Oscar Guide 2011: Best Sound Editing

Posted by · 8:37 am · February 10th, 2012

(The Oscar Guide will be your chaperone through the Academy’s 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 26, with the Best Picture finale on Saturday, February 25.)

As Guy intimated in his Oscar Guide to Best Sound Mixing, the sound categories really were interesting and all over the place this year. In the sound editing field, we have just two of the nine Best Picture nominees represented, one surprise show (for some) for a Cannes hit that was expected to pop up elsewhere, a franchise entry that deserves more love than it’ll get and a tip of the hat to a Best Picture snubee that actually showed up in both sound fields.

Typically, voters pick their “favorite” movie of the nominees in these areas. That is, unless a palatable secondary option is available that makes its case for recognition of its aural qualities. I expect this year’s situation to be more reflective of the latter.

The nominees are…

“Drive” (Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis)

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (Ren Klyce)

“Hugo” (Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty)

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl)

“War Horse” (Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom)

It’s interesting that none of the animated films showed up here for the first time in four years. Somehow, though, Pixar has had a stranglehold on that slot, but there were worthy animated entries that WEREN’T Pixar films that ought to have been given a fair shake this year, I think.

After seeing how well the film did in the Motion Picture Sound Editors nominations and after having it come up in conversation a number of times with sound technicians, I ended up predicting the mostly dismissed “Drive” for a nod here. And indeed, three-time nominee Lon Bender and fellow sound editor Victor Ray Ennis showed up after all. It was the film’s only nomination, which means it’s probably the least likely to win here, but it’s an inspired pick for the way music and effects are integrated into the aural experience of the film. And it’s nothing if not that: an aural experience. Bender won here 17 years ago for “Braveheart.”

Ren Klyce has managed a pretty great track record with David Fincher movies at the Oscars, having been nominated here in 1999 for “Fight Club” and for mixing duties on “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Social Network.” This year he’s nominated for both the mixing and sound editing of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” which was a bit of a surprise double nominee in these categories. I think the integration of a unique score helped a lot here, but as always, Fincher’s films sound crisp and use sound and silence to great effect. One of these days, I imagine Klyce will finally walk away with a statue.

Most seem to think that Martin Scorsese’s nomination hog “Hugo” is the frontrunner here. Sound editor Philip Stockton landed his first nomination to date for the film after working with Scorsese since 1988’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” (and really, since 1987’s music video for Michael Jackson’s “Bad”). Eugene Gearty, meanwhile, scooped up his second nod to date after being recognized on the mixing side of things for 2002’s “Gangs of New York.” But I don’t quite think “Hugo” stands out for its sound work, particularly on the editing side. It’s possible voters sleepwalk through the below-the-line elements and tick off the box, but I think they might look elsewhere.

It would be great if “elsewhere” was “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” which involved, again, a lot of dynamic, detailed sound work in both the mixing and the editing of the material. The franchise took a hiatus from this category in 2009, but it’s back this year with Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl chalking up their fourth and first nods to date. (Van der Ryn won the Oscar here for Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “King Kong.”) But the unfortunate fact is voters tend to disavow films they don’t like throughout the crafts fields, even if the work is exemplary, as it certainly is here. It gets a leg up for being the only blockbuster of the field (and those tend to stick out), but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Instead, I’m actually expecting Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” to triumph in both sound categories. The film is a war movie, whether the filmmakers want to shy away from the genre classification or not, and has all the elements that voters like for these fields. So I’ll swing my bet that way and see how things fall. It wasn’t a groundbreaking sound job or anything, but it has memorable moments scattered throughout that could force voters’ pencils. And let’s be perfectly honest. Not that their names will be on the ballots (they won’t), but Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom are titans of the field, 23 nominations and 10 wins between them. So their winning here would hardly be a crime.

Will win: “War Horse”

Could win: “Hugo”

Should win: “Drive”

Should have been here: “Rango”

War Horse

Keep track of our current rankings in the Best Sound Editing category via its Contenders page here.

What do you think should be taking home this gold in this category? Who got robbed? Speak up in the comments section below!

(Read previous installments of the Oscar Guide here.)

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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