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Ten Oscar-winning Songs That Actually Hold Up

Ten Oscar-winning Songs That Actually Hold Up (photo)

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Music has accompanied film almost since film’s invention, whether performed live, cued off rudimentary wax cylinders or digitally recorded. When thoughtfully employed, a song can lift a scene from the boundaries of entertainment into the realm of art. “The Jazz Singer” featured synched songs back in 1927, but it wasn’t until 1934 and the 7th Academy Awards that Oscars were given out for them.

The greatest of these songs take on a life of their own, and, though they may always recall the film for which they were conceived, stand on their own merit. But plenty of other prizewinners don’t, particularly once you get past the golden age of the movie musical — quick, hum 2006 champ “I Need to Wake Up,” from “An Inconvenient Truth.”

With the 81st ceremony approaching and two Bollywood-inflected tunes from “Slumdog Millionaire” going up against Peter Gabriel’s Grammy-anointed “Down to Earth” from “WALL-E,” it seems a good time to look through the Academy annals to see how meaningful this award actually is in the cultural big picture. Here are the ten I’ve chosen for demonstrating the best staying power, influence and legacy. The more recent years seem to be at a disadvantage.

“The Way You Look Tonight” (1936)
From “Swing Time”
Music by Jerome Kern; Lyrics by Dorothy Fields.

Since Fred Astaire sat at a piano and sang this ditty in to Ginger Rogers in 1936, it’s been sung by every crooner from Frank Sinatra to Rod Stewart — Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald recorded their takes, too. One version or another plays at every wedding, and it’s easily the most reproduced song in film on this list, appearing in at least 20 major films, from “Chinatown” to “Hannah and Her Sisters” to “Father of the Bride” to “Catch Me If You Can,” ensuring it keeps that breathless charm seven decades on.

“Over the Rainbow” (1939)
From “The Wizard of Oz”
Music by Harold Arlen; Lyrics by E. Y. Harburg

“The Wizard of Oz” was released on August 25, 1939, and delighted Depression-era American audiences with a dreamy iconic ballad of longing and escape. Exactly one week later, Hitler had decided he was over Poland and Europe entered World War II in earnest — imagine the cross-cutting montage between those two realities set to “Over the Rainbow.” It wasn’t long before America entered the war and, intentionally or not, the song would take on greater meaning to those same audiences. It was a tune for the times, then and now.

“When You Wish upon a Star” (1940)
From “Pinocchio”
Music by Leigh Harline; Lyrics by Ned Washington

This song has become synonymous with the vast Disney empire and, inescapably, the childhood of any American (makes no difference who you are). There was a dismal stretch through the ’90s of cheesy best original song Oscar-winners from animated films, and just maybe a few will stand the test of time, but this one will always be the first.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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