no, no, I go to Keith and I say, ‘Okay, so can Ronnie do a track on pedal steel?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, but no drums.’ So I’m thinking ‘What the fuck!’ So I give Mick castanets. So you’ve got Chuck Leavell on the harmonium and everyone is folding in all this beautiful shit, but this song is not taking off, so I say to Keith, ‘Do you trust me?’ He goes, ‘yeah.’ ‘If I promise no drums, can we do a percussion track?’ He says, ‘What’s Charlie going to play?’ And I’m thinking, ‘What is Charlie going to play?’ But I’m asking myself what’s the sound, something, not too crisp and I look over and I see in the corner...Wait, what is it? It’s not a drum. It’s a trash can. It’s an aluminium fucking trash can. So I put Charlie out in the stairwell, we put a mic three floors up and Keith’s shaking his head ’cause he knows I’m right. As soon as Charlie starts banging on it, we’re off. A can for trash. Human evolution in the key of C.” (Bonus: listen close for Keith’s laugh at :11 of the song, which I will now always imagine is him incredulously laughing at Ralph Fiennes being so right.)
“Just in Time" by Nina Simone in “Krisha.” Songs can mean different things to different people in different contexts and so I am admittedly fascinated by how this same song concludes my beloved “Before Sunset” on a beautifully, dangerously romantic note and how in “Krisha” it becomes the truly terrifying trigger for a human monster movie moment. You can watch the whole scene here, but you should probably just watch the whole movie first if you have not.
Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang in Everybody Wants Some!! Unlike the famed music-as-healing “Tiny Dancer” sing along in “Almost Famous”, this rap along exists in an explicit vacuum, where the boys will be boys ball busting of before and after briefly gives way in a Sugarhill Gang ceasefire. What’s more, director Richard Linklater lets this scene go a few beats longer than it probably needs to, which is absolutely perfect.
“Hello Stranger” by Barbara Lewis in “Moonlight.” Ann Powers wrote about the moment for Slate and no one, let alone me, can describe it better. She writes: “The song he picks, Barbara Lewis’s 1963 droplet of longing ‘Hello Stranger,’ works that clock-stopping magic: Suddenly the two men are in a zone where no personal history or social circumstance can hurt them, and they can begin to open up. It’s a disconcerting moment even within a film grounded in the imperfect logic of memory. Returning home, I pulled out my old Barbara Lewis compilation and read the liner notes: Fascinatingly, ‘Hello Stranger’ has had a Southern afterlife, it turns out, becoming a favorite within the “beach music” scene in the Carolinas. Kevin really might have found that song on a Miami jukebox in the 21st century. The complexity of Jenkins’ musical choice, creating a plausible nostalgic moment that felt like both a fairy tale and a real person’s spontaneous attempt to resurrect a dream, reminded me of how people use recordings as time loops every day.”