Previously: 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989
"Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)" -- Dick Tracy [Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim]
Joe: When I proposed this idea to Mark, I pretty quickly realized that I was going to have to stretch the boundaries of our '80s mission statement to include 1990, because there's no way I was going to stop ONE YEAR SHORT of Madonna finally having her moment of Oscar glory. We've talked in previous posts about glaring Madonna snubs, from "Crazy for You" to "Live to Tell" to "Into the Groove." Whether she'd won over the Academy voters through attrition or whether Sondheim's involvement lent her respectability is a matter for debate, I suppose. The latter seems more credible, particularly considering the next time a Madonna song brushed by Oscar, it was with another Broadway legend, Andrew Lloyd Webber, at the reins. (Yes, theater queens, I just drew an equivalency between Sondheim and ALW; stop fanning yourselves with your Playbills.) ANYWAY! It's lesser Sondheim, but it's still pretty tuneful, it doesn't tax Madonna's vocal range too much, and it helped inspire the album that gave us "Vogue," so who's complaining?
Mark: I can't prove it, but I'm convinced that if Madonna had written this song, it wouldn't have gotten nominated. There's always been a bias against her in Academy circles, whether among the Grammy folk (who didn't giver her serious attention until Ray of Light) or the Oscar crowd, who overlooked all the songs Joe mentioned and spent the 90s ignoring sparkling soundtrack cuts like "I'll Remember" and "Beautiful Stranger."
But that's beside the point, since "Sooner or Later" obviously did get nominated. I would've chosen "More," which features dazzling lyrics and a zippy tune, but this song is stunning. The rhyme scheme changes about 40 times, but the thinking in the lyrics is so clear that you barely notice the craft. Instead of clever assonance, you can focus on the story of a confident woman who always gets her man.
"Promise Me You'll Remember" -- The Godfather Part III [Music: Carmine Coppola; Lyrics: John Bettis]
Joe: Because you know what movie needed a jazzy love theme from the likes of Harry Connick, Jr.? The Godfather, Part III. And yes, I realize the modernity of a Connick song isn't strictly out of place with Part III taking place in contemporary times, but it still feels like a cheap attempt to cash in on the "cool" cache of the Godfather brand. That said, I'm pretty predisposed against anything Harry Connick Jr. does anyway, so maybe I'm not an objective judge here.
Mark: I'm not a Harry Connick hater -- he stirred some of my earliest yearnings when he appeared in a tank top in Little Man Tate -- and I'm also not opposed to Lite Jazz. But come on: This song is a dentist's office. It's a fancy supermarket. It is not a piece of music that demands attention or merits a major award. Again, just listen to "More" from Dick Tracy and explain to me how that got passed over for this. Family-legacy nostalgia for Carmine Coppola be damned.
"Somewhere in My Memory" -- Home Alone [Music: John Williams; Lyrics: Leslie Bricusse]
Joe: Holy shit, this music had lyrics to it?? John Williams, you tricky bastard. Always looking for ways to parlay single Oscar nominations into doubles. As you may know, Home Alone carved a place for itself in my pre-adolescent heart long before I discovered that -- as a serious-minded film enthusiast -- I was supposed to hate it, so the music certainly does bring back fond memories. But as a standalone song, the children's-choir thing isn't making it happen.
Mark: Let us never speak ill of Home Alone, as that movie has burrowed so deeply into my brain that whenever a little kid is irritating me in a restaurant, I think, "Look what you did you little JERK!" But yeah, Joe's right: This song is boring. As it happens, this was also the first Oscar-cast I watched from start to finish. and even at 12 years old, I knew that "Somewhere in My Memory" was a weak link.
"I'm Checkin' Out" -- Postcards from the Edge [Music and lyrics: Shel Silverstein]
Joe: I'm sorry, I can't look at the title of this song without being immediately reminded of the Simpsons parody of a gaudy Broadway musical, "Checkin' In!" Luckily, I have YouTube here to remind me what a great movie-ending song this was, or at least what a rousing spin Meryl Streep puts on it. I like Reba McEntire as much as the next non-Southerner, but what a pity Streep wasn't there to sing it herself (nor for her Best Actress nomination -- what the hell?). Watching Meryl do what she does here, and in A Prairie Home Companion, it seems obvious what kind of musicals she should be doing onscreen, and what she shouldn't.
Mark: Though he's mostly remembered for Where The Sidewalk Ends and The Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein also wrote a lot of great songs, including "A Boy Named Sue" and this high-stepping ditty that Meryl Streep just nails. Joe's right: It's amazing how great she sounds here and how, um, less great she sounds in that other, terrible movie that shall remain nameless.
"Blaze of Glory" -- Young Guns II [Music and lyrics: Jon Bon Jovi]
Joe: I suppose I can't be surprised that Bon Jovi's reputation has taken a nose dive in the last 15 years or so, given the milquetoast makeover the band -- and Jon Bon Jovi in particular -- has undergone. No, they didn't have very far to go, and lord knows they'll always be hated by the metalheads, but I have to stick up for a band that was this much of a hitmaker. And "Blaze of Glory" is bombastic fun in all the best Bon Jovi ways. There was absolutely no reason to make a Young Guns II, but for this song alone, I'm glad they did.
Mark: Fun fact! This song is credited solely to Jon Bon Jovi, not the band Bon Jovi, and it's the title track to his first solo album, which also doubled as the "song score" for Young Guns II. (And you thought Glee invented corporate synergy!) But all that brand positioning aside, "Blaze of Glory" still rocks in the friendliest way. Since I've never had use for authentic metal, this is exactly the kind of melodic rock that I prefer.
Joe: The presence of "Blaze of Glory" keeps the streak of hits in the Best Song race alive, but the sprit of '80s pop dominance is already lost here, in favor of retro-period sounds and John Williams nomination-padding. And while, sure, there were other, better songs that could have made the cut -- Roxette's ineligible "It Must've Been Love" from Pretty Woman; something from Cry-Baby; probably not "Turtle Power" from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, though -- you could sense the volume of great original movie songs drying up. Still, I can think of three songs who would make for worthy winners, so it's not all bad. At the risk of earning the ire of Madonna fans (who are kind of defensive? or haven't you heard?), I think I'm casting my vote with "I'm Checkin' Out."
Mark: Well, look... I'm a huge Madonna fan, and I don't feel defensive at all for declaring "Sooner or Later" the rightful winner in this category. It's Sondheim, people, and even if it's not as brilliant as "Every Day a Little Death," it's still a glorious piece of songwriting whose sultry swagger and subtle craft just dwarf the other nominees. I mean, I really like "Blaze of Glory" and "I'm Checkin' Out," but they're just tasty snacks next to a delicious meal.