Best Original Song is a category I like to follow. About half the years we get a set of songs that have some mainstream success and the other half it’s five mediocre tunes by no-name artists. I think this year we have a fairly decent list of eligible songs and I’ll go through them to point out some of the best and the worst.

To be eligible, a song must be an original composition with lyrics, made specifically for the film. It must be played during the film or be the first song over the end credits. The nomination committee screens the songs as they appear in the film, so a song that fits particularly well within the film may get leg up over a better song that’s incongruous.

The Academy has released its list of 59 eligible songs. When you really listen to a bunch of movie songs in a row, they sort of sound all the same. For the most part they are either bland, inoffensive tunes to blend into the background or more upbeat tunes for montages (with the occasional tune from a musical). But some are good despite that while others bring some uniqueness. Let’s dive into them after the jump.

The Best

Grace Is Gone” (Jamie Cullum) from Grace Is Gone may be my favorite of the bunch. It’s a sad song, reflecting the subject of the film. Cullum has a great voice and he sells the solemn tone, backed by only a piano. Grace Is Gone made it to 7 theaters over two weekends before sadly disappearing so I never got a chance to see it, but I’ve read enough about it to hazard a guess as to where in the film the song appears and I imagine it packs quite a punch. See if you can listen to it without getting a chill down your spine. It’s also composed by Clint Eastwood so Clint may get his Oscar nod this year after all. “Lullabye for Wyatt” (Sheryl Crow) is the other song from the film. It’s bleak and decent, but nowhere near as good as the title track.

Two films are getting a lot of attention in this category due to multiple contenders. The first is Into the Wild, with its great soundtrack of fairly simple acoustic songs performed, and mostly written, by Eddie Vedder. The jangly, unadorned tunes are great accompaniment for the stark film. “Guaranteed” appears to be the prohibitive favorite, but I’m more a fan of “Rise” (it’s the first song on the video) with its more upbeat tempo. “Society” is sort of trite and is also the only eligible song not written by Vedder.

The other is Once, a musical about two musicians, played by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, meeting and playing together. The music in this film is gorgeous and the signature tune, “Falling Slowly,” a slow and beautiful love song, will almost certainly be a nominee. “If You Want Me,” the only other eligible song (much of the music was written long before the film, making it ineligible), is full of loneliness and heartbreak. These are characters that are in fairly overcast and uncertain times of their lives and it is reflected in the music they create.

“Do You Feel Me” (performed by Anthony Hamilton) from American Gangster is a funky, catchy R&B tune.

The Hottest State is an Ethan Hawke project that never got a full theatrical release. It follows a young man as he moves to New York where he meets a young Hispanic woman and they make beautiful music together, figuratively and literally. Jesse Harris is a musician who plays the lead character and he turns in a simple and beautiful song about love and heartbreak in “It Will Stay With Us” (the recorded version is backed only by guitar). “Ya No Te Veria Mas (Never See You)” (Rocha) is a folksy Spanish love song.

Huck’s Tale” (Bob Dylan) from Lucky You is a slow Dylan tune with a bit of a country twinge. Very good.

I would love to see a song from Walk Hard: The Legend of Dewey Cox take home a nomination. How fun would it be to see John C Reilly taking the Oscar stage in his Cox persona? The problem with the film is that it’s not often out-and-out funny. In fact, they probably spent too much time making the songs good. “Walk Hard” is Cox’s signature tune. It’s a bit too straightforward for a parody, but it’s fairly catchy and a great imitation of the Johnny Cash style. Check out the punk version here. “Let’s Duet” is decent but quite funny with all its double entendres. It’s very well performed and extra funny since that’s clearly not Jenna Fischer’s voice. “Beautiful Ride” is my favorite of the bunch. It strives for profundity but is way too literal. The big crescendo at the end where Cox shares his realization of what life is all about is so silly. But it’s also a damn catchy song.

My favorite song from Walk Hard is the Bob Dylan parody “Royal Jelly,” with its nonsensical lyrics (“Mailboxes drip like lampposts in the twisted birth canal of the coliseum”). After sitting through the incomprehensible I’m Not There I just about fell out of my chair laughing during this song. It actually only appeared in the film for a few seconds, so I understand the studio not submitting it for Oscar eligibility. But how could any member of the nomination committee not fall for such profundity as “We’re so unlucky and stuff/ Woodrow Wilson never had it so tough”?

Before It’s Too Late (Sam and Mikaela’s Theme)” (Goo Goo Dolls) from Transformers is precisely what you’d expect from a Goo Goo Dolls tune: oh-so-sincere but hokey over a soaring chorus. But what can I say, I still like it.

Finally, “Land of Quiet Poems” (Chris Stills and Julianna Raye- link leads to Rhapsody and requires registration) from the little-seen Josh Hartnett/ Samuel L Jackson boxing film Resurrecting the Champ. I dig Stills’s smoky voice (he’s Stephen Stills’s son) and the song is very catchy.

