' ' Cinema Romantico: Countdown to the Oscars: Best Song Reimagined

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Countdown to the Oscars: Best Song Reimagined

Today Cinema Romantico reimagines 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: “Fortunate Son” by CCR in “Logan Lucky” should be on this list but is not only because I already wrote about it for my year-end Random Awards, as well as in my actual review of said film, citing it as the best use of a pop song in a 2017 movie, which it absolutely was. But since this category is fake, I wanted the chance to spotlight another pop song in “Logan Lucky”.)

Lovely Day by The Soul Rebels in Girls Trip. Heralding the principal quartet’s arrival in New Orleans for its eponymous Girls Trip, this cover of Bill Withers’s 1977 tune functions like a B12 shot of pure, soul feeling, the consummate sonic kickoff.

Crash Into Me by Dave Matthews Band in Lady Bird. Back in 1996, at the height of Dave Matthews Band, I remember the Parade Magazine in my family’s Sunday Des Moines Register having a survey about which of four (or maybe five) bands were most likely to someday be in the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Two of the bands? Hootie and the Blowfish and Dave Matthews Band. That is to say, Dave Matthews was a prisoner of his time, and so was his big song of that year, “Crash Into Me.” By 2002, “Crash Into Me” and that band had become, in certain circles, a pretty big punchline, which Greta Gerwig plays to the hilt by sort of turning the song into her main character’s inadvertent anthem. When her date to the prom she doesn’t even really like (and who doesn’t even really like her) wants to ditch the big event, it is “Crash Into Me” mystically appearing on the radio that inspires her to ditch her date instead and squire her best friend to prom, wonderfully evoking that “Almost Famous” Lester Bangs line: “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” Dave Matthews never sounded so true.

Love My Way by The Psychedelic Furs in Call Me by Your Name. If the previous song evoked a line from “Almost Famous” then this song’s specific cinematic usage evoked Rufus Wainwright’s famous line about the truest pop diva: “Self-knowledge is a truly beautiful thing and Kylie (Minogue) knows herself inside out. She is what she is and there is no attempt to make quasi-intellectual statements to substantiate it. She is the gay shorthand for joy.” Indeed, whatever his character may struggle with elsewhere, Armie Hammer dancing to this 1982 new wave single in “Call Me by Your Name” becomes its own gay shorthand for joy.

Runaway by Del Shannon in Song to Song. The highlight of the brief montage summarizing the fly by night relationship of Ryan Gosling and Lykke Li’s characters occurs at Austin’s Long Center, beneath the night sky, allowing the bright colors of its city terrace ring beam to glow that much brighter, like the illuminated sidewalk of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” video, who, frankly, Li sort of resembles in her leather jacket and penny loafers. As a mere image, it is enough to make your spirit levitate, but the accompanying song takes it to the next level. Like a lot of those pop songs of the classic era, Shannon’s “Runaway” has a melodic joy that belies its lyrical edge, were a melancholy man walks alone in the rain trying to figure out where his relationship went wrong. He never figures it out, probably because he is far from introspective, and by utilizing the song here, Terrence Malick turns the scene into a wicked joke, alluding to Gosling’s character’s fate before he even meets it, an idiot who is going to run Lykke Li off and then walk in the rain wondering why she left him when, dude, we can tell you for sure.

Take Me Home Country Roads by John Denver in Logan Lucky. I often suspect Steven Soderbergh makes bets with himself to see if he can pull off particular movies, or moments within movies, like how Brian DePalma made a bet that his AD could not make an airplane landing shot feel fresh in The Bonfire of the Vanities. And so I wonder if Soderbergh bet himself that he could take John Denver’s overworked state anthem of West Virgina and still wring something true. Well, he won the bet. Boy, did he. He won it by perhaps winning another bet with himself in cleverly transforming the Oft-Absent Dad Showing Up Just In Time For His Daughter’s Big Moment into his alibi for the heist even as he simultaneously found something true in the Big Event, as the Daughter ditches her planned performance of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” for her Dad’s favorite tune instead, “Take Me Home Country Roads”. In doing so, she honors where she comes from and who she is, as Soderbergh transforms the Oft-Absent Dad Showing Up Just In Time For His Daughter’s Big Moment into a moment more evocative of coal country than 25,000 newspaper profiles combined.


Alex Withrow said...

I've always thought it'd be cool to have this Oscar category as well. Best Original Song and Best Use of a Song...? These are great picks. Runaway in particular was used so well in Song to Song.

Jessica said...

I really love that second “Love My Way” scene, too, in Bergamo.