WON AND SHOULD'VE WON: "Theme from Shaft," Shaft
I have long been an immense fan of Mel Stuart's 1971 Gene Wilder musical classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - it has that same ultra-rare movie magic of pictures like The Wizard of Oz and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. It really does sweep me off my feet time after time, no doubt largely in part to sheer nostalgic, but it's still a damn great film. The art direction, Wilder's marvelously mad performance, the perfection of the ensemble all-around, the spectacularly quotable dialogue...I adore it all. Heck, I totally would've nominated this for Best Picture in '71.
Of course, one of the best parts of Willy Wonka is its score, a bravura collaboration between Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley that features greats like "The Candy Man" and "I've Got a Golden Ticket." I most admire, however, the dazzling "Pure Imagination," a tremendously moving and timeless piece, delivered to perfection by Wilder. The instrumentals on it are so wonderful, too. Much as I respect this year's winner, "Pure Imagination" would've been my top pick for Best Original Song in '71.
(While we're still on the topic of the snubbed of '71, Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds Are Forever" probably should've been here as well, even if it's no "Goldfinger.")
As for this year's actual honorees, Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" is a richly deserved winner, an unimpeachable badass of a record that's instantly recognizable from the opening few seconds. Its inspiration on the soul and funk to emerge over the coming decade cannot be understated...indeed, it's perhaps one of the all-time most influential pieces to win this trophy. No bones about it, Hayes deserved to triumph in a cakewalk, especially against this competition.
As for that competition, it's more simply unremarkable than it is terribly weak.
I actually like The Carpenters' "Bless the Beasts and Children," warmly performed by Karen Carpenter, and "All His Children," a very listenable country tune, composed by Henry Mancini, Alan Bergman and Marilyn Bergman and performed by the great Charley Pride. But neither quite pops in the same way "Theme from Shaft" so intensely does. Likewise, I love Angela Lansbury but her "The Age of Not Believing" just isn't a very memorable showcase.
The final nominee, "Life Is What You Make It," from the Walter Matthau vehicle Kotch, is a syrupy-sweet collaboration between Marvin Hamlisch and Johnny Mercer. Hamlisch would find greater luck two years later with a certain Streisand song...
The Oscar-winners ranked (thus far)...
- "Over the Rainbow," The Wizard of Oz (1939)
- "The Way You Look Tonight," Swing Time (1936)
- "High Hopes," A Hole in the Head (1959)
- "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)," The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
- "Mona Lisa," Captain Carey, U.S.A. (1950)
- "You'll Never Know," Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943)
- "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe," The Harvey Girls (1946)
- "Baby, It's Cold Outside," Neptune's Daughter (1949)
- "The Windmills of Your Mind," The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
- "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
- "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, On My Darlin')," High Noon (1952)
- "Theme from Shaft," Shaft (1971)
- "Secret Love," Calamity Jane (1953)
- "White Christmas," Holiday Inn (1942)
- "Moon River," Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
- "When You Wish Upon a Star," Pinocchio (1940)
- "Thanks for the Memory," The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)
- "Lullaby of Broadway," Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
- "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," Song of the South (1947)
- "Days of Wine and Roses," Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
- "For All We Know," Lovers and Other Strangers (1970)
- "All the Way," The Joker Is Wild (1957)
- "It Might As Well Be Spring," State Fair (1945)
- "The Last Time I Saw Paris," Lady Be Good (1941)
- "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening," Here Comes the Groom (1951)
- "Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing," Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)
- "Born Free," Born Free (1966)
- "Never on Sunday," Never on Sunday (1960)
- "Three Coins in the Fountain," Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)
- "Chim Chim Cher-ee," Mary Poppins (1964)
- "Call Me Irresponsible," Papa's Delicate Condition (1963)
- "Swinging on a Star," Going My Way (1944)
- "Gigi," Gigi (1958)
- "The Continental," The Gay Divorcee (1934)
- "Sweet Leilani," Waikiki Wedding (1937)
- "Buttons and Bows," The Paleface (1948)
- "Talk to the Animals," Doctor Dolittle (1967)
- "The Shadow of Your Smile," The Sandpiper (1965)