The Best Oscar Song Performances

Note: None of these films are on this list.

presented by j:

The Oscars have a love-hate relationship with the Best Song category. In fact, in 2012, the show producers chose to not even include the nominated songs as part of the show itself even though there were only two of them to work into the marathon show. In 2009, when the producers decided to just feature short snippets, musician Peter Gabriel (nominated for “Down to Earth” from Wall-E) boycotted the ceremony and was replaced by John Legend for the performance. Likewise, in 2011, Randy Newman lamented during his acceptance speech the inability of the music branch to nominate more than 3 songs that year.

Granted, overhauls to the eligibility of songs has been mostly welcome. Gone are the days of sneaking an original song into the credits and getting a de facto nomination (lookin’ at you, Titanic.) And I still can’t figure out where the nominated song “A Love Before Time” features in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Maybe it was crouching behind the tiger…or hidden alongside the dragon.

But the performance of a song at the Oscars is a very different matter than the recording used in the soundtrack. Even professional musicians have admitted to being overwhelmed by the experience and giving less than grand performances, like Idina Menzel’s off-pitch performance of “Let It Go” at the 2014 awards show – though most people blame this on her being psyched out by John Travolta’s viral and ridiculous mispronunciation of her name.

My list has to be limited to the performances I’ve actually seen (and more importantly, remember), so most will be newer – and if you have something to contribute, please do so in the comments. But with no further ado (adieu?), feel free to click on the song title to watch a video of each song to refresh your memory.

10. “When Somebody Loved Me” from Toy Story 2 (2000)

In the days before the Best Animated Feature category, animated films often had to duke it out with each other for a song award if they were to attain Oscar glory. And while Phil Collins walked away with the win this year for Tarzan‘s “You’ll Be in My Heart,” Randy Newman’s emotional and heartfelt ballad performed by Sarah McLachlan was on point (en pointe?). 2 years later, he would finally win, but more on that later.

9. “A Kiss At the End of the Rainbow” from A Mighty Wind (2004)

Christopher Guest’s mockumentary about folk musicians might be his best. The movie was so under-seen when it was released, that many viewers at home felt a bit uncomfortable and confused by what they were witnessing, but those who saw the film understood how perfect Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara’s in-character performance was. It’s a lovely, tender, tongue-in-cheek performance plucked straight from the heart…and banjo…and zither…but mostly the heart.


8. “Scarlet Tide” from Cold Mountain (2004)

While the film itself fell short of the fantastic Charles Frazier novel of the same name, the performance of “Scarlet Tide” made it feel a bit odd when Annie Lennox and co. won later on in the evening for “Into the West.” Performed by legendary bluegrass vocalist Alison Krauss, the simplicity and aura of the song rang with the beauty that the movie itself lacked.

7. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from The Lion King (1995)

Because Elton John. That is all.

6. “Falling Slowly” from Once (2008)

Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s performance of their song “Falling Slowly” at the 2008 ceremony showed why it was absolutely necessary that they worked as both musicians and leading actors. Their chemistry borders on the divine, and simply put, it’s one of the prettiest songs ever put to film.

5. “I Wouldn’t Have Nothing if I Didn’t Have You” from Monsters, Inc. (2002)

Part of what makes this duet performance memorable is that the long-overdue Randy Newman was finally awarded with his first Oscar for this Jazz-inspired buddy song. Mr. Newman is not your typical performer and has a very atypical singing voice, but you can see that he loves what he does and he shines with talent in every syllable and piano stroke. Probably the reason he is the only musician who makes it onto this list twice. (And how come John Goodman doesn’t have an Oscar nomination yet?)

4. “Everything is Awesome” from The Lego Movie (2015)

Like its name, everything about this performance was indeed awesome. From the Lonely Island’s hilarious rap section to Will Arnett’s guest solo as Lego Batman (feat. Questlove), to the unforgettable and coveted Lego Oscars paraded by the dancers, this frenetic, freewheeling frolic will be a hard one to forget. Plus, it’s really hard to get the theme out of your head once it’s made its way in through your ears.

3. “Happy” from Despicable Me 2 (2014)

Pharrell is a born performer, so he thrives on an extravagant event like the Oscars. He pulled out all the stops for the infectiously catchy and aptly-named “Happy,” which became a billboard sensation after featuring in Despicable Me 2. Complete with vibrant dancing and audience interaction, it turned the show – even if for just a moment – into a real party.

2. “Till It Happens To You” from The Hunting Ground (2016)

Lady of the Gaga received her first ever Oscar nomination for this opus featured in documentary The Hunting Ground, an exposé of sexual abuse and rape culture on college campuses. While the Lady is widely known for her often-flamboyant outfits and performance style, no one can deny how great her voice is. She proved that before at the Oscars in 2015 when she did a tasteful and powerful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and here, her vocals matched the power of the emotion creeping into her voice, lending authenticity to the lyrics she penned. But the real show-stealer was when she was joined by real survivors – brave men and women – standing onstage before the world to shed light on this issue in the hopes of preventing it from happening to others.

1. “Glory” from Selma (2015)

The Oscar-winning anthem by John Legend and Common pulls of an incredible feat: blending the soulful heart of southern black Gospel with the contemporary beats of modern hip hop in its mission to show the ongoing struggles of the black community in the United States. Complete with a Gospel choir and Mr. Legend’s ridiculously perfect voice, the song concluded with a standing ovation from the audience, a number of whom were left with tears in their eyes. It’s impossible to listen to and not get goosebumps. Try. I dare you.

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