Over the years, the Oscars have changed drastically. We’re now back to 10 Best Picture nominations, two hosts seem to be the normal shtick now (Seriously, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin were priceless. Why couldn’t that be a double dip?), and set pieces become more and more extravagant. Some still pine for Billy Crystal (this writer included), while others gripe about smaller details now lost. You know, like those film clips? What’s the deal? They used to actually show the actor’s performances. Now it’s just a name, an awkward pan to the actor in the audience, and bada bing, bada boom the winner. Yeah, it saves time and all, but something’s just missing.
One thing that’ll never change are the performances. While the Grammys have become a four-hour glorified all-stars concert, the Oscars still have to stick to its guns. The awards take precedence. Always. That’s why we’ll never see performances tossed to the side; simply because they’re the only things that tend to thrill or pick up the pace. Boy, does the show need it, too. Sometimes it’s just downright nails on a chalkboard. C’mon, don’t lie. You know you flip to another station whenever those over-the-top montages take up an hour and change – especially since they continue to use the theme from Dragonheart every…goddamn…year. Really? Give it up.
In hindsight, there aren’t that many memorable performances on the Oscars. Some come to mind as being odd or ironic (i.e. Three Six Mafia, anyone?) while others just seem fitting (e.g. Any Randy Newman inclusion). None of them ever eclipse those on, say, the Grammys or MTV’s Video Music Awards. But, some have come close. We collected our favorites, put ’em in a list (yeah, just five, folks), and gave our reasons. To be honest, these won’t surprise you much. In fact, you can probably guess a few right off the bat. They’re just that obvious. Still, there’s always those select few who just aren’t “with it.”
This one’s for you.
05. Robin Williams – “Blame Canada”
When Trey Parker and Matt Stone revealed they would be releasing the first, and only, South Park motion picture, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, no one at the time (1999) would have assumed in a million years it would be up for an Oscar. But Parker and Stone have proven time and time again that they are formidable song writers, and the film’s most extravagant cut, “Blame Canada”, went on to be nominated despite its use of profanity, for Best Song. Though tragedy had preceded the Awards show when voice actress Mary Kay Bergman (who was originally set to perform it) had committed suicide, comedian/actor Robin Williams went on to give a spectacle unlike any other. Appearing on stage with his mouth duck-taped in order to sound muffled like Kenny McCormick, Williams was accompanied by a marching parade of colorful characters and Canadian Mounties. He sang the satirical number through the perspectives of Kenny, Stan, Kyle and Cartman’s mothers, and referenced Canadian icons like Celine Dion and Bryan Adams. Like all things South Park, there is an underlying message involved, depicting how Americans scapegoat others rather than blaming themselves. Though the song lost to Phil Collins’ “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Tarzan (really?!), it was definitely one of the most enjoyable productions at an Academy Awards show, thanks to Williams’ frenzied performance. Hey, we got Phil Collins hill out of it, too. -Daniel Koren
04. Glen Hasnard & Margaret Irglova – “Falling Slowly”
Colin Farrell’s introduction to Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s Oscar performance of “Falling Slowly” referred to Once as “the little movie that could.” Although said in jest, he had a point – the film was produced on a minuscule budget, shot in less than three weeks, and starred non-professional actors (Hansard and Irglová) with an 18-year age gap as romantic interests. Yet despite the odds, its charm and fantastic soundtrack landed Once in festivals, on critics’ lists and in audiences’ hearts on a global scale. When announcements for Oscar nominations were released, controversy abounded about “Falling Slowly”‘s eligibility because the track previously appeared both on Hansard’s The Frames’ album and The Swell Season’s self-titled debut. When the duo took to stage at the Academy Awards in February 2008, though, none of that mattered. The orchestra’s tremolo paired alongside the signature piano melody, his deep vibrato with her fragile harmony, the incredible intimacy in such a large setting – it was mesmerizing. The duo ended up winning the award, with Irglová’s inspiring thank-you speech putting words to what none of us could verbalize: “Fair play to those who dare to dream and don’t give up. This song was written from a perspective of hope, and hope at the end of the day connects us all, no matter how different we are.” Listening to the triumphant horns and choir at the end of their performance, we can’t help but agree. -Caitlin Meyer
