2010 was a great year for music at the movies, especially if the kind of music you like is A-list Hollywood stars singing tender versions of famous pop ballads. There’s Annette Bening’s awkward-mom-at-the-dinner-table spin on Joni Mitchell in The Kids Are All Right; Christian Bale’s wheedling take on the Bee Gees’ “I Started A Joke” in The Fighter; and most memorably, Ryan Gosling’s “You Always Hurt The One You Love,” delivered with a ukulele and aching human charm, about halfway through Blue Valentine. (See here for an amusing reprise that is only partially degraded by the presence of Jimmy Kimmel.)
At the Academy Awards on Sunday evening, the world’s attention will congregate around the five best original songs written for films in 2010. But who cares about original songs? Especially when one of them features Gwyneth Paltrow impersonating a country singer? I’ve been done with the “Best Song” Oscar ever since Bruce Springsteen’s “The Wrestler” was snubbed back in ’08.
Instead, I thought I’d provide The Official NoiseNarcs Selections For Best Unoriginal Film Song of 2010. This is judged not by pure quality of song, but how well the song is integrated into the movie, with assistance provided by the very useful film music reference site what-song. And the Nominees are:
5. Bill Withers, “Lovely Day,” from 127 Hours. Is there a better possible tune to accompany a beautiful morning sunrise, while you sit trapped in a Utah rock crevice, all alone and dying of thirst? No, there is not. But Withers’s gentle joy at life is so infectious that he almost makes James Franco’s desperate escape maneuvers look like fun.
4. Chic, “Le Freak,” from Toy Story 3. It’s Barbie’s Ken trying on outfits, from Apollo 13 astronaut garb to Black Forest lederhosen. The music could have been provided by Jefferson Starship and it still would be awesome.
3. Gunther Feat. Samantha Fox, “Touch My Body (Remix),” from Restrepo. Probably the best moment of this entire Afghanistan documentary comes not when the troops are dodging bullets but when they crank the Samantha Fox remix. Virtually stranded in the distant netherworld of the Korengal Valley, and worn down by the daily strain of trying to stay alive, it takes some techno-fied ’80s for them to fully reclaim their humanity. The raucous, ingenuously homoerotic dance circle is a treat to watch, but for all the bumping and grinding the encounter seems much less about sex than the even more elemental human need for the companionship of touch. Be careful: if Samantha Fox pipes her way through any speakers when we’re hanging out, I promise I will touch your body.
2. The Strokes, “I’ll Try Anything Once,” from Somewhere. I’ve already blogged about the joys of the pop music from this movie, and this song is the best of a delicious bunch. When Johnny and his daughter slip underwater for their brief hotel pool tea party, Julian Casablancas’ voice seems to capture both the fleeting joy and the underlying melancholy of the moment.
1. Penny and the Quarters, “You and Me,” from Blue Valentine. This is both the most heart-breaking and heart-roaring movie of the year, and Cydney has already done it ample justice on her own page. This song appears twice in the film — first, as doomed lovers Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling prepare to spend their hellish evening in “The Future Room,” it provides a brief, woozy hallucination of couplehood before the truth of their estrangement barks out. Second, and in keeping with the film’s jumbled account of their romance, we hear it produced as “their song,” and it plays while they make love at her parents’ house. In both its wrenching sweetness and almost claustrophobic vision of romantic love, it’s the perfect song for this magnificent movie.
Oh, and PS. For the benefit of NoiseNarcs’s vast and transcontinental readership, I realize I must plug my own quasi-blog, which is currently running down my 25 favorite films of the year. Don’t worry, Gwyneth Paltrow is not invited. Join us!