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The story of Once’s Best Song win reads like a fairy tale

In Hear ThisA.V. Club  writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, in anticipation of the Oscars, we’re going through some of our favorite Best Song winners.

Glen Hansard is one of those guys who can sing almost anything and make it touching and believable, which means that when he hits on something special—both in terms of material and collaborators—it has the potential to transcend. That was certainly the case with “Falling Slowly,” a song written with Markéta Irglová, the Czech singer-songwriter who starred opposite Hansard in Once, and took home the Oscar with him for Best Original Song in 2008. In addition to the song’s prima facie beauty, it offers an irresistable story that’s both real and fictional. In the movie, Hansard and Irglová fall in love and write songs together: The turning point in their relationship is the very birth of “Falling Slowly,” which is writ-cute at a music store. In real life, the two also fell in love, at least for a time: Though they’re no longer together, they’ve still got a hell of a story to tell, with a feature film to back it up. Then there’s the song, which, like every Oscar winner, has at least a tiny bit of treacle to it, but never so much that it seems false. And Hansard and Irglová pick a songwriting formula that’s worked since time immemorial, beginning with a soft declaration of affection (“I don’t know you / But I want you / All the more for that”) before building to a big chorus whose lyrics offer vague promises of emotional triumph. And no Hollywood screenwriter could’ve written a better ending than Hansard and Irglová’s appearance at the Oscar ceremony: After Hansard made a moving speech (ending with the admonition “Make art!”), Irglová was played off by the orchestra. But classiest man in showbiz Jon Stewart insisted that Irglová come out later in the program to get her moment in the spotlight, where she delivered her own sincere thanks.