TECH SUPPORT: Best Sound Mixing — Volume One

Posted by · 11:56 am · October 2nd, 2008

Tech Support at In Contention“Wait a minute, wait a minute.  You ain’t heard nothing yet!”

Those words from Al Jolson forever changed filmmaking in 1927, ushering in “talkies” and bringing about the beginning of the end of the silent film era.

The Academy Award for sound mixing recognizes the artists who fashion a film’s audio side.  It must be distinguished from Best Sound Editing, which is the integration of artificially created sound effects into the mix.  Mixing is the blending of those effects, along with dialogue, music and any other noise captured during filming.  The Oscar awards the sound re-recording mixers in this category, who do the blending, as well as the production sound mixer, who captures the sounds on the set.

Blockbusters, action flicks, war films and musicals usually do particularly well in this category, given the extent to which the sound tends to draw attention to itself in these sorts of films.  It’s somewhat difficult to project the category this far in advance, however, as the sound mixers for many of the films are difficult to pinpoint; mixing is one of the last tasks done on a film.  But that’s not going to stop me from trying to handicap potential contenders!

Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” is the sort of film that has virtually everything this branch normally goes for.  The film is filled with action and high-profile sound work.  Plus, it kicked off the summer blockbuster season with not only lots of dough for producers, but also lots of raves from critics.  Veteran Oscar winner Christopher Boyes is in charge of this crew.  I’d say a nomination is quite likely.

Pixar films have managed to score in here in recent years with “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” and it goes without saying sound was pivotal to Andrew Stanton’s “WALL-E.”  This strikes me as a surefire nominee for Best Sound Editing, but I’d say the mixing is likely to be in the thick of things as well.  Ben Burtt, Tom Myes and Michael Semanick are all previous nominees, which only helps matters.

Edward Zwick’s “Defiance” is a war film with a plot that screams “AMPAS.”  Several of Zwick’s films have already scored in this category and I strongly suspect this will have the sort of soundtrack that will appeal to the sound branch.  Anna Behlmer and Andy Nelson are favorites in the category, and should “Defiance” be particularly good (or even if it’s merely passable), I’d bank on their getting another nomination for the effort.

Ridley Scott’s “Body of Lies” strikes me as a potentially loud endeavor with explosions and car chases, sounds often embraced in this category.  Moreover, Michael Minkler is a three-time winner (though he made controversial comments after winning for “Dreamgirls” two years ago and I wonder if that will affect his future potential in this category.)

“The Dark Knight” has become the movie event of 2008.  The second-highest grossing film of all time has received phenomenal reviews and, in the view of many, will end up a Best Picture contender.  Gary Rizzo has just a single nomination to his credit, though, while his colleagues on the sound mixing crew have yet to be feted by the branch.  But considering this film’s mammoth success, a nomination here would seem highly possible, if not highly probable, in any event.

Baz Lurhmann’s “Australia” is the sort of epic that also frequently finds a home in this category, especially if it is a contender for Best Picture.  It will feature the sounds of the outback, as well as the Japanese attacks on the land down under.   Anna Behlmer is working here as well, which adds to my suspicion that this will be a real contender, if Lurhmann’s film delivers.

“Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” did well at the box office and, but not so well with the critical establishmentl.  Nonetheless, Spielberg’s name –- and the action in the film –- still makes it a contender in this category that should be considered as far as I’m concerned.  Andy Nelson is working on this film as well, alongside Christopher Scarabosio, and Ron Judkins as the production sound mixer.

If we’re really stretching for potential nominees, Ben Stiller’s “Tropic Thunder” strikes me as a possibility given the explosions and gunfire.  The sound work here was actually quite impressive, even if the crew has not been embraced by Oscar yet.

And then there are the films we’ve yet to see.  “Quantum of Solace” will try to continue the critical and box office success that the Bond franchise enjoyed in “Casino Royale.”  But while Chris Munro has been nominated before for his work as a production sound mixer, the re-recording mixers have not.  Moreover, the lack of any nominations for “Casino Royale” makes me think that it will be especially difficult for the sequel to find itself in the race.

I personally feel that “The Day the Earth Stood Still” has the makings of a very unnecessary remake.  But it will nevertheless try to be a Christmas blockbuster and it will almost certainly be extremely loud.  While the sound crew is still unreported, it will nonetheless be fresh in the minds of the sound branch when they’re voting.

And what do we make of Tom Cruise movies these days?  The once formidable star has become a joke of sorts lately.  I’m not sure if this is totally deserved but it certainly has affected his image.  “Valkyrie” is his latest film and he’s performing under the watchful eye of Bryan Singer.  Another war film, I’d normally put this right in contention in this category.  But will the film deliver at all?  And what is with all the shifting release dates?  Regardless, Singer is a very solid director and Chris Munro is the production sound mixer, which helps.

