Mike’s Favorite Original Songs of the Decade (10-1)
This was probably the list I was most excited to create when I came up with the idea of all these ‘Decade’ lists. It’s the most immediately gratifying. The songs are all right there to listen to and appreciate.
One of my favorite things to do each year (before they tried to take it away from us with that shortlist bullshit) was go through the list of all the eligible songs for Best Original Song at the Oscars and then figure out which ones I liked best. So I already had a giant pool of songs to work from, and then all I had to do was go in and look for any others that may have not been submitted or eligible, etc. And after that it was just making a playlist and figuring out what order they were going in. Which, I’ve gotta tell you, if you’ve never tried it… do it. It’s great. This is now a playlist on my phone that I listen to occasionally because it’s just great songs from movies.
Anyway, this is a list of my 200 favorite original songs from the decade in film. I was pleased that I could get to 200 here because there actually were that many (and more) that I liked enough to deem worthy of one of these lists. We’re gonna post it in chunks of ten, the way we’ve posted all the other lists. Only this one has been slowly been rolled out over the past couple of months, one each day. So really this is just cleaning all that up and putting it all in one place.
So here are my favorite original songs from the films of 2010-2019:
10. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” from Frozen
How could you not begin the top ten with this song? This song is joy personified. The unbridled optimism of childhood. This is the moment in the film where you know it’s special. You know you’re in for an amazing movie. Because the beginning… cutting the ice, the bit about the trolls and the powers, okay, sure. But this song is really the moment you settle in and fall in love with the characters. This song became instantly iconic.
And, even better, it furthers the plot. There are two time lapses over the course of the song. Which, of course, can be one of the knocks against the song, that it’s only small pieces of a song and doesn’t actually do much more than the central ‘chorus’. But you know what? No one really remembers that. Everyone remembers ‘do you wanna build a snowman’. (Plus, shout out to the way they sing it. How can you not feel bad when she says “Okay bye…”?)
But I love the idea that this refrain of her trying to bond with her sister over building a snowman is a thing that highlights their relationship over the years. It’s such economic storytelling. It’s almost the ‘Married Life’ montage from Up in terms of how perfectly it encapsulates an entire relationship in a few minutes. And their parents die during the song! Which gives you that really touching third verse, which is really the reason this song is here. The fact that you have this refrain that you already understand is the thing that unites the two sisters, so now that it’s just them, you have Anna knocking on Elsa’s door, as if to say, “Please, if not now, after this tragedy, when will you talk to me?” And she defaults to the one thing she knows she has in common with her. The half-hearted way Kristen Bell delivers the line, too, is just perfect. It’s hard to have a song do as much for its film as this one does.
9. “How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana
This is your classic Disney princess song. Every princess has one, and the films with the best music often have this exact song. “Belle”; “Part of Your World”; “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes”; “Just Around the Riverbend”; “Reflection” — you get the idea. They have that song that tells you their desires and dreams that they hope will come true. And, because it’s Disney, they do come true by the end of the film.
This song ranks among all those others as one of the best the studio has ever written. This tells you everything — “I want to be a good daughter and shepherd to my people… but something’s calling me out there on the ocean. And one day, I’m gonna find out what that is, and nothing’s gonna stop me.” It’s all there. This is classic Disney.
8. “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” from La La Land
This is the most striking song in the film. Because it’s pure performance, and acts as the climactic moment for this character fully coming into her own. But what I love is that Chazelle does these amazing things with the other songs — the dancing on the freeway, the crazy party stuff, the early morning horizon dancing, the observatory stuff, the finale fantasy sequence — but here, he strips it all down and simply turns down the lights and lets Emma Stone shine. And while “City of Stars” is the signature song for the film and is rightly the one that won all the awards, this is the song that is the best in the film. It’s also a song that stands for all the themes in the film. “Here’s to the one’s who dream” — it’s a song for anyone who has these crazy ideas and notions and wants to follow them. It’s an amazing film moment and an amazing piece of songwriting that perfectly captures all the magic inside this film. Though admittedly — that has to be the weirdest audition ever. Someone just breaking into song and manipulating the power in the room like that. Crazy that she still got the part after all that.
7. “PBNJ,” from Patti Cake$
This is the big song from the film, and it’s the one that perfectly encapsulates the joy of watching the film. It’s this film’s version of ‘It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp’. You watch these misfits come together to work on music, and this is the song they put together. And you see them slowly put it together, element by element, even using Patti’s grandmother to do the hook. How can you not groove along to this song when it comes on? And Danielle Macdonald’s vocals are really smooth, and then there’s that ’99 Problems’ rock beat behind it that. It’s an incredible song. Definitely one of the catchiest of the decade, and one of those you can listen to as just a song and forget it’s part of a movie.
