Globes, Oscar often sing same tune

The late Irwin Kostal, two-time Oscar winner for Best Score, once exploded at an Academy meeting, “The Oscars and the Golden Globes are NOT the Grammys! Who cares if a film song is a hit. All I want to know is, is it right for the picture?”

HFPA member Marianne Ruuth agrees.

“We listen, listen, listen,” she says. “You can’t just decide after seeing a song in a movie. Once you know how the song fits in, that it works with the film, then you listen to it again. All of our members sweat blood making final decisions.”

Eighty-nine active members are responsible for nominating and then choosing the Best Movie Song of the Year. Unlike the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which launched its Best Song category in 1934, the Globes began a Best Song competition in 1962. During its first 10 years, the Foreign Press and the Oscars disagreed nine times. Only once, in 1967, did they see eye to eye, when they chose “The Windmills of Your Mind” from “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

The viewpoints of both organizations began merging from 1973 through 1982, selecting the same song eight times, and from 1982 to the present, they chose identically with the exception of “Blaze of Glory” from “Young Guns II” (The Academy picked “Sooner or Later” from “Dick Tracy”) and “The Prayer” from “Quest for Camelot” (Oscar smiled on “When You Believe” from “The Prince of Egypt”).

Songs attached to high-profile box office hits have always stood a better chance of gaining nominations. The Globes eventually caught on to this, but at the beginning their selections (such as “Circus World,” “Forget Domani” and “Whistling Away the Dark”) took little note of commercial considerations.

They also chose “If Ever I Should Leave You” from “Camelot,” as a winner, a song written specifically for Broadway, rather than the screen.

Surprisingly, the Globes also ignored box office when choosing “The Prayer” from the low-grossing “Quest for Camelot” as their 1999 victor. “The Prince of Egypt,” spotlighting the Academy’s winner “When You Believe” grossed $101,413,188. “The Prayer” was lush and classical; “When You Believe” an R&B ballad with theater overtones. Both songs are the kind of material rock critics regularly put down, shouting that the Golden Globes and Oscar songs should be edgier, more funky and alternative.

“The point is not whether a song is edgier or not,” says David Foster, producer of “Mask of Zorro,” “The River Wild,” “The Getaway” and the upcoming “Hart’s War.” “It’s how well the song sells the emotions of the story. You’re not just writing a tune for yourself. You have to capture the images on the screen, whether a bullfight or a war scene. How the composer does it — whatever the song’s style — is beside the point. It’s what works.”

“The Golden Globe and Oscar audience is not the MTV audience,” says two-time Globe and three-time Oscar winner Marvin Hamlisch. “And remember, these award-winning songs, beyond their role in the picture, have stood the test of time.”

But the repeated accusation that the Globes are always going for bland and easy listening is unfounded. Consider “Times Have Changed,” Bob Dylan’s newly nominated song from “Wonder Boys.” Dylan’s track has thunderous energy and his lyrics are rebellious and cynical. Composers of country (Garth Brooks) and rock (Sting) are fighting to win the 2000 award. And if you want edgy, think back to former Globe nominees “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” (U-2, Bono, from “Batman Forever”), “Tomorrow Never Dies” (Sheryl Crow, Michael Froom, from “Tomorrow Never Dies”), “I’ll Remember” (Madonna, Leonard, Page from “With Honors”) and “Streets of Philadelphia” (Springsteen from “Philadelphia”).

The inside buzz favors “Things Have Changed” as this year’s front-runner with Garth Brooks’ “You Come Back to Me Again” just a breath behind. It’s a tough call, however, because the Foreign Press is made up of journalists from all over the world, and their multi-cultural tastes are hard to pin down.

This year’s nominated songwriters reflect that diversity: Bjork’s “I’ve Seen It All” (“Dancer in the Dark”), Sting and David Hartley’s “My Funny Friend and Me” (“The Emperor’s New Groove”), Bosson’s “One in a Million” (“Miss Congeniality”), Bob Dylan’s “Times Have Changed” (“Wonder Boys”) and the Garth Brooks/Jenny Yates’ “When You Come Back to Me Again” (“Frequency”).

If the Globes choose Dylan’s “Things Have Changed,” they won’t be doing it because of box office. “Wonder Boys,” while critically praised, falls far short of a hit. There’s no “Titanic” this year to propel a song into the winner’s circle, no Disney blockbuster like “The Lion King” or “Beauty and the Beast.” Nor are the nominated songs burning up Billboard’s Hot 100.

Like 1999, when they chose “The Prayer,” the Foreign Press has ignored grosses and chart positions in their best song choices. In 2000, it seems, all that matters is the song.

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