Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Reserved Seating Goes to the Oscars: Best Original Song

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo who reverse engineered this column in hopes of winning a Pulitzer.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino. This week, instead of reviewing a movie, we’re reviewing the five songs nominated for Best Original Song at this year’s Oscars. The first nominee is “Mystery of Love” by Sufjan Stevens from the movie Call Me By Your Name.

Adam: I’m happy Call Me by Your Name is represented in this category because the three Sufjan Stevens songs from it enhance the movie emotionally in ways the rest of the film struggles to sometimes (I do like the movie, though). All three songs Stevens contributes are good (the other two being “Futile Devices” and “Visions of Gideon”) and “Mystery of Love” is my second favorite of that trio. I think “Visions of Gideon” is the much more impactful song and comes at a more emotionally resonant moment in the film. In other words, if I had a vote, it would be hard for me to give it to “Mystery of Love” because I think they nominated the wrong song from Call Me by Your Name and because the song I think of most from this movie is “Love My Way” by Psychedelic Furs, a New Wave classic from the early ‘80s that features prominently in the movie. “Mystery of Love” is a good song with a nice melody (Stevens’ work here sounds a lot to me like the late Elliott Smith’s music in Good Will Hunting, which is a good thing because I really like those Smith songs) and overall a song for which I would vote Mark Ahn. This is solid music to listen to while you’re a) staring out the window as it’s raining b) looking at yourself in the mirror as you chastise yourself for crying or c) sulking by a lake, thinking your best years are behind you and the only companion you’ll have for the rest of your life is regret. What do you think of this one, Rob?
Rob: I regret that I still haven’t seen Call Me by Your Name and don’t know the associated context of any of the music, but now that I’ve listened to the three Stevens tracks, I actually find myself preferring the more melodic “Mystery of Love” over the others. I really dig the Elliot Smith/Shins vibe in all three, though, and I’m definitely going to give Sufjan Stevens’ music a spin the next time I’m Driving Sad. Do you ever Drive Sad, Adam? It really clears your head. Everyone should do it at least once a week. You know “A Real Hero” by College & Electric Youth? From the Drive soundtrack? That song does things to me I can’t explain. It also reminds me of the Garden State soundtrack. I was SUPER into the Garden State soundtrack in 2004. And 2005. And...now. Look, I am who I am, and who I am has a lot of feelings. Mark Ahn on this song. Top three of this set, for sure.

Adam: I drove sad more in my twenties. I remember being sad I got dumped and I ended up driving home from Indiana, even though I was supposed to stay overnight with a friend, because I thought driving through the night listening to John Mayer music while upset was a journey I needed to take. I remember it being ok until about 4am when I started to see things on the road that weren’t there. It was scary the rest of the ride home but I made it. Fun times. I used to go for a walk around my local lake every birthday, which I dubbed the “Walk of Sadness.” It was my time to reflect on the year behind and the year ahead. I have since stopped because I realized they are usually the same year extended. Also, I write for F This Movie! and now have nothing to be sad about in my personal life.

The next nominee is “Remember Me,” written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez from the movie Coco.

Rob: This song is fun! It’s straightforward and leisurely. I haven’t seen Coco, either, though (spoilers: I haven’t seen any of the films these songs come from), so maybe the lack of narrative context is leaving me at a disadvantage. Am I wrong to wonder if Coco has a bit more to offer sing-a-long wise? Right now, it’s my #4 song on this list. I think Moana might have ruined me for Disney songs. This one doesn’t quite grab me the way I’d like.

Adam: It’s sing-along if you know some Spanish because it mixes it in during certain verses. Coco is a movie very much about music and is rich with great songs throughout, but “Remember Me” is certainly the anthem and appropriate choice to represent the film overall. It is featured four separate times, sung by several people (including Benjamin Bratt, Gael Garcia Bernal, Anthony Gonzalez and Ana Ofelia Murguia, Miguel) and each time it is in a different style, which shows the tune’s versatility. It’s a wonderful song and probably the most genuine/heartfelt from this category. This is a song that made me cry when it was sung in the movie, made me cry again when I heard it outside of the movie and then cry a different time when I thought about it two days after seeing the movie. The lyrics are really moving and works equally well in a variety of interpretations. I give it the Markest of Ahns. This is my favorite song of the category by far.

Rob: Ok, then clearly I need to see Coco, because I’m confident that I’d share your emotional connection with the song within the context of the film. I just listened to a couple of the other versions, and I can already see what you mean.
Adam: What’s the next song, yo?

Rob: Next up is “Stand Up For Something” by Andra Day (feat. Common, who wrote the song with Diane Warren) from the Marshall soundtrack. I really like Andra Day AND Common, but I’m not thrilled about this song. The hook is derivative and, while Day more than carries things where they need to go, the lyrics are a little contrived, like they backward engineered them after hearing what Marshall was about (I assume; again, I haven’t seen Marshall). It feels a bit like a first draft, like they just sort of riffed over a beat after coming up with that main hook. Am I totally off base, here? This feels like two really good artists sleepwalking through a track for a paycheck. Fifth place. Mark Off.

Adam: I agree with a lot of what you already said about it feeling reverse engineered after seeing Marshall (which is a good lawyer movie more than a good biopic). Message songs are very Oscar Baity, so there’s a lot riding on its catchiness since the spontaneity isn’t really often there. I like the background beat a lot and Andra Day (who I’m only slightly aware of from “Rise Up”) has a good voice, but the song is underwhelming and probably my fourth favorite of the five nominated songs. This gets bonus points because of Common since he’s from Chicago. If I’m remembering correctly, this song plays over the end credits of the movie and it works well in that context. Mark On just slightly for this one.

