2019 Oscars Look: Best Sound Mixing

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Welcome to our annual Oscar Look series, formally known as “Oscar Circuit” – our deep dive 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 Look 2018. 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 own predicted winners in the comment section too!

And the Nominees are:

  • First Man“– Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee, and Mary H. Ellis
  • Roma“– Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan, and José Antonio García
  • A Star Is Born“– Tom Ozanich, Dean A. Zupancic, Jason Ruder, and Steve Morrow
  • Black Panther“– Steve Boedekker, Brandon Proctor, and Peter Devlin
  • Bohemian Rhapsody“– Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin, and John Casali

Sound mixing, a category not well defined during the Oscars telecast, is the process of melting audio, ambient sound and recorded dialogue into an audible story that makes sense. It is not sound editing as some would think, which is the actual collection of sounds needed for the film. It’s a category few seem to care about, but films would fall flat without sound mixers ensuring that seagull screaming in the background doesn’t kill the vibe. This year, four out of five of the nominees are also nominated for Best Film, signaling the importance of the visual and audible story. But will musical powerhouses “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “A Star Is Born” drown out the more understated but worthy nominees, like “Roma”?

Nominee: Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee, and Mary H. Ellis for “First Man”

Oscar SceneArmstrong in mid-flight

What does space sound like? In Damien Chazelle’s “First Man,” it’s a mix of groaning metal, vintage space tech, and rocket launches. The Neil Armstrong biopic was a hit with critics and audiences, hailed for the personal drama behind the most famous space journey of them all. The true danger of man’s first trip to the moon comes across in the static-filled radio exchanges and looming quietly of space, set against the noisy, literal tin cans astronauts were flying in. Taylor, Montaño, Lee, and Ellis are an A-team of sound mixing, previously earning Oscar noms for films like “The Revenant,” “Birdman,” “Baby Driver,” and “La La Land.”

Personally, I’d be surprised if “First Man” made it to the Oscars stage. The film has underperformed at Oscars precursors, only winning one Golden Globe and no BAFTAs. Even worse, there doesn’t seem to be much buzz about the film in comparison to the other nominees, who’ve been praised for their music (“Bohemian Rhapsody,” “A Star Is Born”), their heart-wrenching storylines (“Roma”) or their pop culture impact (“Black Panther”). Who knows, perhaps Taylor, Montaño, Lee, and Ellis impressed enough people to snatch up a win: but against other nominees, it doesn’t seem likely.

Nominee: Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan, and José Antonio García for “Roma”

Oscar SceneCleo and Pepe “play dead” on the rooftop

Of all the nominees, Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” is my personal favorite for this category. Shot in black and white, Cuarón uses layers of sound to construct Cleo’s world in elegant strokes. Borras the dog barking, children arguing, a ringing telephone and a street vendor hawking his wares mesh together without becoming overbearing, bringing 1970s Mexico into full being. Lievsay, Henighan and García have numerous awards already under their belt, with Lievsay earning an Oscar for “Gravity,” Henighan 2 Primetime Emmys for “Stranger Things,” and García an Oscar nom for “Argo.”

“Roma” is the epitome of what awards for sound mixing should be for: without Lievsay, Henighan and García’s work, “Roma” could’ve been a 2 hour long snoozefest. In other years without musical films in the Oscars mix, a “Roma” win might’ve been a foregone conclusion. But with “A Star Is Born” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” also nominated in the category, I fear “Roma” may not see Oscar gold here.

Nominee: Tom Ozanich, Dean A. Zupancic, Jason Ruder, and Steve Morrow for “A Star Is Born”

Oscar SceneAlly and Jackson perform ‘Shallow’ for the first time

Bradley Cooper’s “A Star Is Born” is definitely the film to beat for sound mixing: Lady Gaga and Cooper’s decision to perform every song live was the riskiest move with the most rewards. Their success is due, in large part, to Ozanich, Zupanic, Ruder and Morrow, who used some serious recording equipment and new methods of recording to make the film, including using more than 60 unique recording tracks at a time (the standard is eight).

The group worked for almost seven months on sound alone and even figured out how to record the songs before live audiences without leaking the audio. The team pulled off a musical drama, all performed live, with consistent studio-quality sound; Gaga and Cooper may have stunned with their songs, but their success was down to the sound mixing and editing teams. For that reason, “A Star Is Born” is my predicted Oscar winner for Best Sound Mixing.

Nominee: Steve Boedekker, Brandon Proctor, and Peter Devlin for “Black Panther”

Oscar SceneNakia, T’Challa, and Shuri prepare to fight Killmonger

It’s great to see one of the best action films of 2018 earning a spot in this category, which honors all the complexities of layering audio. After all, Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” is decidedly less exciting without that yelled dialogue, a clash of weapons, and screaming battle rhinos seeded through the footage. Boedekker, Proctor, and Devlin are, like most of the other nominees, no strangers to the Oscars, racking up nominations for films like “All Is Lost” (Boedekker), “Pearl Harbor” and “Star Trek” (Devlin). Proctor is also Oscar-nominated this year for his work in sound editing for “A Quiet Place.” However, I have a feeling “Black Panther” will be more successful with its other nominations in original score and sound editing; its work in sound mixing was solid, but not exceptional.

Nominee: Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin, and John Casali for “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Oscar SceneQueen makes the world their stage (Live Aid)

If you made it to the theater for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” you left humming some classic Queen. The film’s success can be attributed to not only Rami Malek, but sound mixers Massey, Cavagin and Casali, who blended several voices (Malek, singer Marc Matel, and others) to closely mimic Freddie Mercury’s rockstar voice. The trio is no strangers to the Oscars, with Massey racking up a whopping 7 sound mixing nominations for films like “The Martian” and “Walk the Line.”

While Massey, Cavagin, and Casali accomplished a Herculean feat with that perfect Live Aid concert sequence, “A Star Is Born” beats out “Bohemian Rhapsody” with their completely live vocals. Sure, the film’s music and Live Aid finale were jaw-dropping, but Malek ultimately wasn’t singing live, while Gaga and Cooper were. Without a directly comparable musical film, “Bohemian Rhapsody” could’ve gone the distance (again, that Live Aid sequence was a damn masterpiece). But with “A Star Is Born” in direct competition, I just can’t see this film rising to the top.

PREDICTED WINNER: “A Star is Born”

WHO DO YOU THINK WILL WIN BEST SOUND MIXING? SHARE YOUR PREDICTIONS IN THE COMMENTS BELOW.

Be sure to check out our Official Oscar Predictions Page!