The films of 2022 will be in the spotlight on March 12 with the 95th Academy Awards at Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California, but it is also the art of music and performance that will be prominently featured on the center stage throughout the televised ceremony — and deservedly so. Last year marked the true return of entertainment outside of the household, whether it was at an arena or a stadium or the local movie theater, and music was a constant in all of them.
The art of sound arrangements has always had a crucial role in cinema, even during the silent film era when live music was performed to keep the crowd captivated along with the visuals, by evoking emotion and transcending a scene. Since 1934, the Oscars has celebrated the best music in film and this year’s nominees — most of whom are performing at the ceremony — include some of the biggest acts in live music. One month removed from her Super Bowl halftime show, Rihanna will take the stage to perform her Oscar-nominated hit “Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and Talking Heads founding member David Byrne will perform “This Is a Life” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once” along with Son Lux and actress Stephanie Hsu, who is subbing for singer-songwriter Mitski.
The only Best Song nominee who may be absent from the ceremony is Lady Gaga, who is nominated for “Hold My Hand,” and is reportedly, and perhaps ironically, in the middle of filming a movie. Her track is from the Best Picture nominee “Top Gun: Maverick,” one of the biggest films of 2022 with a worldwide box office gross of nearly $1.5 billion.
“You saved Hollywood’s ass, and you might have saved theatrical distribution,” director Steven Spielberg told star and producer Tom Cruise at an Oscars event in a video that went viral. “Seriously, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ might have saved the entire theatrical industry.”
It may have done so with a little help from music. Part of the film’s success was how it managed to infuse nostalgia without it being overbearing by incorporating familial elements from the 1986 original film — from Harold Faltermeyer and Steve Stevens’ Grammy-winning score to a performance of “Great Balls of Fire” to Kenny Logins’ “Danger Zone” — into a refreshing, character-driven story.
The Best Picture contender that most heavily relies on music is obviously Baz Luhrmann’s “Elvis” — a maximalist biopic that shines brightest when Austin Butler is on stage impersonating the King of Rock & Roll.
Luhrmann’s dazzling film successfully recreates some of Elvis’ memorable performances, and the best of the bunch is in the final act when Butler perfectly mimics one of the icon’s final concerts in 1977 with a rendition of “Unchained Melody.” The touching scene features Butler in prosthetics singing with beautiful crescendos, along with the director weaving in real footage of Elvis, blurring the line between reality and filmmaking magic.
Music is also at the center of “Tár,” a powerful film chronicling the downfall of a fictional female conductor, and this year’s Oscar-nominated action films, including “The Batman.” Writer-director Matt Reeves told Esquire UK magazine that Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” set the tone for his blockbuster and shaped his vision of the caped crusader.
“When I considered, ‘How do you do Bruce Wayne in a way that hasn’t been done before?’ I started thinking, ‘What if some tragedy happened and this guy becomes so reclusive, we don’t know what he’s doing?” Reeves said. “Is this guy some kind of wayward, reckless drug addict?’ And the truth is that he is a kind of drug addict. His drug is his addiction to this drive for revenge. He’s like a Batman Kurt Cobain.”
“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” a genre-hopping, multiversal delight full of action and emotion that is the odds-on favorite to win the big award, also has ’90s music embedded in its DNA. Co-director Daniel Kwan revealed to Mashable that he realized an important line in the film resembled the lyrics of one-hit wonder “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” from Nine Days, and so covers of the song were featured in three scenes in the movie.
“This is that song that somehow penetrated all of our brains and is just living somewhere deep in the recesses of our subconscious,” said Kwan, proving that music truly is everything and everywhere in 2022’s crop of films.