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Oscar contenders for best song

A sample of films trying to hit all the right notes

BEOWULF
Tune: “A Hero Comes Home”
Writers: Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri
Oscar pedigree: Ballard (one nom), Silvestri (two noms)
Performer: Idina Menzel
Context: Queen Wealthow (Robin Wright Penn) serenades Beo-wulf to inspire him to battle and caution him about glory. Also closing credits.
Advantage: Works within the movie’s song-as-storytelling tradition.
Disadvantage: New Age song lacks machismo — especially for a pic about a loincloth warrior.
In their own words: “We listened to Celtic and Scandinavian folk music,” Ballard says, “and were heavily inspired by the rhythms and cadences of Seamus Heaney’s wonderful recitation of the poem.”

DAN IN REAL LIFE
Tune: “To Be Surprised”
Writer-performer: Sondre Lerche
Context: Opening sequence as Dan (Steve Carell) is going about his morning routine.
Advantage: Fresh-faced, Norwegian twentysomething’s music is intoxicating and toe-
tapping.
Disadvantage: Lerche might be considered an indie upstart by old-schoolers.
In their own words: “The film kicks off when they get on the highway,” Lerche explains, “and (director) Peter Hedges wanted something that would set the film going.”

INTO THE WILD
Tune: “Guaranteed”
Writer-performer: Eddie Vedder
Context: At the onset of Chris McCandless’ hitchhiking trip in Arizona; also over end credits.
Advantage: Contemplative, folksy tone establishes the film’s wanderlust theme.
Disadvantage: Vedder could be competing with himself given the strength of the film’s three other singles: “No Ceiling,” “Rise” and “Society.”
In their own words: “It wasn’t hard for me to understand the (film’s hero),” Vedder says. “I still have strong memories of being at that age where you see the bullshit in the world and want to know how you can address it.”

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA
Song: “La Despedida”
Writers: Shakira and Antonio Pinto
Performer: Shakira
Context: During film’s pivotal funeral scene.
Advantage: A soulful Andean bolero exhibits the Colombian diva’s best side: Spanish-
language balladry.
Disadvantage: The film suffered from unfavorable reviews and poor audience turnout.
In their words: “It was (a) refreshing (opportunity) to step out of the pop world and write a dream song about the lament of the Andes,” Shakira says. “It’s about love and death, and it explores the indigenous sounds of Colombia.”

ENCHANTED
Tune: “That’s How You Know”
Writers: Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz
Oscar pedigree: Menken (15 noms, eight wins), Schwartz (five noms, three wins)
Performer: Amy Adams
Context: Giselle teaches Robert about what girls like, backed by a motley crew of Central Park denizens.
Advantage: A “get-up-and-sing” tune conceived in the classic vein of “Under the Sea” from “Little Mermaid.”
Disadvantage: Adams is not necessarily a trained singer (but neither is “Sweeney Todd’s” Johnny Depp).
In their own words: “The underlying concept in the film was to musically progress in time through Disney tunes,” Schwartz says.
“‘Know’ is in the style of the second golden age of Disney animation musicals, post-1989.”

WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY
Tune: “Walk Hard”
Writers: Marshall Crenshaw, John C. Reilly, Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan
Performer: John C. Reilly
Context: Dewey impresses the record label in the studio with his first hit.
Advantage: This title tune might be a parody, but Reilly’s Johnny Cash baritone puts Joaquin Phoenix to shame.
Disadvantage: “South Park’s” “Blame Canada!” notwithstanding, song parodies rarely win noms, let alone awards.
In their own words: “It has a Waylon Jennings groove with some Roy Orbison melodrama thrown in,” Crenshaw says. “I guess the bottom line is that it’s sort of powerful and ridiculous at the same time.”

THE GOLDEN COMPASS
Tune: “Lyra”
Writer-performer: Kate Bush
Context: Closing credits
Advantage: This New Age paean to the film’s feral young heroine is trademark Bush.
Disadvantage: Bush’s ethereal stylings are an acquired taste for many.
In their own words: “Because I already knew the books, I was able to sketch out the song before I had seen the film,” Bush says. “It’s an anthem of sorts.”

