TECH SUPPORT: Best Sound Mixing — Volume I

Posted by · 3:44 pm · September 2nd, 2010

Last week, while discussing the sound editing category, I explained the difference between that art form and sound mixing.  The Oscar for the latter is shared between two (or more) persons who construct the soundtrack of a movie.  The re-recording mixers bring together everything – dialogue, sound effects, music – into what we hear in the theater.  The production sound mixer is also awarded for capturing the sounds during shooting, an undoubtedly arduous task.

Many of the films nominated here are also nominated for Best Sound Editing.  In fact, rarely is there more than one film showcased for only one field.  Both categories like loud films, blockbusters and, as always, being a Best Picture contender certainly helps.

That said, some trends are noticeable between the two categories.  Firstly, the branch has a love of musicals when it comes to sound mixing.  That makes sense, of course, because a musical is fully made by its mix.  Meanwhile, animated films consistently fare better in the sound editing category, which also makes sense given that so much of the sound scape is created separately from production.

I would also say that, on the whole, the sound mixing category is more likely to include larger films with considerable action – “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” “3:10 to Yuma” – than is the case in the sound editing arena, where “clinks and clanks” are more likely to be singled out – “Iron Man,” “There Will Be Blood” and “Letters from Iwo Jima.” While both categories certainly have favorite sound artists, the sound mixing field quite frequently reflects insularity.

As in many categories, I would say that Christopher Nolan’s “Inception” is leading the way here.  The title is clearly heading for crafts category nominations galore and I’d be quite surprised if this crew, including past nominee Gary Rizzo, is unable to find a trip to the Kodak.

That said, there are usually multiple summer titles nominated in this category.  Past nominees Lora Hirschberg and Mark Ulano did fantastic work on “Iron Man 2,” for instance.  On the one hand, this film would seem to have everything going for it in this category – loud, blockbuster, (relatively) good reviews.  At the same time, its predecessor was not nominated here.  While it’s not unprecedented for a sequel to be nominated where the prior entry in the series failed, it is rare.  So that gives me serious pause.

Phillip Noyce’s “Salt” has crew quality in spades.  Led by 13-time nominee Greg P. Russell and four-time winner Scott Millan, this crew had to deal with the sort of action and explosions that led another Angelina Jolie summer movie – “Wanted” – to a surprise nomination here two years ago.  So I wouldn’t forget this title yet.

I also would say that Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood,” despite not being the box office success the studio was undoubtedly hoping for, should not be ruled out either.  Paul Massey is another favorite and, perhaps more notably, Scott’s movies historically do well here.  The film could have several chances in the crafts categories, so let’s see if the studio pushes it.

It could be that the second most likely summer nominee in this category is “Toy Story 3.” I personally am skeptical of this, partially because animated films do not do as well here as in Best Sound Editing and partially because this film didn’t have many of the distinguishing features we expect of nominees here.  That said, Tom Myers and Michael Semanick have had great Oscar success with Pixar before.

As I said last week, the other animated film I would most expect to be embraced in the sound categories is “How to Train Your Dragon.” The plot necessitated great sound, not unlike surprise nominee “The Incredibles” a few years back.  And lo and behold, Gary Rizzo and Randy Thom, both of whom were nominated for that film, are also on board this effort.

Looking ahead in the more traditional blockbuster realm, “TRON Legacy” will undoubtedly be heavily reliant on sound in order for the film to work. The re-recording mixers are as of yet undetermined, if the film catches on at all, I’d immediately look to this category, alongside Best Sound Editing, as its most likely nomination.

The Coen brothers’ “True Grit” could also find a home here.  It will be necessary to capture the sounds of the old West, and westerns frequent this category, even when they do not find homes elsewhere.  (“3:10 to Yuma” is the most recent example, but there are more examples going back, despite the growing rarity of entries in the genre.)  Craig Berkey and Peter Kurland are both past nominees for “No Country for Old Men” and they could very well repeat for this latest Coen collaboration.

