Thursday, March 2, 2017

Oscars Post-mortem, Part 2: Ranking the Numbers

I love me some musical numbers at the Oscars. I know not everybody does, but I've always considered it a vital part of the show. Even though three consecutive years of Craig Zadan and Neil Meron wore me down a bit (and ABC too, given how reigned in the musical moments have been these last two years), I never say 'no' to some song and dance on Hollywood's holy night. I even welcome time for the orchestra to perform the Best Original Score nominees, which used to occasionally earn a 3-4 minute spotlight, but have been largely relegated to 10-second soundbites lately.

While Sunday night's warbling was limited to a mere five performances, I treasure them all, and do soever much enjoy celebrating them through a quick (and mostly arbitrary) ranking:


#5: "The Empty Chair", Sting
This year's obscure-documentary-with-a-song-by-J.-Ralph nominee (which is officially now a fixture in this Oscar decade) is the briefest, simplest, and most easily forgotten of the evening's song performances. That said, it's really quite lovely, blacking out the busyness and grandiosity of the stage to isolate Sting and his plaintive acoustic plucking with a solitary white spotlight.

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#4: "City of Stars/Audition", John Legend
While each song from La La Land is probably good enough to merit its own separate performance, I'll make do with this dulcet combo number. There are inherent limitations to having Legend sing these instead of Gosling and Stone,
but the new orchestration by Justin Hurwitz (particularly the piano segment for "Audition") and the bewitching choreography by Mandy Moore (culminating in dancers literally lifting off the ground) still manages to set the heart soaring anew.

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#3: "Can't Stop the Feeling", Justin Timberlake
The telecast's cold open with this funky remix of the bounciest song nominee -- with some Bill Withers thrown in for added flavour -- wins major points for the fun factor as well as efficiency (honestly, I'm surprised it's taken this long for an Oscars telecast to try it). The only reason it isn't higher on my ranking is A) he's lip-syncing a fair bit, probably due to all the moves he's busting, and B) some of the crowd don't seem that into it. One of my favourite post-mortem games this week has been rewatching the sequence and spotting people whose faces seem to cry, "Am I supposed to dancing? Can I sit down now?"
Clockwise from top: Michael Shannon looks bewildered; Jackie claps along, but his Snape-ish face seems to imply, "Stop the feeing"; Ryan's arms are motionless at his side -- Is he all danced out after La La Land?

All snark aside, it was a pretty ballin' way to kick off the show, and those who were into it were really into it (check out Javier)!

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#2: "How Far I'll Go", Lin-Manuel Miranda & Auli'i Cravalho
For its seamless confluence of great music, talent, staging and camera/editing, this comes close to being tops for me. Lin-Manuel's original rapped prologue may be more superfluous than super, but once Auli'i and her beautiful crystal voice and her wind machine take the stage its pure Oscary bliss. You get the impression you're seeing one of those 'a star is born' moments. She even gets clocked by one of the dancers' flags and doesn't miss a beat. What a pro!
Definitely excited to see how far she'll go.
This number also wins points for giving us a welcome splash of primary colour, while the others were largely monochromatic affairs.

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#1: "Both Sides, Now", Sara Bareilles
In the sombre reveal of Gene Wilder's death last summer, I had my armchair-producer's heart set on a bittersweet rendition of "Pure Imagination" as the only acceptable selection for this year's In Memoriam segment, which was already overpopulated with departed geniuses by the halfway point of 2016. But what we got instead was far and away the musical moment of the night.

Perhaps the emotional nature of the segment has as much to with it, but the gorgeous melancholy of Bareilles' cover of Joni Mitchell is enough to put a lump in my throat on even second and third listens. Everything about this is perfect: Bareilles' strong but delicate vocals, the lighting, the arrangement (oh God, the arrangement!), and even this fade-out shot before the station break --

Perfect.

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