It’s a tie! ‘Zero Dark Thirty,’ ‘Skyfall’ share sound editing Oscar as ‘Les Mis’ takes sound mixing

There hasn’t been a tie at the Academy Awards since 1994, when two films shared the award for Best Live Action Short. That dry spell was broken tonight in the biggest surprise of tonight’s Academy Awards so far, as “Skyfall” and “Zero Dark Thirty” split the difference for Best Sound Editing. 

This category was widely seen as one of the night”s toughest awards to call. “Skyfall” won the top prize at the Motion Picture Sound Editors” Golden Reel Awards last week, but “Life of Pi” won two lesser awards from the same group.

As it turned out, the Academy rewarded the former, but were equally impressed by the explosive work in Best Picture nominee “Zero Dark Thirty.” Winner Paul N.J. Ottosson claimed both the Best Sound Mixing and Editing awards three years ago for Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker,” and added a third trophy to his mantel tonight.

Meanwhile, smash musical “Les Misérables” claimed its second Oscar of the night, with a Best Sound Mixing win for Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes.

It”s the second Oscar for Nelson, who previously won the same award in the 1998 race for Steven Spielberg”s “Saving Private Ryan.” He was also nominated for his work in Spielberg”s “Lincoln” tonight. It was the first nomination for both Paterson and Hayes.

The win was a widely expected one, and not only because the trio had already been awarded by BAFTA and the Cinema Audio Society. The live audio capture of the musical numbers in “Les Mis,” a challenging and relatively unusual technique in modern-day movie musicals, has been the source of much publicity throughout the season.

While “Les Mis” beat five-time nominee “Skyfall” to the Best Sound Mixing award, the record-breaking James Bond blockbuster claimed Best Sound Editing gold for Per Hallberg and Karen A. Baker. It”s the pair”s second Oscar, and the third for Hallberg: they previously won this category for “The Bourne Ultimatum” in the 2007 race, while Hallberg also won for 1995 Best Picture winner “Braveheart.”

Their win was more expected than the one for Ottosson, who brought his past military experience to the intense study of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. As he told me in my December interview with him:”I was never in Iraq, but I remember how you think and feel in an environment like that. Every corner you turn, there could be something that could take you out. Or something behind you. So every time we cut, even if we’re going somewhere in very close proximity to the previous shot, I thought it was important to establish an audible difference – to play with that perspective, make the spaces tighter. It takes a lot of work.”

Learn more about previous ties at the Academy Awards here.