A Journal of Musical ThingsWhy Isn't There an Oscar for Best Use of an Old Song - A Journal of Musical Things
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Published on January 11th, 2013 | by Alan Cross

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Why Isn’t There an Oscar for Best Use of an Old Song

The Best New Song Category has been one hurtin’ category for the Academy over the last couple of years. Eligibility rules have been lightened up over the last year or so, but the whole thing is still a dog.

Like TV commercials, movies would rather use familiar old songs than be arsed to write something new and original.  Call it The Big Chill Effect.  

Buzzfeed has a good idea.  Why not create an award for using an old song in the most creative way. If this were the case, it might as well just be named the Quentin Tarantino Obscure Song Resurrection Award. I could go for that.

Music is a huge and vital part of contemporary movies, but you’d never know that going by Oscar nominations for Best Original Song and score. This year’s crop of nominations is a particularly dull bunch: Adele’s hit “Skyfall” is pretty much a lock since she’s only up against a blah new song written for Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables remake and numbers composed for Ted, Life of Pi, and Chasing Ice that have had little to no cultural resonance.

Best Original Song was once a vital category, and honored many tunes that have had an enduring presence in pop culture, from “Moon River” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” on through “Take My Breath Away” and “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” in the ’80s and Disney’s stranglehold on the category through the ’90s. Not anymore. You have to go all the way back to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in 2002 to find a Best Original Song winner that has had a major impact and lasting presence.

Original music written for motion pictures may be on the wane, but it’s been a very good year for filmmakers using pre-existing songs in their movies. But really, when it has it not been? Many of the most memorable movie scenes over the past several decades have been centered on an inspired use of familiar music, from Tom Cruise dancing to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” in Risky Business and the group sing along to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” in Almost Famous to, well, pretty much everything Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, and David Lynch have ever done. And yet, the art of repurposing an oldie for a movie has never been honored by the Academy. This should change!

Let’s say this category existed for this awards season. It’d hopefully look something like this:

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About the Author

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.



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