The Other Contenders

Say” (John Mayer), from The Bucket List, is a sub-par John Mayer song, so of course it’ll get nominated. But after seeing the film, I must admit that the song works well over the closing credits after the schmaltzy ending.

Come So Far (Got So Far to Go)” (Queen Latifah, Nikki Blonsky, Zac Effron, Elijah Kelley). I loved Hairspray but this is a very weak entry. Three original songs were written for the film. One, the doo-wop love song “It Takes Two” (Zac Efron) didn’t make it into the film, which is a shame because it’s very sweet and catchy. Another, “Ladies’ Choice” (Zac Efron) did make it. It’s a fast-paced dance song for the pivotal sock hop scene in the movie. Why the producers decided not to submit it is beyond me. It’s a damn good song and think of the ratings from tweeners the Oscars would pull down with a Zac Efron performance!

Instead “Come So Far,” the song that plays over the end credits, gets the nod. The obvious downgrade in quality made me immediately suspect that it was the original song created for the Oscars. I’d love to see Hairspray get some recognition from the Academy, but this is a dubious choice.

Despedida” (Shakira) comes from Love in the Time of Cholera. I saw a preview for the film a while back. It was a big, dramatic, sweeping affair and ended with the words “with original music by Shakira” and the entire theater cracked up. This is a decent song. Shakira has an enchanting voice and she sells the performance, but it feels sort of disjointed.

Enchanted is likely to get some Academy love, though I don’t know for what song. “So Close” (John McLaughlin) is the kind of slickly-produced, soaring love song that used to be standard in Disney movies. But this is no “Colors of the Wind” or “A Whole New World.” “That’s How You Know” (Amy Adams and Marlon Saunders) is an upbeat love song with some street flair. Adams’s voice is sort of lacking, however. “Happy Working Song” (Amy Adams) is a simple but pretty catchy little ditty extolling the virtue of work. The scene it appears in is very cute. The hit from the movie and the one getting radio airplay, Carrie Underwood’s “Ever, Ever After” was not submitted by the studio.

Le Festin” (Camille) from Ratatouille sounds precisely like what it is: an American idea of a French song to play over a cartoon. It’s cute, I guess.

Little Wonders” (Rob Thomas) comes from the surprisingly fun and trippy Meet the Robinsons. It got some airplay earlier in the year so you’ll probably recognize it if you click through to the youtube video. It’s not bad but fairly repetitive. It has that guilty pleasure, Mix station vibe to it. “Another Believer” (Rufus Wainright) is the other song from the film. It doesn’t do much for me.

Norwegian musician Sondre Lerch provided most of the music for Dan in Real Life and three of his tunes are Oscar eligible. They’re poppy but bland and fairly similar: “My Hands Are Shaking,” “To Be Surprised,” and “I’ll Be OK” (no clip available). The quintessential background music for a feel-good comedy.

The Ineligible But Noteworthy

Before I lose your attention (and there’s still a long way to go!) I want to note two songs that I really enjoyed from 2007 films that did not make the Academy’s eligibility lists.

Alone Without You” (The Nightwatchman) from Sicko plays over the end credits and perfectly captures the desperation and anger of the movie. The Nightwatchman is Tom Morello’s protest singer alter-ego. Everything I’ve seen says this was written for Sicko, so I’m not sure why it’s ineligible. Morello is eligible for “The Stars of Orion” from Berkeley, so perhaps he didn’t want more than one of his songs submitted. If that’s the case he chose wrong because the latter is flat out terrible. There aren’t even any crazy Tom Morello guitar tricks!

Paris, je t’aime is not on the Academy’s list of films eligible for Best Picture candidates, perhaps due to its format of 20 short films each with its own director and actors, and maybe that makes it ineligible for other categories. “La Meme Histoire (We’re All in the Dance)” (Feist) is a terrific ending to the movie. The film is a love letter to Paris and dwells on themes of love and human interaction and the end song over a final montage and end credits encapsulates that nicely. Nothing about the film will be spoiled if you click on the link, so please check it out.

The Interesting

The 80s got a humorous send up in the romantic comedy Music and Lyrics early in the year. “PoP! Goes My Heart” (Hugh Grant and Scott Porter) comes complete with heavy synthesizers and an absurd music video. “Way Back Into Love” (Hugh Grant and Haley Bennett) is the big closing number. It’s way over-produced (does anyone really believe Hugh Grant can sing like that?) but its over-the-top schmaltz works in the context of the film. Either of these would be fun to watch on Oscar night. (The clip is clearly from a camcorder in a movie theater- perhaps the exact same bootleg I saw on a bus to New York?)

