The panoply of original songs bowing in 2023’s movies runs the gamut from simple, touching ballads, boy-band reunion dance pop and somewhat profane numbers from an unconventional musical to hip-hop, driving rock and a beautifully awkward big finish from a faux-musical. Some notable songs were a little too ripe for inclusion in a family newspaper (sorry, “Dicks: The Musical”), but you can hear all the ones that did make it into The Envelope’s annual best-of playlist on Spotify. (Some songs not available to stream at press time, sorry.) Bon appetit!
“Meet in the Middle” (written by John Carney, Gary Clark, Robert John Ardiff, Eve Hewson, Joseph Gordon-Levitt; performed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Eve Hewson) from “Flora and Son” — One of the key songs in Carney’s unconventional musical deftly expresses two characters, their evolving relationship, and the growing musicianship of Hewson’s protagonist.
“Steal the Show” (Ari Leff, Thomas Newman, Michael Matosic; Lauv) from “Elemental” — From one of the movie’s most charming sequences, the song has some Eastern textures on which Lauv’s vocal buoys.
“The Fire Inside” (Diane Warren; Becky G) from “Flamin’ Hot” — The redoubtable (inevitable?) Diane Warren, folks. The 14-time nominee (and honorary Oscar awardee) has two contenders; this and “Gonna Be You,” from “80 for Brady.” The nod here goes to “Fire Inside” for being something unexpected from the storied songwriter — a Latin-flavored dance song.
“I’m Just Ken” (Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt; Ryan Gosling) from “Barbie” — Yet another tip of the cap to filmmaker Greta Gerwig here for letting Ken’s “I Want” song be an ‘80s hair-metal ballad (I mean, holy hell, is that Slash on guitar?). And, of course, tip of the headband to Gosling for his totally rad performance.
“This Is the Thanks I Get?!” (Julia Michaels, Benjamin Rice; Chris Pine) from “Wish” — If “Wish” catches on with voters, there’s precedent for character songs to catch noms in the rush. The “I Want” type of song, “This Wish,” would probably have to lead the charge for “Thanks” to also be tabbed, but Pine’s scenery-chewing vocal makes it the most memorable of the Disney entry’s tracks.
“For the First Time” (Alan Menken, Lin-Manuel Miranda; Halle) from “The Little Mermaid” — It’s tough to ignore the pedigree. Menken has 19 noms and eight wins. Miranda has won everything else, and at some point Oscar voters have to surrender, right? This may not be these two at the peak of their powers, but seems ticketed for serious consideration.
“Love Again” (Dan Wilson, Rosaileen Scher; Celine Dion) from “Love Again” — Ms. Dion makes her feature acting bow and contributes 11 songs to the soundtrack, including this delicate, accessible ballad.
“High Life” (John Carney, Gary Clark, Eve Hewson; Eve Hewson, Orén Kinlan) from “Flora and Son” — An upbeat pop tune with all its rough edges showing; Carney and Clark actually went back in to un-sand some of those edges and make it rougher.
“Better Place” (Justin Timberlake, Karl Schuster, Amy Allen; NYSNC) from “Trolls Band Together” — Not the resistance-is-futile earworm of “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” but a credible reunion track from the venerable boy band (man band?).
“Dance the Night” (Caroline Ailin, Dua Lipa, Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt; Dua Lipa) from “Barbie” — Yet another ideal slice of club disco from Dua Lipa. Maybe not Oscar fare, but fits nicely on the playlist.
“Wounded Heart” (J.S. Ondara; Ondara) from “Silver Dollar Road” — From a documentary about a family being harassed out of its home by developers, Kenyan-born Ondara provides the most convincing piece of Americana in this year’s selection.
“Everything Is Gonna Be Alright” (Bobi Wine; Bobi Wine) from “Bobi Wine: The People’s President” — When Ugandan pop star and politician Bobi Wine, who has been jailed and tortured for opposing his nation’s dictatorship, sings “I can see your sweat and the tears in your eyes / Everything shows you want to give up / And I can feel your pain and your grief and your fears / And all your frustrations, but you got to be strong,” it carries weight.
“Am I Dreaming” (Leland Wayne, Rakim Mayers, Michael Dean, Peter Lee Johnson, Landon Wayne; Metro Boomin’ & A$AP Rocky, Roisee) from “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” — Versatile, hooky hip-hop played over the end credits of one of the year’s biggest movies — it has a shot.
“Lil Fish, Big Pond” (Tobe Nwigwe; Tobe Nwigwe) from “Stephen Curry: Underrated” — If that rhythm track doesn’t get you moving, you may already have been slain by the unparalleled awesomeness of the greatest shooter in NBA history.
“Find a Way” (Linda Perry; Jade Bird) from “NYAD” — In a lean field, it’s the best driving rock song from a movie this year, from Songwriting Hall of Famer Perry.
“Quiet Eyes” (Zachary Dawes and Sharon Van Etten; Sharon Van Etten) from “Past Lives” — Haunting, just as a song associated with this film should be. The deep emotion, especially of the movie’s final moment, lingers long after the lights have come up. Van Etten and Dawes’ atmospheric composition fits right into the film’s vibe. Its poetry (“Staring at stars or a lightning bug / On a faraway stair, on a torchlit night / The field of depth on those marble steps / We’ll meet again in light”) speaks to indelible moments, just as the film captures.
“What Was I Made for?” (Billie Eilish, Finneas; Billie Eilish) from “Barbie” — One could argue this thoughtful, feeling ballad is superior to the pair’s Oscar-winning Bond theme, “No Time to Die.”
“Camp Isn’t Home” (Noah Galvin, Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Ben Platt, Mark Sonnenblick; ensemble) from “Theater Camp” — It’s hilarious, key to the story and … beautiful. It’s a perfect encapsulation of the wonderful awkwardness of finding one’s tribe at that age.
“It Never Went Away” (not yet available for sharing) (Jon Batiste, Dan Wilson; Jon Batiste) from “American Symphony” — Has one foot in the cosmos, yet manages to be a simple, direct and persuasive declaration of undying love.
“Talking to You” (Gary Clark; Joseph Gordon-Levitt) from “Flora and Son” — performed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt — An ideal film — and playlist — ender. Hits the bull’s-eye with authenticity many who’ve been in long-distance relationships will recognize: That longing expressed simply as (to paraphrase) “Talking to you is the best part of my day.”