Eye on the Oscars: Music

Act of Valor
Song: “For You”
Music and Lyrics: Monty Powell and Keith Urban
Performed by: Keith Urban
Style: Mid-tempo blend of alternative and country stylings with a big arena-rock chorus
Placement: End credits
Oscar pedigree: None
“I didn’t want to try and relate with a soldier,” says Urban, “because I knew that wouldn’t be genuine enough. I thought about what I would do for my loved ones and tried to write universally about sacrifice, so even people who didn’t agree with the film could understand.”

“Brave”
Song: “Touch the Sky”
Music: Alex Mandel
Lyrics: Mark Andrews and Mandel
Performed by: Julie Fowlis
Style: Upbeat ballad with a Scottish lilt
Placement: Against Merida’s ride through the forest as she escapes her castle life
Oscar pedigree: None
“The emotion of that scene is pure, ecstatic joy and freedom,” says Mandel. “We were thrilled that Pixar and Disney chose (Scottish folk singer) Julie Fowlis; she lent such authenticity.”

Chasing Ice
Song: “Before My Time”
Music and Lyrics: J. Ralph
Performed by: Scarlett Johansson and Joshua Bell
Style: A slow-burn, soulful ballad with intimate violin
Placement: End credits
Oscar pedigree: None
“The credits almost are a distillation of the film as a whole and is a kind of meditation on the subject,” says Ralph, “I wanted to embody that in this song and reveal ideas and feelings without being too literal.”

“Frankenweenie”
Song: “Strange Love”
Music and Lyrics: Karen O
Performed by: Karen O
Style: Quirky ditty not afraid to pair calypso with bongos and eerie Theremin solo, howling dogs included.
Placement: End credits
Oscar pedigree: None
“I heard the voice of Yma Sumac, queen of exotica, immediately in my head as soon as the film was over and it kicked off the approach I was going to take,” says O. “The film itself has a sort of magical nostalgic quality that reminded me of (Burton’s) earlier films and 20 years worth of inspiration just came flooding out through that.”

Katy Perry: Part of Me
Song: “Wide Awake”
Music and Lyrics: Katy Perry, Lukasz Gottwald, Bonnie McKee, Max Martin & Henry Walter
Performed by: Katy Perry
Style: Synth pop ballad in which teenage dreams and California girls are swapped for heartbreak
Placement: End credits
Oscar pedigree: None
“The inspiration for ‘Wide Awake’ was a retrospective of my past couple of years,” says Perry. “It was both a way to close the chapter at this point in my life, as well as a hopeful look forward of things to come.”

“Les Miserables”
Song: “Suddenly”
Music: Claude-Michel Schonberg
Lyrics: Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer
Performed by: Hugh Jackman
Style: Soliloquy with string quartet
Placement: During carriage ride to Paris after Jean Valjean rescues Cosette.
Oscar pedigree: None
“We wanted it to be very simple and not overproduced for that first moment of tenderness and love between Valjean and the little girl,” Boublil says. “Suddenly the sight of this little girl, hoping he’s going to be father and mother to her, opens up his heart to a feeling he’s never felt before,” says Schonberg.

“Promised Land”
Song: “Snake Eyes”
Music and Lyrics: The Milk Carton Kids (Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan)
Performed by: The Milk Carton Kids
Style: A waltzy, somber ballad full of nostalgia and subdued guitar work.
Placement: Plays over an emotional montage near the end of the film, when Matt Damon’s character reflects on his work and life with nostalgia.
Oscar pedigree: None
“It’s awkward to write a song directly to a scene, but we just wanted to approach it from the film’s themes,” says Joey Ryan.”It’s about Matt Damon’s character looking back on his achievements yet not wanting to be where he is at in life. It’s a reflection with a sense of duality.”

