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

Friday, February 07, 2020

Countdown to the Oscars: Best Song Reimagined

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.

The Dead Don’t Die by Sturgill Simpson in The Dead Don’t Die. For one film, at least, Jim Jarmusch brings the movie theme back with Sturgill Simpson’s country-western throwback. And while the song, sharing the film’s title, sets the stage, certainly, it keeps coming back throughout, like “The Ballad of Higher Noon”, but to even slyer effect, transforming the sensation of the living dead into one of getting a song stuck in your head.

Road to Nowhere by Talking Heads in Transit. The lyrics might be on the nose, given how “Transit” ends, which I won’t reveal, though not only does the song’s buoyant tone in the face of calamity fit snugly with the ending nonetheless, that familiar chugging rhythm also feels true to the film’s temporal loop. It hits so perfectly, you laugh; then, you cry.

Dancing in the Dark by Bruce Springsteen in Blinded by the Light. When Javed (Viveik Kalra), a Pakistani immigrant in 80s London, first hears Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”, it is on a dark and stormy night, which sounds stupid but is just right. The inner-teenage tempest is universal, after all, and when he hits play and that song comes rushing out, he suddenly an outlet for everything he’s feeling. And even if a song often speaks for the person singing it, like “Dancing in the Dark” did for Bruce, it just as frequently, whether the creator likes it or not, speaks for the person listening to it, which the movie’s presentation of it denotes, the lyrics splayed across the screen. The synths, non-reactionary Springsteen fans know, aren’t gloss of the era but howls of desperation, and when Javed hears them, he plugs right into them, connected to the Springsteen current; he, like Bruce, is just about starving tonight.

Control by Janet Jackson in Hustlers. Famously, Janet Jackson’s second album was the first she made free of the domineering interference of her father, which is why she titled it “Control.” And so it only makes sense that “Hustlers”, which is all about women exerting control, would open with Janet’s 1986 title cut, its introductory manifesto, and close with another Janet track, “Miss You Much.” She’s the soundtrack to female empowerment.

Out of Time by The Rolling Stones in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. The greatest Quentin Tarantino needle drop, which is really saying something, I know, and which is why I don’t say it lightly, believe me. He repurposes The Stones’ stay-away-girl slice of baroque pop, improbably, to craft his own version of The Busy Sunday sequence in “Goodfellas”, elegiac rather than out of control, a dirge for the Sixties, and all that term entails, and for Hollywood too, one that might never have existed, which, epitomized in all those neon signs that spring to life as the song winds up, shines bright one last time. It was my favorite single movie sequence in 2019.

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