The next song is the other message tune of the group, “Mighty River” from Mudbound. It’s performed by Oscar nominee twice-over, Mary J. Blige, who co-wrote this song with Taura Stinson, and the amazing Raphael Saadiq (who doesn’t sing on this track, which is a travesty because his voice is like honey being poured into your ears).

Ironically, this is the most readily available of all of these films and yet the one I have not watched. I will check it out before Oscar night. As for the song, it’s a typical Oscar song. The intention seems to have gotten the nomination as much as the quality. I like some of Mary J. Blige’s music (e.g. “I Can Love You” and especially “Everything” are terrific), but this isn’t one that grabs me except for when the backup singers are doing their thing. They enhance the song a little bit, but not enough to keep it from being my least favorite of the bunch. Mark Off. It needs Raphael Saadiq!
Rob: Another song that’s very okay; it kind of finds a groove and vamps without building to anything significant. Mary J. Blige is obviously a legend in the industry and worthy of our respect, but I’m starting to sense a theme with a lot of these nominees. They’re all effective, but none of them hits me as especially unique. I’m not too familiar with Raphael Saadiq, so I just randomly listened to his track “Good Man,” which has a bit more character than this one. Am I too cynical in thinking that studios commission Oscar-baity soundtracks for certain films for the sake of awards contention? This is another one that falls in the middle of the pack.

Adam: I absolutely think studios commission songs for awards publicity. “Good Man” is decent Saadiq. You should listen to Tony! Toni! Tone for some of his best stuff, or “Ask of You,” which is from my beloved Higher Learning and is pure bliss. Our last song is “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman, written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and sung by an ensemble of cast members.

What did you think of this one?

Rob: This song was specifically designed to manipulate my emotions, and it worked. I feel like a focus group was organized to determine what a “big, important song” is supposed to sound like, and this is what they came up with. It’s dramatic and dynamic in the ways that everyone’s grandma will love. It’s the fattiest junk food that I’ll absolutely sing at the top of my lungs after a few hours of Driving Sad. I can already picture it playing as the songwriters climb the steps to the Oscar stage to accept the award. I’m angry at myself for falling for it, but I totally did.

Adam: Ok, first the positive. This song is a head-bopper/toe-tapper with exciting drumming. Is that something people say? I like that it’s Broadway unironic, like a song they would do as part of a parade covered on Good Morning America. The build of the song is good and it’s from a musical filled with great music, so I’m happy The Greatest Showman is represented with a nomination. But again, this is not the best song from that movie by a ridiculous degree. This might actually be my sixth favorite song from this movie after (in no order) “The Greatest Show,” “A Million Dreams,” “Come Alive,” “The Other Side” and “Rewrite the Stars.” Damn, there’s a lot of good songs in The Greatest Showman! Maybe “This is Me” is just the showiest? I also think it’s weird they picked one of the few songs where Hugh Jackman doesn’t sing in it, since he’s so integral to the movie’s success. And the part where the chorus goes “WE ARE WARRIORS!” is a bit much. Whatever. Mark Ahn for “This is Me.” It’s probably my third favorite of the five nominated songs. I wish I were in the scene where they sing this song so I could have a line at the end where I go “Jesus, be yourselves, I’m not stopping you! Fuck!” I can visualize a big group of singers and dancers performing this at the Oscars and it ends and they’re all out of breath and proud and people applaud and bloggers call it a highlight and then we all forget about it.
Rob: Holy crap, do I need to download the Greatest Showman soundtrack immediately? Can we sing this in the car when I get to Chicago in March? Am I a bad person for putting this as high in my rankings as I am? Also, as a drummer, I can confirm that this drumming is very exciting. Fuck it. One of my favorite things about our friendship is that I’m never afraid to confess my unironic love for anything when I’m talking to you. This is a good fucking song. Mark Ahn. Should we rank them all?

Adam: This is a good fucking album. Like, people should press play on a boombox and fuck throughout the entire album. It would be the corniest, yet most meaningful love making they will ever have. My ranking is 1) Coco 2) Call Me by Your Name 3) The Greatest Showman 4) Marshall and 5) Mudbound.

Rob: I’m going 1) Call Me By Your Name 2) The Greatest Showman 3) Coco 4) Mudbound 5) Marshall. I do want to mention that I really like all of the artists involved with these songs, even if I found many of them to a bit underwhelming. It reflects 2017, which I still maintain was a very Medium year for movies.
Adam: I’ve gotten in trouble for saying 2017 wasn’t a great year for movies, so I’ll just say again I thought Thor Ragnarok was good but not good enough in the eyes of many. Also, yes, I totally agree that there are some very talented artists involved in this year’s Best Original Song category. It should be a good watch performance wise on Oscar night. What are we reviewing next time?

Rob: You recently compared Slamma Jamma to The Room, so I feel like I have to see it. I have a good feeling about this one.

Adam: It’s special. Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.


  1. As someone with two young daughters, I've heard "The Greatest Showman" soundtrack on repeat for the past month. And while I agree "This is Me" isn't the best song on the soundtrack, I can't wait to see them perform it at the Oscars. I'd much rather a big spectacle song like this win than a typical Oscar-bait piece.

  2. My own ranking mirrors Adam's. I'm a huge fan of "Remember Me" and fully anticipate being grumpy when "This Is Me" takes the prize. It's not so much that I don't care for the song - more that I'm unfairly peeved that they did a rousing gay anthem in a gay-less musical.