The 88th annual Academy Awards are this Sunday on ABC. Besides the usual pre-ceremony coverage about who’s wearing what and which films got snubbed for Best Picture, this year’s Oscar race has gotten a lot more coverage than normal. That’s largely due to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, but it’s also due to the widest-ranging Best Picture selection the Academy has chosen in years.
Eight films are nominated for Best Picture this year. Some are surprising (The Martian; Mad Max: Fury Road) while others were clearly made with the intention of grabbing Oscar gold (Spotlight; Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle The Revenant).
But one common theme throughout all eight nominees is that every single one would male a great country song.
Hear me out. On first blush, Room, a film about an abducted single mother trying to raise her son right despite her situation, might not sound like ripe material for a country song. But its core subject matter— family, and how to protect it— is most definitely a country theme.
The same can be said about every other Best Picture nominee. So whether you’ve seen all the films on this list or not, these songs will give a great indication of the film’s subject matter.
Room: “Hand That Rocks The Cradle,” Steve Wariner and Glen Campbell
Schmaltzy and nostalgic, “Hand” has long been a Mother’s Day favorite. Watching Room on Mother’s Day might be a bit of a stretch, but it you’ve seen this movie, you know that young Jack looks up to his Ma for everything, and Ma would die to protect her child.
The Martian: “Highwayman,” The Highwaymen
The Martian is one of two surprises on the Best Picture list, but not because it’s not good. It’s a great film, just not the typical Academy fare. The Martian has something for everyone, though, and it’s about exploration and resilience. Who better to sing about those subjects than four of country’s outlaws? Plus, the Johnny Cash verse is about piloting a starship.
Bridge of Spies: “The Stranger at My Door,” Brandi Carlile
This one was a little tough. Most country songs about the Cold War feel kitschy, a quality that is not found anywhere in Bridge of Spies. That film focuses on John Donovan (Tom Hanks), an insurance lawyer saddled with the unenviable task of defending a Soviet spy after being caught on U.S. soil. Later, he is tapped to facilitate the prisoner exchange of his client for a U.S. spy pilot. The entire film finds Donovan constantly reconciling his moral duty to protect another human with his patriotic duty as and American, and oftentimes can’t make both sides see eye to eye. “The Stranger at My Door” deals with just that, closing with these haunting words:
“But nothing scares me more
Than the stranger at my door
Who I fail to give shelter, time, and worth.”
Mad Max: Fury Road: “Junkyard,” Zac Brown Band
Fury Road was another film I wasn’t expecting to be on the Best Picture list. The fourth installation in the Mad Max saga is an action-packed, two hour car chase through the desert. And when a movie is so balls-to-the-wall that an in-movie guitarist named the Doof Warrior supplies most of the soundtrack, you know it’s got high ambitions. Much like the Zac Brown Band. “Junkyard” is one of two hard-rock songs from the band’s latest genre-bending album Jekyll + Hyde, and this one fits the Mad Max tone perfectly. It doesn’t hurt that the subject matter deals with murdering a hated father figure, either.
The Revenant: “Decoration Day,” Drive-By Truckers
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant is the clear favorite to win Best Picture this year. Endless news stories have been written about Leonardo DiCaprio’s intense performance of Hugh Glass, a fur trapper in 19th century America who is let for dead by his crew after his son is killed by anther crew member. The revenant is a bloody tale of revenge and redemption. Similarly, “Decoration Day” tells the story of an historic family feud worse than the Hatfields and McCoys. The two pair together nicely.
The Big Short: “Prayer of a Common Man,” Phil Vassar
Michael Lewis’ book about a group of financial outcasts who foresaw the housing bubble burst and then bet against the banks is not an easy one to adapt. It’s even harder to make that film palatable to a wide audience. Director Adam McKay, best known for Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, somehow got the formula right. At its heart, The Big Short is about what happens when the common man is overlooked. Phil Vassar‘s plea for anything to cure his financial woes could have fit right in on the movie’s soundtrack.
Spotlight: “House of Cards,” Mary Chapin Carpenter
Musically, “House of Cards” is way too upbeat for Tom McCarthy’s re-telling of the Boston Globe‘s investigation of the Catholic Church sex scandals in the early aughts. But lyrically, it fits right in. Much of the film centers around a group of journalists trying to tell their sources (most of them victims of sexual assault at the hands of holy men) that their secrets matter. Carpenter’s song about having the doors blown off of an ideal life sounds like it could have fit right in with the script for Spotlight.
“On the surface it looked so safe, but it was perilous underneath
That’s the place you shoved your doubts and hid your ugly scars
God forbid if word got out about your house of cards.”
Brooklyn: “Always on My Mind,” Willie Nelson
The Academy loves a good love story, and it’s even better if it’s a period piece. Brooklyn is both. Centering on a love triangle spanning two continents (America and Ireland), the film is about love that never dies. Willie Nelson‘s classic confessional is the perfect country pairing for this timeless love story.