So there’s a second category covered…eight more to go!  Be sure to tune in again next week for Best Costume Design.

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8 responses so far

  • 1 10-02-2008 at 4:02 pm

    N8 said...

    I usually enjoy predicting the sound mixing nominees, but I’m still stinging from when neither the overdue team from “Transformers” NOR the more deserving team from “No Country for Old Men” managed to win this category last year (I liked “The Bourne Ultimatum”, but it didn’t deserve either of the sound awards).

    For now, I’m guessing:

    “Australia” (Anna Behlmer)
    “The Dark Knight” (Lora Hirschberg, Ed Novick, Gary Rizzo)
    “Defiance” (Anna Behlmer, Petr Hliddal, Andy Nelson)
    “Iron Man” (Christopher Boyes, Lora Hirschberg, Mark Ulano)
    “WALL·E” (Ben Burtt, Tom Myers, Michael Semanick)

    As always, glad to see you covering these categories that really do need more attention than they generally get. Especially for sound mixing, which is the most under-appreciated (and least understood) film-making discipline.

  • 2 10-02-2008 at 4:38 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I totally disagree that the No Country team was more deserving than the Transformers team. The level of difficulty is so off balance there it’s insane. The sound on NCFOM was very creative and more than worthy of the attention it received, but the Transformers guys brought fucking Transformers to life. Would have been a great way to reward O’Connell and Russell finally.

    Anyway, mini-vent. Sorry about that. My thoughts are in the sidebar and I don’t expect to change yet, though Australia could certainly pop in. I personally think the best sound mixing of the year is in Cloverfield.

  • 3 10-02-2008 at 5:22 pm

    Sound Designer Dan said...

    IMO, the Dark Knight had one of the best mixes I’ve heard (mind you, in a great theater) UNTIL the last scene when Gordon was giving his final speech (“….silent guardian, a watchful protector…”) while the music was overpowering (BOOM!……BOOM! BOOM!) each word he was saying.

  • 4 10-02-2008 at 5:23 pm

    Ryan said...

    Ah, my favorite category. And another excellent entry.

    I always tend to look at the Sound Mixing category as more of an artistic approach in terms of how the sound affects the film and enhances the story itself. In other words, in No Country, sound was used to increase tension, Transformers, bringing a whole other world to life and throwing you into the action (which is true of any film), etc. So I tend to look at how well they do that in addition to the actual art of mixing (of which Transformers is excellent in the latter respect, but I really hated the movie overall). That being said, I think it’ll probably go this way:

    The Dark Knight
    Iron Man

  • 5 10-02-2008 at 5:31 pm

    N8 said...

    Hey, I was rooting for O’Connell and Russell like everybody else, and there is no denying the necessary complexity of their work on “Transformers”. But the nuance of Berkey and Lievsay’s achievement in “No Country” captured the atmosphere of each scene perfectly, and just added more to my viewing experience than did the loud expolosions and mechanical grindings of “Tranformers”. I think we can at least agree that both films losing to “Bourne” was rediculous.

    You’re right about “Cloverfield”, btw. If it hadn’t been released in January, maybe it would have stood a chance of sneaking in here.

  • 6 10-02-2008 at 7:47 pm

    Speaking English said...

    You have to remember “loud” and full of bells and whistles doesn’t always matter. Lots of quieter films have snuck into the category before.

  • 7 10-04-2008 at 8:46 pm

    Glenn said...

    Australia also has a lot of horses so… that’s something.

    Kris, I too thought the sound work in “Cloverfield” was technically very good, but did you think it didn’t even remotely work in relation to the film’s aesthetic as being a home movie? When you can hear sound coming from each individual speaker, yet the movie is supposedly being filmed on a home camera…? Doesn’t work.

  • 8 10-11-2008 at 1:13 am

    Dean Treadway said...

    I like the inclusion of CLOVERFIELD here, regardless of whether it cleaves to realism or not.

    I think there’s been too much emphasis on noisy movies in the observations on this category.

    DREAMGIRLS, RAY, ROAD TO PERDITION, AMELIE, CAST AWAY, GANGS OF NEW YORK and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA have all been nommed here. These are not your usual sort of sound nominees.

    That said, it is a largely noise bound group in recent years. So lets go with:

    Iron Man
    Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

    I leave out DARK KNIGHT, but in Sound Editing, I think it’s in. I don’t think we should count out BENJAMIN BUTTON or MILK in this category, either.

    By the way, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was positively robbed of this award last year. The sound editing and mixing served as the painterly score for this nearly scoreless movie, and it added immeasurably to the tension of the film. Go back and take a look at that scene with Brolin waiting for Bardem to come knocking at his door in the hotel room, and perhaps you’ll change your mind. As for Transformers–noise, noise and more noise. Big deal…