6. “No Wrong Way Home,” from Pearl
I couldn’t leave it off. I already discussed the short as part of my Animated Shorts list, so hopefully anyone who either saw it or paid attention to that list knows what this is. I compromised by leaving it just outside the top five, only because it is from a short and not a feature, but really, it doesn’t matter. The numbers are irrelevant. The fact that it’s here tells you what I think of it. The entire short is built around this song, which is just absolutely beautiful. It’s both a description of who this man is as a musician and also a lovely message to his daughter, imparting all the words of wisdom he hopes to teach her. And then they do this brilliant thing in the middle, where they transition to the daughter singing her own version of the song, making her own path in life. I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a song I listen to all the time outside of this short. In terms of a song written for a piece of film (etc), this is as perfect as you’re ever gonna get.
5. “Skyfall,” from Skyfall
Adele doing a Bond song. How perfect a pairing can you get? This became the first Bond song to win an Oscar, and for good reason — it’s everything you’d expect out of a Bond song. It immediately marks itself as part of that long lineage with those opening horns, and then there’s that amazing piano melody that goes throughout it. Plus the lyrics — I mean, I’m just gonna keep saying how every element of this song is amazing. It’s just an amazing song. And as good as almost all of them are as a rule, it’s really hard to make a great Bond song. So when one is as good as this, it’s gotta be shown the proper respect. She’s got 50 years of history to live up to. And she does.
4. “I’ll Never Love Again,” from A Star Is Born
This is her Whitney moment. This is her ‘I Will Always Love You’. It’s a perfect way to end the film, the musical version of ‘This is Mrs. Norman Maine’. And it’s the moment where she fully comes into her own (hence that last shot). But aside from how amazingly the song is written and how perfect it is for the moment, the vocals are just out of this world great. This is truly her doing that Whitney Houston type vocal (just listen to it and imagine it being Whitney. It’s really not hard to do), and you never hear Gaga do that sort of stuff, which makes the song stand out even more. And what the film does that really just rips your heart out is do that cut to Cooper singing the song with her at home, which, normally I’d get upset that you took Gaga’s vocals away for a moment, but goddamn does that just destroy you when you see it. Honestly, you could make a case that this is the best song in the film and I certainly would not argue that fact.
3. “Let It Go,” from Frozen
It’s a showstopper. I know we’ve all heard this song to death and some people might not yet be past that threshold of being able to listen to it again. But even so, there’s no denying the strength of this song. I remember watching the film for the first time and almost having to stop watching after this happened because I was so full of emotion after this song. It’s really due to the entire film up to this point, which was just so much better than I ever thought possible, and this moment is a real culmination. It is the showstopper number, where you almost have to go to intermission afterward, because it’s just such an amazing piece of work. Plus, it’s a great moment for the character, finally deciding to be herself and not hide who she is anymore. There’s really not much more I need to add to this one. If you’re ranking the best original songs of the decade and get to this in the top five, most people will go, “I get it.” That’s the kind of song this is.
2. “Drive It Like You Stole It,” from Sing Street
I mean, how could it not be? It’s amazing, not only how great the songs in this movie are, but how they build throughout the course of the film. This is the climactic song of the film. This is their ‘big’ song. Of course, it’s shown in a fantasy sequence, but even so. If by now, you haven’t realized this band is the real deal, you do now. This song is just a straight banger. You put this song on a list of ‘Best of the 80s’ without mentioning what it is or where it’s from and it just fits. It’s perfectly done and honestly, was pretty damn close to being my #1 for the decade. That’s how much I love it.
1. “Shallow,” from A Star Is Born
It really couldn’t have been anything else. They called their shot with this one, and it’s still going. They debuted this song in the trailer and you knew it was gonna be great. And then they handled it perfectly in the film, the song went on to be a giant #1 hit across the entire country, and then they had that incredible performance of it at the Oscars just before it won for Best Song. It’s the total package of ‘original film song’.
But also, it’s completely rooted within the story and the characters. It’s the song she’s working on when they first meet, and she sings it for him in the parking lot, unfinished. And then he flies her out to the show and has her perform the song for the crowd, which is that first moment where she finally emerges. And it’s all handled so brilliantly on the screen, underscored by the great performances (vocal and acting) by both Cooper and Gaga. And then there’s the lyrics, which perfectly capture who these people are and provide this wonderful love song for both of their personalities to merge in this beautiful piece of music. This is it — the moment they fall into the deepest depths of love with one another.
I’ll say it again — it’s the total package of a song, and there’s really no film to better call the best original film song of the decade than this one.
– – – – – – – – – –