Normally, by mid-November, we have a pretty good idea of many of the likely nominees in most of the crafts categories. But in this year's race for Best Sound Mixing, I see things as extremely open – there's not a single film that strikes me as assured of a spot and more than a dozen appear to have very good chances. That makes for an exciting race.
This category awards the overall mix of dialogue, music, effects and “everything else” into a film's soundtrack. This is different than sound editing, which recognizes the creation and editing of artificial sound effects. Being a leading Best Picture contender can certainly help a film's chances in mixing (seen in “The Social Network,” “The King's Speech” and “Moneyball” in recent years), as can being a war film, a musical or a respected (or even not-so-respected) blockbuster.
There are also certain mixers who score very regularly indeed. Though with a production sound mixer and up to three re-recording mixers being recognized for each nominee, there are plenty of first-timers nominated every year. Unfortunately, politics among sound studios and rival teams can seep through in the sound branch, being reflected in who ends up nominated.
First up in this year's analysis, we have the war/prestige contenders. At the top, “Unbroken” will feature water and planes and the sounds of a POW existence. If the film manages to be any sort of major player at all, I'd say Frank A. Montaño is looking at his sixth nomination with colleague Jon Taylor looking at his first nod and production sound mixer David Lee finally returning after winning for “The Matrix” 15 years ago.
“The Imitation Game” will portray a few quick war scenes, though it is not a traditional “war movie.” In an open category, being at the front of the Best Picture race may help immensely. Stuart Hilliker, Martin Jensen and John Midgley will attempt to earn nods one, two and four respectively. Jensen and Midgley were nominated for “The King's Speech” a few years back.
“Fury” was a very solid, if not revolutionary, war movie. It won't be playing for major Oscars but its sound work was undeniably well done, and that may be enough for a prestigious war movie (see “Lone Survivor's” two nods last year). With a crew anchored by three-time Oscar winner Paul N.J. Ottosson, if the film survives anywhere, expect it to be here or Best Sound Editing.
And Clint Eastwood's latest, “American Sniper,” does not appear to be a true return to form, but is likely to be better received than many recent efforts. A war film from this director must be considered here (“Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” scored three nods and a win in the sound categories). His usual team is on board and they are respected in the branch.
Let's turn to musicals, and starting in an atypical place: “Whiplash.” While this film's sound crew are waiting for their first nominations, they just might get them for this crowd-pleaser that has superb sound work and editing. But how big a player can Sony Pictures Classics make a small October release that didn't set the box office on fire?