Sunday, April 19, 2015

Best Song: "The Way You Look Tonight" (1936)

Left to right: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Swing Time
Welcome to Best Song, a new weekly column released on Sunday dedicated to chronicling the Best Original Song category over the course of its many decades. The goal is to listen to and critique every song that has ever been nominated in the category as well as find the Best Best Song and the Best Loser. By the end, we'll have a comprehensive list of this music category and will hopefully have a better understanding not only of the evolution, but what it takes to receive a nomination here. It may seem easy now, but wait until the bad years.

The Preface

The year is 1936 and the Academy is in its ninth year. My Man Godfrey became the first film to receive nominations in all four acting categories without a Best Picture nomination. It is also the first to lose every category until Sunset Blvd. Douglas Shearer became the first person to receive back-to-back wins in the category of Best Sound Recording for the films Naughty Marietta (1935) and San Francisco (1936). The Great Ziegfeld won Best Picture. Also, the third time was the charm for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, who won Best Original Song with "The Way You Look Tonight" from the film Swing Time. This year also saw the category double its nominees from the past two years with a total of six. 

The Nominees

Song: "I've Got You Under My Skin"
Film: Born to Dance
Performers: Virginia Bruce

This feels like it is in the vein of the Irene Dunne songs that have been nominated in the past. While it works as a romantic ditty, I feel like Virginia Bruce's voice isn't nearly as problematic and allows the emotion to shine through the lyrics. There's a lot of joy and passion to the song and while the lyrics aren't necessarily the most complicated, they provide a nice continuity to the film scene. I also feel like it is very well made and thus makes sense why it has since gone on to become a standard that was covered by various artists including Frank Sinatra.

Song: "Pennies From Heaven"
Film: Pennies From Heaven
Performers: Bing Crosby

It is tough to properly judge this song when considering that I am more familiar with the other contexts it has been used in, including the remake and various covers. However, Bing Crosby has such a soothing voice that it's hard to hate the song, even if it is one of the sleepier tracks that have been part of these nominations so far. Of course, Crosby's song was highly successful on the Billboard charts, so it makes sense why it managed to get this far with the nominations. I feel like it takes its time to get moving. But once it does, it is pretty nice to listen to.

Song: "When Did You Leave Heaven?"
Film: Sing Baby Sing
Performers: Tony Martin

Another sort of corny song that gets by on simply being charming. With a lot of horns, the song is essentially one verse sandwiched in between long pieces of music. It is beautiful and you'll have the words stuck in your head while humming the melody. However, the actual lyrics aren't particularly memorable and it seems like an odd song choice because of how little memorable moments there are within it. I guess that in a year with six nominees that variety was really in demand, and I can't fault them for choosing a song so well constructed that even though it's bare bones, it manages to work its magic.

Song: "Did I Remember (To Tell You I Adore You)"
Film: Suzy
Performers: Jean Harlowe and Cary Grant

I feel like it is important not necessarily to judge the song on quality, but its context within the film. While it will be a little harder for these older films, I do my best to find video clips of the song as it is featured. In this case, it gets a little challenging because the first half of the song is done with people talking and it is a little distracting. However, as the song goes on, its intentions are well known and it becomes a far more interesting look at two dueling vocalist who are expressing themselves to disinterested parties. It is a decent enough song, but I feel like I am more enamored by the gimmick of how it was performed than the actual song, which is fine. Maybe without he talking, I would judge it differently.

Song: "A Melody from the Sky"
Film: The Trail of the Lonesome Pine
Performers: Fuzzy Knight and Henry Fonda (whistling)

Ladies and gentlemen, our first whistling Oscar nominee for Henry Fonda. He manages to make the most of a song that doesn't work out of context. If there's one unfortunate theme in this year's nominees, it's that there's a lot of unmemorable short songs. This one sounds fine, but compared to most of the other ones on here, it's only success comes in its ability to put whistling to the end of the song. I like it, but it is probably my least favorite of the nominees, even though it does have a nice melody and has a nice aura.

The Winner

Song: "The Way You Look Tonight"
Film: Swing Time
Performers: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Proving that the world was in love with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, this is their third year in a row of being nominated and second win. It makes total sense when considering that Astaire knew how to sing whether he was dancing or playing a piano riff. He is able to make the lyrics sound sweeping and more elegant than the basic framework that they have. If this year's nominees have one unfortunate trend, it is that there's a lot of romantic music that has personality, but not really any distinguishing definition. Even returning favorite Bing Crosby isn't able to have the immediacy as these two, who seem to insight romance with every pitch. This is a great song thanks to its melody.

Best Loser

A comprehensive list and ranking of the songs that were nominated but did not win. This is a list predicated on which song that was nominated I liked the best.

1. "Carioca" - Flying Down to Rio (1934)
2. "Cheek to Cheek" - Top Hat (1935)
3. "I've Got You Under My Skin" - Born to Dance (1936)

Best Best Song

A comprehensive list and ranking of the songs that won this category. 

1. "The Way You Look Tonight" - Swing Time (1936)
2. "The Continental" - The Gay Divorcee (1934)
3. "The Lullaby of Broadway" - Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)

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