In Memoriam: A Video Sampler of Academy Awards Best Song Performances

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In Memoriam: A Video Sampler of Academy Awards Best Song Performances

The perfect song can vault a good scene in a great movie to iconic status. Just imagine Rose and Jack on the bow of the Titanic, arms spread wide, without Céline Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” playing over the scene. You’ve probably heard that this year, for the first time, the Oscars won’t feature live performances by Best Song nominees. The songs will still make an appearance, but this time via movie clips, “which is how most nominated achievements are featured within the show,” Leslie Unger, a spokeswoman for the Academy, said in a statement. But really, can videos bring the same energy and emotion to an otherwise predictable telecast? The following performances are our case for why this tradition should return in 2011:

“Miss Misery” by Elliott Smith
1998 Oscars, from 1997’s Good Will Hunting

The squeaky-clean, glitzy Hollywood scene was pretty alien to Elliott Smith (pictured), so performing at the ‘98 Oscars was definitely new territory for the somber, guitar-strumming Oregonian. Donned in a white suit coat and performing with the house orchestra, Smith didn’t win an Oscar (Dion won for her aforementioned “My Heart Will Go On”), but described the experience thusly: “I enjoy performing almost as much as I enjoy making up songs in the first place. But the Oscars was a very strange show, where the set was only one song cut down to less than two minutes, and the audience was a lot of people who didn’t come to hear me play. I wouldn’t want to live in that world, but it was fun to walk around on the moon for a day.”

“My Heart Will Go On” by Céline Dion
1998 Oscars, from 1997’s Titanic

“My Heart Will Go On” is to Titanic as peanut butter is to jelly, but in fact Titanic director James Cameron initially didn’t want it to appear in the film, nor did Céline Dion feel inclined to sing it. Surely the Canadian superstar didn’t regret her eventual decision to record the track, though, considering the song became not only the world’s best selling single that year but also earned Dion a statuette.

“I’ve Seen It All” by Björk
2000 Oscars, from 1999’s Dancer in the Dark

Björk’s performance of “I’ve Seen It All” at the 2000 Awards is probably best remembered for the Icelandic singer’s iconic swan dress.

Enya “May It Be”
2002 Oscars, from 2001’s Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The new-age icon’s voice serenading us with “May It Be” backed by shots of idyllic scenery (à la Lord of the Rings’ New Zealand) was gorgeous and moving.

“You Will Be My Ain True Love” by Sting, performed by Alison Krauss
2004 Oscars, from 2003’s Cold Mountain

Krauss’ gorgeously spare rendition paired her angelic voice with nothing but a hurdy gurdy and Sting’s haunting harmonies.

“Hard Out Here for a Pimp” by Three 6 Mafia
2006 Oscars, from 2005’s Hustle and Flow

With an elaborate stage set, complete with people riding bicycles around the stage and backup dancers dressed as streetwalkers, the performance added some much-needed spice to the normally stiff awards show. Taraji P. Henson’s vocals also stole the show.

“Love You I Do,” “Listen,” and “Patience” by Jennifer Hudson, Beyonce, Anika Noni Rose
2006 Oscars, from 2005’s Dream Girls

Beyonce and Hudson showcased pipes to compete with just about any Oscar diva, but in 2006, Hollywood had global warming on the brain, thanks for Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Melissa Ethridge’s decidedly less brassy call to arms “I Need to Wake Up,” which she recorded for the film, took the statue that year.

“Jai Ho” by A. R. Rahman
2009 Oscars, from 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire

The title of this 2009 Oscar winner means “may victory be yours,” and “Jai Ho” was victorious indeed, taking the prize for Best Original Song at last year’s ceremony. The colorful performance, replete with dancers, a choir and a line of drummers, suited Slumdog’s eyecatching style and was a fitting send-off to the Oscar tradition of live musical performances—not to mention a fitting reminder of why the Academy should bring them back.