Talking About Movies

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Tomorrow is Oscar night, and while music-themed movies were shut out this year (Cadillac Records had the best shot), the seasonal uptick in movie talk got me thinking about my own all-time nominees for Best Picture With A Musical Theme. Here they are for your thoughtful consideration:

Nashville: To the critics’ credit, this one was recognized immediately as the masterpiece it was and is. Thirty-four years after it was made, it hasn’t lost a drop of its power and relevance. The performers wrote many of their own songs (and did all their own singing), and their characters were in many cases modeled on real country stars. The resulting music was fresh but still familiar, new but rooted in Nashville tradition. The real Nashville hated it, but it was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. The only winner was Keith Carradine for I’m Easy, his signature song in the film.

Tender Mercies: Mac Sledge let the bottle bring him down. Can love bring him back? Robert Duvall’s performance as the country singer who hits bottom in a Texas motel earned him an Academy Award, and Horton Foote’s screenplay won one, too. This is not an eventful film: Mac’s epiphanies are mostly introspective ones, which makes Duvall’s performance all the more remarkable.

I’m Not There: Bob Dylan’s music was the soundtrack for my life for a while in the 1960’s, and means a lot to me still, so I approached this movie with caution. It took six actors to complete Director Todd Haynes’s picture of Dylan: could he fuse those portrayals into a movie that worked as a movie, and keep old Dylan hands like me happy with the way he treated man and music? He could and did. The film worked for me at every level, and I was disappointed when the only Oscar nomination it received was for Cate Blanchett’s brilliant Jude Quinn (the Don’t Look Back/Daniel Kramer Dylan). She shoulda won.

O Brother, Where Art Thou: Until T-Bone Burnett put this soundtrack together, there weren’t too many folks expecting to see Man of Constant Sorrow rocketing up the pop charts, but there it was. The soundtrack has sold over 8 million (no typo – 8 million!) copies and is the biggest boost old-time and bluegrass music has ever recieved. If those 8 million buyers listened all the way through they heard The Stanley Brothers, Emmylou Harris, The Fairfield Four, and more – you know the list because you’ve likely got the CD. As much great music as T-Bone has brought to us over the years, he’ll have a tough time topping this one. And the movie’s not bad, either! Nominated for two Oscars (screenplay and cinematography), but no wins.

Coal Miner’s Daughter: A great story, well told, but this movie is all about Sissy Spacek for me. She was ambivalent about taking the role of Loretta Lynn, and believed her insistence on doing her own singing would make up the studio’s mind for her. It didn’t put them off (Loretta Lynn wanted her) and I don’t think it would have worked any other way. It’s a transcendant performance, not an imitation of Loretta, but more like a redefinition. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading right now and come back after the credits. Coal Miner’s Daughter received seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture: Sissy Spacek’s Best Actress award was the only win.

Vote for your own winner in the poll below – I’ll cast the first vote, for Tender Mercies by a nose over Nashville. If your pick is not on my list, tell us about it in comments. Thanks, and I’ll see you at the movies!

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