2016 Oscar Circuit: Best Sound Mixing


b8e80425c1d4bd8809fe57d850e8b321e9e79d85-tc-img-previewWelcome to our annual Oscar Circuit series, our deep down look into each and every category that will be presented at the upcoming Academy Awards.  Each writer of AwardsCircuit.com will tackle a different category, offering up their own perspectives on those specific races.  If you miss a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Circuit 2016. You can also see the official Oscar Predictions for that particular race by clicking on the link here or at the bottom of each article.  Make sure to include your predicted winners in the comment section too!

The nominees are:

  • Bridge of Spies (Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Drew Kunin)
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (Chris Jenksin, Gregg Rudloff, Ben Osmo)
  • The Martian (Paul Massey, Mark Taylor, Mac Ruth)
  • Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio, Stuart Wilson)
  • The Revenant (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom, Chris Duesterdiek)

The first Best Picture winner, “Wings,” was a silent film. It’s release, however, came as silent films were being ushered out and sound films were becoming the norm. In fact for the last 86 years every Best Picture winner, save for “The Artist” in 2011, has been a talkie, as they were once referred as. But sound is not achieved by just pressing record, which is why the Academy recognizes sound artists in the sound mixing and sound editing categories.

We’re focusing on sound mixing here, which in basic technical terms is the process of taking all the sound elements of a film, including the score, and finding the right balance as far as volume levels and position they play in the theater. Scott Millan, Oscar-winner in sound mixing for “Skyfall,” described it like this in a 2013 Entertainment Weekly article: “It’s like a big chemistry set: How much of this do you put into that? And how much of this do you put in to that, and how will that affect this?”

So, who mixed and matched to the Academy’s liking this year?


Bridge of Spies

Not surprisingly, Steven Spielberg’s film are always top notch technically, particularly the sound mixing in his last few films. Andy Nelson and Gary Rydstrom have been nominated for Spielberg’s last three films – “Spies,” “Lincoln” and “War Horse” – and were joined this time by Drew Kunin, a fellow previous nominee for “Life of Pi.” A lot of times the sign of a good job in sound mixing is when the work goes unnoticed, as that means the audience wasn’t brought out of the film in any way, and that certainly was the case with the trios work on “Bridge of Spies.” However, the Academy does tend to lean a little bit flashier with these picks, so it doesn’t look like the third time will be the charm for Nelson and Rydstrom for their work with Spielberg.



Mad Max: Fury Road

As I just said, bigger is often better with the Academy. Action films always tend to have a slight advantage in sound mixing, and there certainly wasn’t a bigger action film this year than “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The orchestra of explosions and Tom Hardy grunts that was “Mad Max” came to us from the team of Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff and Ben Osmo. Filled with the revving of engines, the carnage of car crashes and jamming of the Coma-Doof Warrior, it was all brought together to provide for one of the more intense film going experiences of the year.



The Martian

Not sure that Paul Massey, Mark Taylor and Mac Ruth had to science the shit out of all the audio they received to achieve the right sound mixing for “The Martian,” but whatever they did it worked. “The Martian’s” great use of sound mixing can be highlighted a lot by the beginning and climatic sequences of the movie. The first is the storm that forces the crew to evacuate Mars and leaves Matt Damon’s character stranded. Then, his rescue at the end as his ship is falling apart, and he has to fly around like Iron Man. Everything else in the movie is more subtle work, but plays a part in bringing us this look into the not so distant future.



Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Many people have said how “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a return to form for the beloved franchise, that also has proven true when it comes to being nominated for its sound. The first four films of the franchise, from “A New Hope” to “The Phantom Menace,” were all nominated for what at the time was called Best Sound, with “New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” winning. There is certainly a lot for sound mixers Andy Nelson (his second nomination in this field this year), Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson to play with when you have lightsabers and blasters and giant slug things to help bring to life. Then layering all of that with a new chapter of John Williams’ legendary score, “The Force Awakens” will be a threat to return to the franchises former glory in this category.



The Revenant

When your lead actor spends a good chunk of the movie unable to talk because he suffers from a gruesome bear injury, the sound of the film clearly will be a big factor. “The Revenant” crew of Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom and Chris Duesterdiek did a great job to bring the harshness of nature to life with their audio work. Sequences like the bear attack were raised because of the audio that was added to the image of Leo being thrown around like a rag doll. “The Revenant” received the most nominations of any film for this year’s Oscars and that support could be turned into wins in a number of categories, including here.


A lot of times Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing end up going to the same film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened again this year. The main reason for that is because I think one film will dominated the below-the-line categories. “Mad Max: Fury Road” is one of the most impressive pieces of below-the-line work we’ve seen from Hollywood in quite some, which should be rewarded on Oscar night, with Best Sound Mixing being one of them. If anyone stands to challenge it though, I’d give the best shot to “Star Wars.”

Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Could Win: Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road



  • Damian Pietrzak

    I think Mad Max will win this (Sound editing too) but if anyone can spoil its Revenant because this our frontrunner right now for BP.