HAIRSPRAY
Tune: “Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)”
Writers: Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman
Oscar pedigree: Shaiman (five noms)
Performers: Queen Latifah, Nikki Blonsky, Zac Efron and Elijah Kelley
Context: Closing credits
Advantage: An upbeat summer pop song, with an ’80s bent, that sends auds dancing out of the theater.
Disadvantage: Voters could decide a new tune written specifically for the movie is a bit too calculated.
In their own words: “This was conceived as a put-the-top-down, Motown groove, Aretha Franklin-like ‘Freeway of Love’ song,” says Wittman.

WAITRESS
Tune: “Baby Don’t You Cry (The Pie Song)”
Writers: Andrew Hollander and Adrienne Shelly
Performer: Quincy Coleman
Context: Jenna (Keri Russell) sings it to her lover (Nathan Fillion) and later to her baby. Also closing credits.
Advantage: If the Acad overlooks Shelly’s swan song in other categories, they might pucker up to this lovey-dovey, Southern ditty.
Disadvantage: It’s as sugary sweet as the film’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink pies.
In their own words: “It was important that the song felt timeless,” says Hollander, who wrote music to Shelly’s lyrics. “It needed to be the kind of song you could just sing while you were baking a pie.”

GRACE IS GONE
Tune: “Lullaby for Wyatt”
Writer-performer: Sheryl Crow
Context: Widower Stanley Philipps (John Cusack) takes his daughters to the store to buy dresses.
Advantage: Crow is becoming the go-to gal for a motion picture’s trademark power ballad.
Disadvantage: The song’s overwhelming sadness might prove a downer for Acad voters.
In their own words: “The meaning (of the song) is that we cannot save our children from all that life will hand them,” Crow explains, “but we can guide them with love and merely be there.”

THE WATER HORSE: LEGEND OF THE DEEP
Tune: “Back Where You Belong”
Writer-performer: Sinead O’Connor
Context: End credits
Advantage: O’Connor, who’s gone in and out of retirement more times than Muhammad Ali, wields the rep of misunderstood genius.
Disadvantage: Fear on the Academy’s part that O’Connor might inexplicably rip a picture of prexy Sid Ganis live onstage.
In their own words: “I admired that a movie for children would deal with the realities which they find hard to face — such as war and the death of loved ones,” O’Connor says.

THE LAST MIMZY
Tune: “Hello (I Love You)”
Writers: Roger Waters and Howard Shore
Oscar pedigree: Shore (three wins)
Performer: Roger Waters
Context: Closing credits
Advantage: The Acad seems enamored of rock icons, and this is quintessential Waters with shades of classic Pink Floyd.
Disadvantage: The movie came and went without a trace.
In their own words: “The idea was to connect with the innocence of childhood,” Waters says. “Each of us are born with pure souls, but we become tainted by this big old, ugly world. We need to try and appeal to what is good in us.”

ONCE
Tune: “Falling Slowly”
Writers-performers: Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova
Context: Guy (Hansard) gravitates toward Girl (Irglova) over a heartful piano duet.
Advantage: The romance’s ardent fans have elevated it to this year’s “The Notebook,” but with alt-pop cred.
Disadvantage: A small film with no-name actors faces an uphill struggle among screened-out Acad voters.
In their own words: “John Carney (the director) was so moved by this love song he designed all the scenes around it,” Hansard says. “He said, ‘That’s our central song.'”

AMERICAN GANGSTER
Tune: “Do You Feel Me”
Writer: Diane Warren
Awards pedigree: Six noms
Performer: Anthony Hamilton
Context: Drug kingpin Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) first meets his future wife Eva (Lymari Nadal).
Advantage: An Oscar favorite fashions a sexy ode to Motown.
Disadvantage: Acad is still hung over from “Dreamgirls.”
In their own words: “I love working with Kathy Nelson (head of Universal Music),” Warren says. “There can be a lot of opinions (in these matters), but when one person knows what they want, it’s a lot easier.”

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