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Best Song Won't Be

The best thing about covering the Best Song category in the 2007 Oscar prognostication sweepstakes is that it's got to be about the easiest of any of them to pick - there's a 60 percent chance that the winner will come from one film. That film is Dreamgirls, which like a Supremely powerful R&B steamroller is crushing all in its path. Three of the best five original songs in all of moviedom come from this one film - imagine that. The only question is, which Dreamgirl - Beyoncé, Anika Noni Rose, or Chicago's own Jennifer Hudson - has put her song over well enough for it to win. Coincidentally enough, each of the three Dreamgirls sing lead in one of the nominated songs (Beyoncé, "Listen;" Anika, "Patience;" and Jennifer, "Love You I Do.")

Here's Oscar:
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  • The music for all three of the nominated songs was either written or cowritten by Henry Krieger, who has a long and impressive resume as a composer in the world of Broadway musicals. So if a Dreamgirls song wins, he and his collaborators will be the ones who actually collect the Oscar. But in my mind, it's not the compositions that will matter as much as the how they were performed in the movie. That's because the music in Dreamgirls is, for the most part, interchangeable. It is to real R&B what Hair was to rock 'n' roll: some consummate Broadway professional's calculated, ultra-slick take on an indigenous musical form. Therefore, it's the personalities and individual talents of the three Dreamgirls, both on- and off-screen, that will probably decide the winner in this category, not the minute differences in mainly-mediocre songwriting.

    Looking at the race this way, Beyoncé is the classic Diana Ross ingenue and so is officially the star, but Jennifer Hudson gets the lion's share of show-stopping performances. Her momentum as the ample Effie is massive coming into the Oscars. But the strange thing is that "Love You I Do" isn't really her best song in the film. It provides more of a bouncy Motown delight than a memorable ultradiva thrill of, say, "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." "Love You I Do" is also kind of a throwaway number in the context of her character. Nevertheless, Hudson's vocal range and delivery are astounding, and she's able to rise above even the most unimaginative songwriting to thrill a skeptical listener such as myself. I now know there's a good reason this American Idol contestant is so hot. She's even going to sing "Love You I Do" during the telecast.

    But the Jennifer frenzy could also be a problem for her, songwise: She's so out-of-control scorchingly popular that she has also been nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. I'd say the smart money is certainly on her for that award coming, as she is, fresh off a Golden Globe win in the same category. And if so, would a Best Song Oscar seem gratuitous? Is the decision to nominate her for a song that's not among her very best a subtle way of tilting the Best Song voting to Beyoncé, while Jennifer gets to win instead for her Dreamgirls acting? Or is all of this just making for an even more sweeping Jennifer tsunami? The only thing I can be absolutely sure of is that if she does takes home an Oscar, it'll be all-Jennifer, all-the-time, Chicago. Get ready for Effie. She'll be every-damn-where.

    randy_newman.jpgIn the non-Dreamgirls portion of the contest, there's . . . umm, what now? Oh yeah, Melissa Etheridge and Randy Newman. Here's how I'm certain the voting will go down: three Dreamgirls, total of 65 percent; Melissa (for a song in Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth) 25 percent, thanks to the antiwar Hollywood liberal lobby; and a mere 10 percent for Randy, who, of course, has the song that really deserves to win. His collaboration with James Taylor on a spare, haunting, folk-rock ballad for the Pixar film Cars called "Our Town" is a fine example of mournful Newman-ness that also fit brilliantly into the cartoon. But Randy already has a Best Song Oscar from another animated film, 2001's Monsters Inc. With a mainstream R&B leviathan and an Al Gore sympathy vote in the mix, poor, quirky Randy will for sure take a seat in the back, you know, where art always seems to be shunted when commerce and politics are involved.

    There is, however, a wild-card scenario. Some bets are being placed on a situation wherein the three Dreamgirls songs split the difference at the top, thus allowing Melissa Etheridge to sneak in with a plurality. But there are two problems with this line of thinking: The first one is that the Dreamgirls song "Patience" isn't going to get many votes. That song's mostly about Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy rather than Anika, so it's really just two Dreamgirls songs battling it out at the top. The second is that Etheridge's song, "I Need to Wake Up," isn't very memorable on its own. It's an earnest, mid-tempo rock ballad, kinda preachy, kinda full of itself. So, it fits well with the documentary's main character, but I think the vote really hinges on whether the antiwar, anti-global-warming sentiment is so strong that it will prove out over everything. I predict that, much like the movie's hero, "I Need to Wake Up" will finish out of the money, proving again that even politics can't trump commerce in Hollywoodland.



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    Posted on February 22, 2007


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