It’s Gonna Be A “Reel” Songfest

Summer is the season of music festivals. All around the nation, hundreds of sweaty youths will drive hours to dusty fairgrounds under the blaring
sun to celebrate their favorite artists and songs. If you are a film buff, your music festival is coming to your television this week when the American Film Institute reveals their choices for the 100 greatest songs in American movies. You can tune in to CBS on Tuesday, June 22 to see the television special that shows which of the 400 nominated songs made the final cut. Before you hear it from AFI, here are my choices for the top 5 songs in American movies.
1) “Over the Rainbow” (The Wizard of Oz, 1939) by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg Arlen and Harburg crafted this bittersweet ballad of hopes and dreams which became the signature song from this classic movie. Today it is one of the most beloved movie songs in history, and Judy Garland’s performance of it will forever overshadow all others who attempt to remake it. It is hard to imagine but the song was almost cut from the film! This song tops my list because Garland’s performance and the song itself are so iconic that “Over the Rainbow” and The Wizard of Oz will always be linked in our minds.
2) “Singin’ in the Rain” (Singin’ in the Rain, 1952) by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown In a musical where all the song and dance numbers are amazing, the one that makes this list is Gene Kelly dancing with an umbrella. This song captures Kelly’s absolute bliss as he sings and dances with abandon. The mood is celebratory and light hearted despite the fact that Kelly was ill during the shooting of the scene. He manages to make it look easy, and in doing so, helps make “Singin’ in the Rain” an unforgettable moment.
3) “As Time Goes By” (Casablanca, 1942) by Herman Hupfield In one of the greatest movies ever made, Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman share a romantic past and a romantic song. Dooley Wilson’s soulful performance will inspire the romantic in anyone. In Casablanca, it is as if the song is a supporting character. Amazingly, this song was another that almost did not make it into the movie, this time because composer Max Steiner objected. The success of the song led him to later admit that the song “must have had something to attract so much attention.”
4) “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (Meet Me in St. Louis, 1944) by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane Another Judy Garland performance, this song always brings tears to my eyes. It is a Christmas ballad laced with the blues and captures the sadness of the Smith family as they prepare to move from their beloved St. Louis for New York. Adding to the song’s sentiment is the accompanying scene of Margaret O’Brien’s Tootie smashing her snow people. Beautifully heartbreaking, the song is better known now than the film it originated in.
5) “My Heart Will Go On” (Titanic, 1997) by James Horner and Will Jennings It is the biggest movie ever about a pretty big boat and it came to have one of the biggest selling soundtracks of all time. It was honored and celebrated…until everyone got sick of it. Love it or hate it, one cannot ignore Titanic’s legacy, particularly this performance by Celine Dion. The song and Dion’s voice are as big as the movie, and it remains as a fixture in pop culture.
Tune in on Tuesday to see if the AFI voters agree with me and to catch your other favorite movie songs. I cannot resist the urge to present five more songs that I am hoping will be among the top one hundred. These songs are a few personal favorites of mine, but not as generally popular as the previous five songs. Nevertheless, I feel they deserve some recognition.
“Springtime For Hitler” (The Producers, 1968) by Mel Brooks This song is so over the top and so offensive, one cannot help but crack up each time I watch this movie. It is also so catchy I have to prevent myself from singing along. While the humor may be lost on some, I believe this may be the funniest song in any movie. The accompanying stage production is a spectacle which once seen is not easily forgotten.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” (Wayne’s World, 1992) by Freddie Mercury When Mike Meyers and company head bang to Queen’s rock ballad in the car, it is a moment of hilarity and reality. This scene is funny, not only because of the long hair flying, but also because we have all done our share of lip-syncing (and perhaps even head banging)… even if we never admit it.
“Tiny Dancer” (Almost Famous, 2000) by Elton John and Bernie Taupin Cameron Crowe’s movie is a modern musical that resurrects numerous classic
rock songs and Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” emerges as the most memorable song in the movie. It is the song that brings the feuding band back
together. The scene is refreshing and simple, and is another one that will make you want to sing along.
“When She Loved Me” (Toy Story 2, 1999) by Randy Newman This song brought unexpected tears in what is a fun and hilarious movie. Sarah McLachlan’s voice carries all the emotion and pain of abandonment so effectively that it makes audiences forget that it was all about an animated doll. This song is a surprising gem and in Toy Story 2 it proves that animation can convey all the power of drama.
“Save Me” (Magnolia, 1999) by Aimee Mann Director Paul Thomas Anderson wrote his script based on songs by Aimee Mann resulting in a melancholy, thought provoking film. “Save Me” is haunting and contains a powerful lyric in “Save me from the ranks of the freaks who suspect they could never love anyone.” The song was never a chart topper, and unjustly lost the Oscar race to Phil Collins for Tarzan, but rarely is a song so integral to the ultimate meaning of a movie.

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