The 8 weirdest original song nominees in recent memory

From "Crash" to "Vanilla Sky" to that "Phantom" adaptation, bet you didn't remember these movies had theme songs VIDEO

Topics: Video, crash, crouching tiger hidden dragon, music of the heart, shrek 2, best original song, the oscars, the phantom of the opera, gloria estefan, diane warren, randy newman, Editor's Picks,

The 8 weirdest original song nominees in recent memory

This year’s best original song race at the Oscars is stacked top-to-bottom with stars: Pharrell Williams’s “Despicable Me 2″ tune, “Happy,” is closing in on the number-one spot on the Billboard charts. U2′s “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” song, “Ordinary Love,” has already won a Golden Globe and sates the Irish supergroup’s fans a bit in the gap between album releases. Karen O’s “Moon Song” from “Her” is not merely the emotional high point of the film but also a lovely, low-key piece of music by a beloved singer-songwriter. And “Let It Go,” the song that catalyzes the entire plot of hit animated film “Frozen,” is a classic showstopper. All four will be performed at the Oscars.

But the music portion of the Academy Awards isn’t always so consistent: Indeed, Oscar watchers dodged a bullet with the disqualification of the theme song from the movie “Alone But Not Alone” (What? Exactly.) due to overzealous campaigning. As music in movies has fallen out of favor, with fewer original musicals and Disney cartoons getting produced, the nominees in this category have included end-credits songs you didn’t stick around for, paper-thin songs shoehorned into Broadway adaptations to try to snatch another nomination, and entries turned in by checked-out rock stars.

This year’s successful field, full of well-liked songs that made an impact in their movies and are performed by well-known stars, may well be a fluke; though Adele won the Oscar last year, her fellow nominees included the theme song for a documentary on global warming and the song no one remembers from “Les Misérables.” Sincere congratulations go out to those nominees, but really — in a category that’s been won by everything from “Over the Rainbow” to “Lose Yourself,” shouldn’t the field be comprised of songs you’d recognize on the radio, or have at least heard before?

Here are a few recent best original songs that raised our eyebrows. Maybe next year we’ll have even more to add to the list.

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    The Oscar best original song nominees that time forgot

    “In the Deep,” “Crash,” 2005

    Who remembers “Crash” had a theme song? For a brief period during the 2005 Oscars, it seemed like the performance by singer-songwriter Kathleen “Bird” York, which featured slo-mo dancing and burning cars in the background, would be the most discussed thing about “Crash” -- up until that film won best picture. Now, the song’s something of a historical oddity -- a low-key little song with little explicit connection to the plot of “Crash” at all.

    The Oscar best original song nominees that time forgot

    “Learn to Be Lonely,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” 2004

    “Chicago,” “Les Misérables” and “Dreamgirls” all shoehorned in at least one new song among the Broadway standards, a gambit intended to pad out their nomination totals (none ended up winning the big prize). But there’s something uniquely sad about the song from “Phantom,” whether because the film didn’t make much of an impact at the awards aside from its one new song, or because the opportunity to perform the song was taken away from the movie’s cast and went to Beyoncé, wearing a chandelier as a necklace.

    The Oscar best original song nominees that time forgot

    “A Love Before Time,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” 2000

    The trophy this year went to Bob Dylan, who performed in extreme close-up via satellite from Australia. But it still wasn’t quite as strange as the reenactment of the magical leaps from “Crouching Tiger,” reenacted in a low-fi manner as singer Coco Lee sang an English translation of her Mandarin theme song. The tune is saccharine in a way the film never is -- an attempt to reverse-engineer a “My Heart Will Go On”-style love theme.

    The Oscar best original song nominees that time forgot

    “Father and Daughter,” “The Wild Thornberrys Movie,” 2002

    Hey, Paul Simon got nominated for an Oscar for his musical contributions to a movie! Sorry, “Graduate” fans, it was for the theme song to an adaptation of a Nickelodeon series about a girl who can talk to animals.

    The Oscar best original song nominees that time forgot

    “Accidentally in Love,” “Shrek 2,” 2004

    This song came from a huge hit movie, sure, but it just shows how far the marquee song from an animated film had fallen by the 2000s. The Disney movies of the 1990s all had memorable, beloved theme songs; the pop-culture-obsessed “Shrek” shoehorned in a Counting Crows one-off they probably recorded by phone while on vacation.

    The Oscar best original song nominees that time forgot

    “That’ll Do,” “Babe: Pig in the City,” 1998

    Randy Newman has been nominated for 20 Academy Awards. The theme song from “Babe: Pig in the City” was one of them!

    The Oscar best original song nominees that time forgot

    “Music of My Heart,” “Music of the Heart,” 1999

    The subtly differently titled theme song from this Meryl Streep tearjerker was, at the time, a hit. But it’s not remembered as either one of ’N Sync or Gloria Estefan’s biggest hits, and sounds less like either of those acts than it does like the sound of a check clearing for songwriter Diane Warren, who’d done much more distinctive work in the category before.

    The Oscar best original song nominees that time forgot

    "Vanilla Sky," “Vanilla Sky,” 2001

    Sure, Paul McCartney’s a legend. But his nomination for the theme to the mind-bending Cameron Crowe film felt a little automatic; this isn’t quite as memorable as “Live and Let Die.”

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Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_

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