Many potential song noms come from popular music

Before Academy voters worry about whether they’ll need to bone up on today’s hip-hop stars now that Eminem has cracked the barrier for song, there’s plenty of reasons to believe this year’s race will be a return to old favorites.

Besides, when “Lose Yourself” took home the 2002 Academy Award for song, says Lia Vollack, Worldwide Music prexy at Sony Pictures, it wasn’t “just someone’s tossed-off B-side, not something played while the final credits ran, but something that worked for a smart, artistic movie.”

Could lightning strike again? Many of this year’s potential song nominees come from similarly popular, and respected, rock and pop writers. They include (alphabetically, by film title):

Big Fish – “Man of the Hour” (Eddie Vedder)
“Big Fish” was something of an evolution for director Tim Burton, according to Vollack, “a more emotional movie, dealing with universal themes (that) opened up the canvas a bit.” When it came time to select someone to write a song for the film, Burton and Vollack had one choice: Pearl Jam.
“We weren’t about to go on a big search. If Pearl Jam didn’t want to do it, that was that,” she says. But the band responded with “Man of the Hour,” a simply played meditative ballad.

Brother Bear – “No Way Out,” “Great Spirits” (Phil Collins)
Collins started work on his upbeat score for Disney’s animated adventure set in the ancient Pacific Northwest even before he won the song Oscar for his last film, “Tarzan.” He says he started by looking at paintings of unspoiled landscapes, “wide-open skies with lots of great scenery, and I wrote lyrics for the Great Spirits. My job is to write songs that will carry the story along. The sentiments of the film are forgiveness, compassion and understanding (and) the songs are very specific in their feel.”

Cold Mountain – “You Will Be My Ain True Love” (Sting); “The Scarlet Tide” (T Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello)
Bluegrass vocalist Alison Krauss sings both songs. The Sting tune reoccurs throughout the film: “For Inman (Jude Law), it’s the haunting voice of Ada (Nicole Kidman), which replays in his head while he’s at war and on his journey back home,” says Miramax music chief Randy Spendlove. “Sting had read the book, and was so inspired that he stepped outside of himself into early Americana.”
Song producer Burnett hadn’t read the book, but many of his Nashville musician friends are fans. “They loved it and talked about how important music was to the story,” Burnett reports. To co-write “The Scarlet Tide,” heard in the finale, he enlisted Elvis Costello. The two exchanged ideas while Costello was on tour, finally meeting in L.A. for lunch at Costello’s hotel. Before they were finished eating, they had moved to the hotel bar to compose a bare-bones tune on the piano.

Dirty Pretty Things “Glass, Concrete and Stone” (David Byrne)
After viewing a rough cut of the film, Byrne was so moved by the story of immigrants living under the radar in modern London, he says, “I didn’t think I could write anything to match it.”
Director Stephen Frears rejected his initial effort; going back to the drawing board, Byrne composed a song about displacement and homelessness, a theme in many of his songs, so it “wasn’t a big stretch” for him.

Down With Love – “Here’s to Love” (Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman)
This takeoff on the Doris Day-Rock Hudson romantic comedies is unique in that its song is actually performed on-screen by stars Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger.
“The tone is very much in the style of the brilliant Jimmy Van Heusen-Sammy Cahn songs, early ’60s Rat-Pack style,” says composer Marc Shaiman (who also appears as the piano player). The five-time Oscar nominee had finished the song when the stars came back for reshoots, “so they came over and recorded it. We had so much fun, and they were so charming, that we all said, ‘let’s complete this fantasy totally and film it.’ ”

Gods and Generals – “Going Home” (Mary Fahl, Glenn Patscha, Byron Isaacs); “Cross the Green Mountain” (Bob Dylan)
Writer-director Ronald Maxwell’s Civil War epic is bookended by Fahl’s poignant opening song, and Dylan’s ballad over the end titles. Per Maxwell, “the extraordinary serendipity about Mary’s song is that she captured the soul of the movie without seeing it,” utilizing 19th-century musical colors. She got to the heart of the story, about the importance of home.” Dylan, who won for “Things Have Changed” in 2000, wrote “an anthem-like song with its roots firmly in Appalachia. The lyrics almost come right out of the 19th century.”

In America – “Time Enough for Tears” (Bono, Gavin Friday,Maurice Seezer)
According to Friday, the song came about after Bono and singer Andrea Corr saw an early version of the film. The story of Irish immigrants in New York touched them so deeply that two days later, they were in Friday’s small studio, recording. Corr was situated in the studio’s loo (“you get the best sound there,” Friday confides) and nailed the song on the second take. “The vocal you hear, that’s Andrea, one take, untouched,” Friday says.

Legally Blonde 2 “We Can” (Diane Warren)
The six-time Oscar nominee was immediately attracted to the script for “Legally Blonde 2.” “It spoke to me, because I love animals — I’m a real animal-rights activist.” When she sat down to work the next day, the line “we can do the impossible” popped into her head, and she knew she was on the right track.
Anita Camarata, MGM’s exec VP music worldwide, says she and director Charles Herman-Wurmfeld both loved the song, but a few execs couldn’t get their ears around Warren’s demo — until they heard LeAnn Rimes sing the rousing anthem.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King – “Into the West” (Howard Shore, Fran Walsh, Annie Lennox)
Not only did Lennox have the perfect voice for the picture, says composer Howard Shore, “Annie even joked that she looked Elvish,” and could have been cast in the film. In August, the three began workshopping music based on a theme from “Return’s” penultimate scene, a piece called ‘Grey Havens,’ which evolved into “Into the West.”
“It’s all part of the process,” Shore says of the song’s birth, “working through ideas until you feel you’ve arrived at the best you can do. It’s a product of human will and time.”

A Mighty Wind – “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” (Michael McKean, Annette O’Toole)
The husband-and-wife thesps wrote the tune that gives “A Mighty Wind” its emotional core: Will long-estranged folk duo Mitch and Mickey kiss at the end?
The song almost didn’t make it into the film. Director Christopher Guest “thought it was too straight a song,” O’Toole says. They wrote another, poppier tune, but it was finally decided that since “they play it so straight, (the original) worked.”
For McKean, “It’s the least foolish song.” Then again, he adds, “It’s about a man who is kind of tragically foolish.”

Mona Lisa Smile – “The Heart of Every Girl” (Elton John, Bernie Taupin)
It took two passes for legendary rocker Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin to get the song right. John was in Atlanta working on music for his stage version of “The Vampire Lestat” when he got the call.
The filmmakers were looking for a ’50s-style song for the film; the first version was what John calls “a Ray Charles ballad. They heard and said, ‘We like it, but we need an uptempo one,’ ” so John reworked the song, giving it what he calls “a Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin feel.” John had “no qualms about rewriting a song.” In fact, he says, “it’s quite useful to write a song after you’ve had a practice run at it.”

(Jon Burlingame contributed to this report.)

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