03. Bruce Springsteen – “Streets of Philadelphia”
E Street fans tend to scoff at parts of Bruce Springsteen’s solo discography – specifically his ’90s entries like Human Touch or Lucky Town, admittedly weaker releases whose titular songs really only merit the listen. However, there’s no arguing his inclusions on film soundtracks. Springsteen nailed it on his own. While dated and a tad cheesy (especially if you get the “quotes” version), Jerry Maguire‘s “Secret Garden” stands as one of the best love songs of the ’90s. Sure, it’d be a tad ridiculous to place it next to his previous work – hell, it’s no “State Trooper”, that’s for sure – but it works for the time. Scale back two years, though. Before he got comfortable in the film industry, The Boss was tapped to pen a song for Jonathan Demme’s tragic 1993 film, Philadelphia. To date, “Streets of Philadelphia” is one of his finest works ever. Working with synths and a gloomy, atmospheric underbelly, Springsteen’s sprawling story hits damn hard. When he performed at the ’94 Oscars, he wasn’t the Springsteen we know today. He stood triumphantly at the mic, with a very stoic yet battled demeanor, digressing on the song’s iconic lyrics, which would win him the Oscar soon after. Technically he should have two wins under his belt, but apparently the Academy had their heads up their asses when they neglected to nominate him for “The Wrestler” back in ’09. What gives? Oh well, there’s always this. Bruuuuce! -Michael Roffman
02. Bjork – “I’ve Seen It All”
Perhaps the only thing better than BjÃ¶rk’s mesmerizing leading turn in Lars Von Trier’s bleak tour-de-force musical/drama Dancer in the Dark was Selmasongs, the film’s soundtrack which she co-wrote and performed on. Despite spanning only seven songs in just over a half-hour, the soundtrack serves as a perfect extension of the film’s overwhelming sense of joy in the face of the harsh realities of life. “I’ve Seen It All”, in particular, plays off of these sentiments, pairing BjÃ¶rk with Thom Yorke for one of the more moving moments of either icon’s storied career. While the film itself polarized audiences and critics around the world (it took home the Palme d’Or at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, but was panned by many critics and failed to stir much up attention at the box office), the Academy deemed “I’ve Seen it All” worthy of a nomination for Best Original Song, pitting Iceland’s proudest export against the likes of Bob Dylan, Susanne Hoffs (of the Bangles), CoCo Lee, and Sting. Not one to be shown up, though, BjÃ¶rk infamously arrived at the 73rd Academy Awards in an odd swan-inspired dress and put on the show of a lifetime, singing the duet as if it were written just for one in a performance that, even today, remains perhaps the songstress’ most enduring impression on the American public (at least, SNL still seems to think so). -MÃ¶hammad Choudhery
01. Elliott Smith – “Miss Misery”
It’s amazing how graceful Elliott Smith could look despite feeling incredibly awkward inside. Told by the Academy that “Miss Misery” – which appeared during the credits of Good Will Hunting and was nominated for “Best Original Song” – would be performed at the 1997 Oscars whether or not he was behind the guitar, Smith endured being ridiculed for wanting to play sitting down and donned his white suit to deliver a somber, abridged version of the song as a part of a performance medley that sandwiched him in between Trisha Yearwood and Celine Dion, who both sang – yet didn’t pen – songs that were nominated in the same category. Ever humble in his inevitable defeat, Smith – who took his own life five years later – would later remark that playing in front of an audience comprised of a lot of people who didn’t come to hear him play was surreal, but that it was “fun to walk on the moon for a day.” -Ray Roa