by: Stephen L. Betts
Hollywood’s elite gather this weekend to celebrate the best in film for 2014, as the 87th Academy Awards take place in Los Angeles on Sunday night. Throughout the long history of the Oscars, country music has made its presence known relatively few times.
The 1980s was one of the more fertile decades when it came to country music and the movies. It started with Sissy Spacek’s flawless, Oscar-winning portrayal of Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter, and Dolly Parton’s Best Song nomination, for “9 to 5,” with both films released in 1980. In 1984, Robert Duvall earned the Best Actor trophy playing fictional country singer Mac Sledge in Tender Mercies, and by 1985, a trio of “heartland” films earned a dozen nominations: “The River,” “Places in the Heart,” and “Country.”
That same year, Kris Kristofferson earned a nomination in the Best Original Song Score category, for Songwriter, the film in which he starred with one of his fellow Highwaymen, Willie Nelson. The film is loosely based on Nelson’s own career as a tunesmith.
The frisky “How Do You Feel About Foolin’ Around,” performed by the two friends, was released as a single, although it barely scratched the Top 50 on the country chart. Songwriter‘s soundtrack split the rest of the songs down the middle, giving half to each of the country legends.
When it came time for the 57th Academy Awards in 1985, host Jack Lemmon introduced Nelson and Kristofferson in a musical segment that featured the pair performing the above-mentioned “Foolin’ Around” and Nelson going solo for “On the Road Again,” another song from a 1980 film, Honeysuckle Rose, in which he once again portrayed a country singer.
Although Songwriter earned some good buzz from critics, audiences were slim. Kristofferson lost the Oscar to a young upstart named Prince, whose Purple Rain film and soundtrack were among the biggest hits of 1984.