The nominations for the 94th Academy Awards are out, and as I’ve done on-and-off during my time writing for Pop Geeks so far, I want to write about this year’s nominees for Best Original Song. Last year, I wrote that I hoped Io Si (Seen) from The Life Ahead would win Best Original Song, but predicted that Fight For You from Judas And The Black Messiah would win the prize. I predicted correctly, but will that be the case this year? Let’s find out as we examine the five nominees for Best Original Song at the 94th Academy Awards.
To start us off, we have Be Alive, written by Beyonce Knowles and DIXSON for the Williams family biopic King Richard.
I’ll admit that I’ve never been a very athletic man, and while I’ve had my struggles, they haven’t been anything compared to what Richard Williams and his family went through to become the tennis titans they are. Roger Ebert once said that the movies are a machine that generates empathy, and I feel the songs on a movie’s soundtrack can do the same as well. I listen to the lyrics of this song, and I empathize with the struggle it takes to achieve big things when the world is against you.
The Williams sisters are icons in their field, and Be Alive is a perfect encapsulation of their efforts to achieve tennis glory, and the many dividends of those events. I can’t pretend to know what the Williams family was up against, but I admire them for having fought those elements to achieve their glory. That could also go for Beyonce as well. She was part of Destiny’s Child around the same time that the Williams sisters were making a name for themselves, and Beyonce had a lot of battles to fight as well, so Be Alive could be just as much her story as the Williams’.
The second nominated song at the 94th Academy Awards is Dos Oruguitas, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda for Disney’s Encanto.
As with many Disney animated movies, Encanto uses the realm of the fantastic to tell a story of a family’s efforts to heal from tragedy and unite once more. The tragedy in this case is political unrest and violence in Colombia, the kind that can permanently separate a father from his daughters, a husband from his wife. That’s what Mirabel’s ancestors had to deal with, and the lyrical idea of Dos Oruguitas is about moving on in spite of the fear and the chaos that surrounds you. Of course, such a thing is easier said than done, kind of like being told, “Don’t think of a white elephant”. What’s the first thing to come to mind? A white elephant.
I listened to the English version of the song first, and then the Spanish version. Either way, the song is a wonderful metaphor for how moving forward is sometimes the only way to heal the scars of the past. I’ve certainly had my difficulties with that. More than a decade after the death of my emotionally, mentally and occasionally physically abusive mother, I still wake up screaming from the nightmares she appears in. I’m making every effort I can to move forward, but it’s difficult when you have those nightmares every few days. As they say, no one loves you like family, but no one can hurt you like family, either. I’ll need to revisit Encanto soon.
Our third nominated song for the 94th Academy Awards is Down To Joy, written and performed by Van Morrison for the Kenneth Branagh drama Belfast.
I’ll lay my cards on the table. I’m not exactly a Van Morrison fan. Some of his songs are good, but others just tend to be rather annoying. I can still remember many evenings singing karaoke at a local bar and hearing performances of Brown Eyed Girl, which I always thought was a rather dirty song. As I would put when I stepped up to the microphone to perform a song after someone else sang Brown Eyed Girl, “Don’t all girls have brown eyes?”. For that matter, men do, too, don’t they? Yes, I was a rather cheeky performer in my younger days, but again, that’s a topic for another day.
Putting my biases aside, Down To Joy just strikes me as rather mediocre. I can understand how music can help you through dark times like it does for the characters in this movie. It certainly has done so for me many times. I guess my main issue with the song is Van’s vocals. When looking the song up on YouTube, I had to scroll to the comments to see the lyrics transcribed as I couldn’t understand a lot of what Van was singing. The lyrics are about how love can inspire you and make you feel good, but I wonder if the audience at the Dolby will be able to understand Van’s vocals when he performs next month, or should I say “if”. Bear in mind that his most recent album, Latest Record Project, Vol. 1, is full of songs decrying vaccines and the like, and I imagine that the Academy is concerned about such matters as they prepare to return to the Dolby.
Moving along, we now come to the fourth nominated song at the 94th Academy Awards, the title theme to the James Bond movie No Time To Die, written by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell.
It’s rather appropriate that the downer ending to the downer Bond era has a downer theme song. Don’t get me wrong. Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell are very talented, and a downer isn’t always a bad thing, but my issue with the entire Daniel Craig era of James Bond is that it was just too damn serious. Granted, my favorite Bond after Sean Connery is Timothy Dalton, the first actor to play a serious Bond, but Dalton’s Bond movies still had an element of fun to them, even as they delved into some pretty dark situations.
Daniel Craig’s Bond just wasn’t fun, and that also goes for most of the theme songs of his time as Bond. The only Bond theme of the Craig era to approach the excitement of older Bonds was Adele’s Skyfall, the first Bond theme song to win the Best Original Song Oscar, as well as one of the songs I wrote about in my article about James Bond themes a few years ago. Other than that, the songs of the Craig era were just too bleak. I know that’s what Craig’s Bond was, but couldn’t his theme songs have had a little fun?
The fifth and final nominee for Best Original Song at the 94th Academy Awards is Somehow You Do from Four Good Days, written by Diane Warren, who got her 13th Oscar nomination with this song.
Four Good Days is a drama about dealing with drug addiction, and while I’ve never had a drug problem myself, I know people who have. After all, as I mentioned earlier in this article, I had an alcoholic mother, and alcohol is as much of a drug as cocaine or heroin can be. My own mother would tell me to say the Serenity Prayer when I was having a bad day, and that puzzled me because my mom believed in everything and nothing at the same time. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the Serenity Prayer was not a religious prayer, but part of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Personally, I think Diane Warren is better at communicating inspiring messages in her songs. So many of her Oscar-nominated songs have dealt with the topic of continuing to fight the good fight when everything is in chaos. It’s strange that there’s a lot of love for Best Picture winners that deal with that theme, but Ms. Warren’s songs haven’t gotten that same love. Some have derisively said that Diane just writes about the same topic over and over again with her nominated songs, but the fight for a better and more hopeful day is one topic that remains relevant year after year. I encourage Diane to keep writing songs like that.
We now come to my personal choice for Best Original Song, as well as my prediction for who will win that Oscar at the 94th Academy Awards.
My personal choice for Best Original Song, beating Somehow You Do by a hair, is Be Alive from King Richard.
There’s a sense of joy to the song that you don’t always get in the nominees for Best Original Song. Be Alive is about conquering the odds and celebrating the positive feelings you get when doing so. We’re certainly in a time period when we need to celebrate the positive things, the little victories that can eventually become bigger. I could easily imagine Be Alive billowing from speakers all over the world once we have COVID knocked out once and for all.
Although Be Alive is my personal choice for Best Original Song, I predict that the title theme to No Time To Die will be the winner of that Oscar.
No Time To Die has been around the longest as a result of the film’s constantly shifting release schedule because of COVID. The song first hit the airwaves in the late Winter/early Spring of 2020, even though the movie itself wouldn’t be released for another year-and-a-half or so. As a result, the song has had enough time to make its’ way into the ears of the Academy voters that Billie and Finneas’ victory seems all but inevitable at this point.
So who will win in the end? We’ll find out when the 94th Academy Awards air on March 27th. I’ll be eagerly tuning in, and I hope the ceremony will be a lot of fun. Last year’s Oscars were more dry than a freshly laundered wardrobe, so hopefully they’ll get back to having some fun this year. Here’s to it…