In the lead-up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2, HitFix will be bringing you the lowdown on all 24 Oscar categories with multiple entries each day. Take a few notes and bone up on the competition as we give you the edge in your office Oscar pool!
I think pretty much every year we’ve made it clear what the difference between sound editing and sound mixing is. Believe it or note, plenty of Academy members (and more than a few journalists) are clueless, which is why you often get precious little consideration for the craft in these fields. Anyway, to reiterate, sound editing is the creation and manipulation of various aural elements for a film’s soundtrack. Sound mixing is the balancing and integration of those elements with score and dialogue for an overall balanced sonic experience. While Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing often go hand-in-hand at the Oscars, they very often should be split off to separate films, because these are two distinct disciplines, which often yield distinct results from film to film.
The nominees are…
“All Is Lost” (Steve Boeddeker and Richard Hymns)
The post-production sound work done on J.C. Chandor’s “All is Lost” (which was ignored completely by the Academy outside of this category) was of considerable note. You’re talking about a movie shot at sea and in water tanks with the filmmaker calling out directions, etc. – essentially it’s a film with an unusable production sound track. So what happens? You craft the entire sonic identity of the film on the soundstage, fleshing it out in that manner way more than you would any normal movie. That’s why it was a sound editors dream, why the folks at Skywalker Sound got the call and why members of the sound branch felt, if anything, it deserved to be recognized here. (Check out our interview with Boeddeker and Hymns here.)
“Captain Phillips” (Oliver Tarney)
“Captain Phillips” was one of four films nominated for both sound categories, and one of only two of those to be a Best Picture nominee. So it’s in the hunt here, with an impressive soundtrack at that. Building out the aural world of this movie (like “All is Lost,” set out at sea) was no easy feat, but the crew made it seem easy. You have the machinery of the ship, the gunfire of invading pirates, the added elements that come with the presence of the military later in the film – it’s a wide palette. And while it may have missed in a few key above-the-line categories (Best Director, Best Actor), it was well-represented throughout the crafts, so there is respect out there for the nuts and bolts of the picture. Worth noting: “Captain Phillips” is the only other nominee besides “Gravity” to win an MPSE award.
“Gravity” (Glenn Freemantle)
All of that is just to say that “Gravity” is likely to swoop in and grab this one, just as it likely will in the Best Sound Mixing field. It’s a no-brainer for Academy members looking to just chalk up their overall favorite, and many of them aren’t privy to what a sound editor does anyway. Typically the two sound categories go hand in hand as a result of this, and that’s likely to be the case this year. It would be a very deserving win, of course, as the various elements Freemantle assembled through GM and NASA contacts, recording various machinery and robotics that would later be manipulated and affected for a unique immersive sonic experience were vast and essential. (Check out our interview with Freemantle here.)
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (Brent Burge and Chris Ward)
One probably ought to have seen the sound recognition for “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” coming. After all, the first in the series was recognized by the Cinema Audio Society, and the latest was an all-out action film with tons of aural texture at play. Curiously, though, just one film of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth saga – “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” – has triumphed in this category, and only one besides (“The Return of the King”) won in Best Sound Mixing. They always seem to be up against something more formidable, and that’s clearly the case this year as everything from space to sea to war combines for a difficult challenge.
“Lone Survivor” (Wylie Stateman)
If I were to watch for any potential spoiler here, it might not be “Captain Phillips” – it might be “Lone Survivor.” The film was well-liked by many members of the Academy, even if it only received recognition for its sound work. But it is nothing if not a sound showcase, and that experience is what the viewer takes away from it, the sense of being there in the middle of an intense firefight with Navy SEALs, bullets constantly whizzing past, impacts felt throughout as the characters pretty much fall down a mountainside as they fend off Afghani militants. (Check out our interview with Stateman here.)
Will win: “Gravity”
Could win: “Lone Survivor”
Should win: “All is Lost”
Should have been here: “Rush”
Another great year for sound work overall, but it would have been nice to see “Rush” recognized. Indeed, it would have been nice for lots of the below-the-line elements from Ron Howard’s film to be recognized, whether the sound, Anthony Dod Mantle’s photography, Hans Zimmer’s score or, as noted earlier today, the makeup. Alas, it just didn’t take off with the industry on these shores.
What do you think deserves to win Best Sound Editing this year? Vote in our poll below.
Who should have been here instead? Have your say in the comments section.