I’ve mentioned “Secretariat” throughout several of these columns.  And if there is any place I would expect it to score, it would be here.  Not only will any movie involving horse racing necessitate exemplary sound mixing, but 20-time nominee Kevin O’Connell is on board, alongside Beau Borders.  A very possible nomination indeed.

You may notice that every film I’ve mentioned so far I also mentioned last week.  As I stated at the outset, the overlap between the categories is significant.  Nevertheless, I’ll end by mentioning one film I didn’t consider last week: Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours.” On the surface, this would not appear to be the sort of film that is usually nominated in this category.  That said, I feel this film could be a contender in many categories and its soundscape will be key to capturing the atmosphere.  Moreover, Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” came out of nowhere to win the prize.

We’ll see where things move from here.  Next week, we’ll take a look at the last of our first glances at the tech categories by investigating the recently expanded visual effects category.

[Photos: Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Fox Searchlight Pictures]




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11 responses so far

  • 1 9-02-2010 at 3:54 pm

    Jeremy said...

    No mention of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”? I suppose it shines more in the sound editing category, but I think its mix was pretty damn impressive (and visible) nonetheless.

    “Inception” seems like the easy choice here, whereas I actually might lean toward “How to Train Your Dragon” for sound editing.

  • 2 9-02-2010 at 4:16 pm

    Bradley said...

    Scott Pilgrim. Best sound work of the year.

  • 3 9-02-2010 at 7:01 pm

    John said...

    1) INCEPTION is certainly the front-runner here.
    2) SHUTTER ISLAND was a film dependent on creeping menace and audience manipulation; the sound guys are integral to that. They never bond with films like
    3) THE CRAZIES, but it was another masterpiece of audience manipulation through sound (remember the the scene where the wife is strapped down and the guy keeps stabbing all the other bodies int he room?
    4) THE LAST EXORCISM is unlikely to find love here, but when I quickly try to think of movies dependent upon this category for success, this quickly comes to mind.
    5) GREEN ZONE was abig loud war movie, which can do well if remembered.

  • 4 9-02-2010 at 8:51 pm

    Tom said...

    John, I totally aree with you about The Crazies. I thought the sound mixing was phenomenal.
    And am I the only one who was really unimpressed by the sound job of Salt? I thought it was generally too loud a movie, with all the little sounds getting way too much attention. It was a bit distracting.

  • 5 9-02-2010 at 9:38 pm

    Speaking English said...

    The “Inception” mix gave me troubles, actually. I pointed this out in an earlier post when the movie first came out, but there were numerous times throughout the film when the sounds (especially that blaring score) would drown out the actors’ lines. It may have just been the theater, but I’ve heard similar reports from others.

  • 6 9-03-2010 at 6:38 am

    m1 said...

    I think Salt should take it. Inception should take film editing, and Salt can take this.

  • 7 9-03-2010 at 10:32 am

    Jake D said...

    I came here to say what Speaking English. I’m rooting against Inception here- I missed way too much dialogue to be acceptable.

  • 8 9-03-2010 at 12:11 pm

    Ben M. said...

    Speaking English- I had the exact same problems with the score and sound mix on Inception, though I worry it will get nominated anyway.

    The mix that probably most impressed me so far this year is Green Zone (the opening bombing sequence sounded amazing IMO), but it may not have had enough of an impact upon release to get any oscar attention.

  • 9 9-03-2010 at 7:12 pm

    Tim Sloan said...

    I may be alone in this, but I think Book of Eli has gone completely under-appreciated in this category. Sound was so integral to the story, and the character.

  • 10 9-04-2010 at 9:15 am

    Holden said...

    I don’t understand why so many people were surprised about Slumdog’s win here. I remember going to watch it in the theaters, and the sound really stood out to me. Particularly near the end of the film, the dialog and the music coming together like that was pretty spectacular. It seemed like a nomination was likely, and the win was well deserved.

  • 11 9-04-2010 at 1:02 pm

    Will said...

    I’d rather see A-Team or The Expendables than Green Zone in this category both were loud and had a lot more action than Green Zone