Good Luck Chuck gives us three songs. “Shut Me Out” (Aidan Hawken) is a soft, longing, uninteresting ditty that screams PROTAGONIST IS SAD ABOUT LOSING GIRL. “Good Luck Chuck” (Dandy Warhols, no clip available) is actually a neat, modern Beach Boy-esque tune whose lyrics comprise mostly of women’s names. I imagine it was played over a montage of Chuck getting laid. Finally, there’s a contribution from The Flaming Lips, “I Was Zapped By the Lucky Super Radio.” It’s an odd tune with a strangely infectious beat and lots of background noise and it’s definitely the zaniest of the eligible tunes.

Except for perhaps another song from The Flaming Lips, for they also give us “The Tale of the Horny Frog” from The Heartbreak Kid. There’s no false advertising here: it really is a song about a horny frog. It has sort of a sing-song quality to it with some Mexican influence, except it’s about a frog having sex. I’m sure this fit in perfectly to the Farrelly brothers’ film.

August Rush was the submission champ this year with four separate songs. Jonathan Rhys Meyers shows off his surprising musical skills in “This Time.” He has a nice emotive singing voice and I could definitely see this getting some play on an adult contemporary station. His other performance is “Break,” which is paired with a Bach piece so it probably comes at the time of the film when modern and classical styles collide (and a family is united! awww). I like the other Rhys Meyers song better, though this isn’t bad. He sounds a lot like the singer from Gomez on this track.

Also from August Rush, “Someday” (John Legend) is an old-fashioned and unmemorable pop song. Finally, “Raise it Up” (Impact Repertory Theater and Jamia Simone Nash) is a passionate choir piece that includes a solo by a kid with an odd voice.

The Bad

“At the Edge of the World” (Aimee Mann and Zach Gill) from Arctic Tale is terrible. It includes a bunch of bad geographic references for the nature film. Thankfully there is no clip for me to link to.

December Boys” (Peter Cincotti) from the film of the same title is sappy and overly-literal.

A Dream” (Common) from Freedom Writers is a limp and unambitious hip hop tune.

Lyra” (Kate Bush) comes from The Golden Compass and is probably the worst of the bunch. Screechy and painful.

Roger Waters turns in the uncreative “Hello (I Love You)” from The Last Mimzy. I’m surprised the Academy didn’t disqualify it for stealing so shamelessly from every Pink Floyd song ever written.

To take in Take That’s “Rule the World” from Stardust you better like cheese.

I kind of like Sinead O’Connor, but her song for Water Horse, “Back Where You Belong,” does very little for me, especially not the screechy chorus.

56 Drops of Blood, a Hungarian musical that even imdb has no information about, submitted three(!) songs, “Atkozott Egy Elet,” “O, Atyam!,” and “Eleg!” Yikes. Honestly, just click one and be horrified. It’s truly something to behold.

The Rest/ The Forgettable

Baby Don’t You Cry” (Quincy Coleman and Keri Russell) from Waitress is a cute lullaby with a country twang.

Rule the World” (Eels) is a poppy tune likely played over a silly montage in the horrible Shrek the Third.

Pretty Much Amazing” (Joanna) from Nancy Drew isn’t bad, just a straightforward female pop vocal. But there are certainly worse songs you’ll hear on the radio.

Beowulf’s big song, “A Hero Comes Home,” comes from Idina Metzel. It’s cheesy with a lot of pretentious bravado, but it has a neat Euro-beat to it. Kind of sounds like if Enya did an up-tempo song.

The rest I couldn’t find any copies of, and perhaps that’s for the better.

Badland is an Iraq war movie that I don’t think even got a commercial release. But it still submitted two songs, “The Devil’s Lonely Fire” and “Nothing’s There.”

“First Amendment Blues” (Darius de Haas) from Larry Flynt: The Right to Be Left Alone. I know nothing of this movie or artist.

“China Dolls” (Gary Clark, Jr) from Honeydripper. This is a film that’s all about the blues, is getting its limited release right now, and must be hoping for some Oscar support. But the soundtrack isn’t available until next month.

The Mormons’ least favorite film, September Dawn, had a song from Lee Ann Womack, “Love Will Still Be There.”

There’s a song from Music Within called “Ordinary People.” Indications suggest it may be a Neil Young song, but if it is it’s 18 minutes and I never came close to making it through the entire thing.

My Choices

If I had the power to choose the nominations – and the Academy should really work on that – I would select:

“Grace Is Gone” (Jamie Cullum) from Grace Is Gone

“Rise” (Eddie Vedder) from Into the Wild

“Falling Slowly” (Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) from Once

“It Will Stay With Us” (Jesse Harris) from The Hottest State

“Do You Feel Me” (Anthony Hamilton) from American Gangster

(Runners Up: “Land of Quiet Poems” (Chris Stills) from Resurrecting the Champ, “Huck’s Tune” (Bob Dylan) from Lucky You, “Beautiful Ride” (John C Reilly) from Walk Hard)