“The Odd Life of Timothy Green”
Song: “This Gift”
Music and Lyrics: Glen Hansard
Performed by: Glen Hansard
Style: Folk tune accompanied by acoustic piano, drums and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus
Placement: End credits
Oscar pedigree: Winner for “Falling Slowly” from the film “Once”
“I was thinking in terms of the parents and Timothy not from my life and my experiences, which is all I ever usually write,” Hansard says. “Writing a song for the movie you just have to be true to the character; it sort of feels like the pressure’s off a bit more”

“Rise of the Guardians”
Song: “Still Dream”
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire
Performed by: Renee Fleming
Style: Film’s main theme turned into aria for opera star.
Placement: End credits
Oscar pedigree: Four score noms for Desplat, none for Lindsay-Abaire
“We called it the ‘belief’ theme for the kids; when they start to believe again, the guardians will continue to exist,” says Desplat. “The melody was very difficult, more than two octaves, rather perilous and virtuoso; the first soprano I could think of was Renee Fleming, maybe the best in the world.”

“Silver Linings Playbook”
Song: “Silver Lining”
Music and Lyrics: Diane Warren
Performed by: Jessie J
Style: Love song with a big, radio-friendly beat
Placement: During a scene of Pat and Tiffany rehearsing their dance
Oscar pedigree: six noms
“I wanted a song that tied everything together, about these two quirky people that no one gets, but they get each other,” says Warren. “When an artist sings a song in a movie, it’s almost like casting a character. I thought Jessie J would be right because she’s kind of quirky, too, but also one of the best singers in pop music.”

“Snow White and the Huntsman”
Song: “Breath of Life”
Music and Lyrics: Florence Welch and Isabella Summers
Performed by: Florence + the Machine.
Style: Ominous melody complete with banging percussion, a 110-piece orchestra and a soaring choir to match Welch’s haunting vocals
Placement: End credits
Oscar pedigree: None
“As the lyrics were forming it was coming from the evil queen’s perspective ’cause she’s such a fascinating character,” says Welch. “It wasn’t a conscious decision, but it seemed I was channeling her. … The song sounds heavenly and hellish all at the same time, beautiful and scary like the queen herself.”

“Stand Up Guys”
Song: “Not Running Anymore”
Music and Lyrics: Jon Bon Jovi
Performed by: Jon Bon Jovi
Style: Stripped-down ballad with a heavy folk influence
Placement: Used mid-film in a reflective sequence with main characters
Oscar pedigree: Nominated for “Blaze of Glory” from “Young Guns II”
“Your mind’s eye sees something within the film and you want to write to what’s on screen,” says Bon Jovi. “I took a lot of inspiration from dialogue and tone, writing literally to the project.”

“Still Alive”
Song: “Still Alive”
Music and Lyrics: Paul Williams
Performed by: Paul Williams
Style: confessional ballad
Placement: End credits
Oscar pedigree: One win, five other noms
“The song is a chance for me to really write about what I experienced,” says Williams. “I’m 22 years sober and I’ve had two lives. The heart of the song is in the chorus: ‘If you’re lucky, when it’s over, the dreamer’s still alive; oh blessed mystery, for sweeter souls did not survive.'”

“Wreck-It Ralph”
Song: “When Can I See You Again” from
Music and Lyrics: Adam Young and Matt Thiessen
Performed by: Owl City
Style: A whiff of electronic pop with synth-heavy feel good vibe
Placement: End credits
Oscar pedigree: None
“There was sort of a cool ambiguity about (creating the song),” says Young. “The last scene of the movie … makes you emotional and (it’s) tear jerking,” adds Thiessen. “So having that in my heart and Adam’s heart after we left the meeting was a lot to think about it and it inspired the topic of the song.”

“10 Years”
Song: “Never Had”
Music and Lyrics: Oscar Isaac and Alan Doyle
Performed by: Oscar Isaac
Style: A laidback acoustic tune with folksy harmonies
Placement: Isaac’s character plays the tune for a high-school love at the film’s climax.
Oscar pedigree: None
“The idea of regret is one of the most moving to me,” says Isaac, “and I wanted the song to speak about the feeling of wishing something could have happened and how it feels to think back.”

Eye on the Oscars: Music
Soundtracks fuel narrative drive | Elfman’s full deck | Phantasmagoric ‘Pi’ filling | Catastrophic yet sensitive | A ‘Green’ approach to acoustics | Adele’s brush with Bond | Middle-Earth maestro | A bridesmaid’s London calling | Toon tunesmith | Song: In their own words

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