Oscar Circuit: Sound Mixing

SoundMixingBest Achievement in Sound Mixing

  • Argo – John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Jose Antonio Garcia
  • Les Miserables – Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes
  • Life of Pi – Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill and Drew Kunin
  • Lincoln – Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Ronald Judkins
  • Skyfall – Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell and Stuart Wilson

Arguably one of the most competitive years in Oscar history, the Sound Mixing category follows the same suit where any of the five nominated films can win.  While there are some nominations that are questionable, there’s no denying the multitude and passion these mixers have for their craft.  As many eyes that read this article can easily name the stars of Argo, the person who played Mary Todd Lincoln, not many, I dare to say any, can name any Sound Mixers besides the ones that follow in line with Oscar.  If there are unsung heroes of cinema, a Sound craftsman (or woman) is near the top of the list.

Argo – John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Jose Antonio Garcia

argo_soundeditingOne of the surprising things about Oscar morning besides the jaw-dropping moments when Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow weren’t nominated for Best Director, was when Argo showed up in not one, but two Sound categories.  In the Sound Mixing category, Argo doesn’t fit the bill for A-typical aural sounds that remain a memorable staple by film’s end but when digesting the thought process and the work that went into bringing the archival footage and the clarity of the spoken word that’s highlighted throughout especially in large population of crowds, you can appreciate the work.  John Reitz, a previous Oscar-winner for The Matrix (1999) has a total of five Oscar nominations to his credit including this year’s.  His colleague Gregg Rudolf, also won the Oscar for The Wachowski Brothers classic film but his first Oscar would come in 1990 for his work on epic Glory with Denzel Washington.  If we were looking at the performance categories and an actor had those types of Oscar resumes, we would call ourselves foolish not to consider them one of the frontrunners.  Jose Antonio Garcia enjoys his first Oscar nomination this year and I’m sure it won’t be his last.  With all the love for Argo growing by the minute, don’t be surprised to find the coattails in Best Picture bringing a Sound win or two.

SoundWorks Collection:

Les Miserables – Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes

eddie redmayne in les miserablesMusicals are usually sure-fire bets in Sound Mixing.  The selling point of Les Miserables all year was Tom Hooper’s choice to have the actors sing LIVE on set.  As stated in my four-star review of the film, it was one the technical merits of the film that remained one of the memorable achievements of 2012.  Past musicals like Dreamgirls (2006), Taylor Hackford’s Ray (2004), and though not a musical but audacious in its presentation, Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire (2008) all found themselves Oscar winners.  Double nominated this year with his work in Spielberg’s Lincoln, Andy Nelson has been cited by the Academy eighteen times.  His only win would be for his work in  Saving Private Ryan (1999).  Mark Paterson and Simon Hayes are enjoying their first nominations and will be working on several future projects including the upcoming Killing Season and Ridley Scott’s The Counselor.

Of all the nominees, Les Miserables might be the most deserving but could it be because it’s the easier film to identify the work of the Sound mixers?  Perhaps.  The most notable moment of success is during Samantha Barks’ powerful number “On my Own” as she sings a graceful, poignant song while strolling in the pouring rain.  The blend is simply magnificent.

Soundworks Collection:

Life of Pi – Ron Bartlett, D.M. Hemphill and Drew Kunin

life-of-pi-tiger-richard-parkerAn undisputed technical revelation, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi has generated similarities to Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011) which won in this category last year.  What this Sound team achieves, especially in any instance where Richard Parker growls and the subtle motions of water rest and work with the beautiful score of Mychael Danna.  Ron Bartlett and Drew Kunin are enjoying their first Oscar nominations this year.  Bartlett had previously worked on the classic cop-thriller Heat (1995) and had another notable work in this year’s popular horror/comedy The Cabin in the Woods.  You will hear Bartlett’s work later this year in the fifth installment of the Die Hard series, A Good Day to Die Hard with Bruce Willis.

Kunin has found himself on the “snub” part of the things when it comes to Oscar.  Kunin was omitted from the 2001 lineup for his work on Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain.  Things haven’t been too sad since Kunin is a Primetime Emmy Winner for his work on the mini-series “Stalin” (1992).  D.M. Hemphill (or better known as Doug Hemphill) has danced with Oscar before.  Including this year, he’s been nominated a total of eight times, winning for Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans (1992) over twenty years ago.  With a résumé that includes Walk the Line (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), Hemphill has proved himself in the industry.

Soundworks Collection:

Lincoln – Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Ronald Judkins

lincoln2Another example where the nomination isn’t the most obvious in its reasoning of inclusion but the sound in Lincoln comes alive in it first few moments where we witness briefly a war in which innocence is lost but victory is won.  One of Lincoln’s great triumphs is the authenticity Steven Spielberg and his sound crew wanted down to the ticking of Abraham Lincoln’s watch.  Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, Ronald Judkins, and countless other unsung collaborators create a world in which the audience feels transported to a time that we would never know but feel as close as we could ever be.  Andy Nelson, double nominated this year, received his 17th and 18th nomination for Lincoln and Les Miserables.

Gary Rydstrom has been nominated seventeen times in three categories including Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, even Short Film-Animated.  Rydstrom has won a total of seven Oscars during his tenure, often times in the same year.  He’s won for Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan in Mixing and Sound Editing, James Cameron’s Titanic (1997), Jurassic Park (1993) in both Mixing and Sound Editing, and Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) in Mixing and Sound Editing.  Ron Judkins shares two Oscars with Rydstrom on Saving Private Ryan and Jurassic Park as a Sound Mixer.  Of all the nominees this year, this trio might be the most acclaimed and three people that will have massive amounts of respect from its colleagues. If there’s an unfounded love for Lincoln that hasn’t yet been realized, a Lincoln sweep could pull in many of its technical nominations in for the ride.

Soundworks Collection:

Skyfall – Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell and Stuart Wilson

skyfall_javierbardemThe biggest money-maker often times reign supreme in the technical categories.  As the highest-grossing film in British history, a franchise that’s getting a 50 Year Tribute at the Oscar ceremony, and some of the most overdue craftsman in the business working on the film, this year could be tailor-made for James Bond at the Oscars.  The sound work in Skyfall comes alive in its first few moments as Daniel Craig chases a bad guy on to a moving train while M (Judi Dench) orders a shot that will shake the lives of every spy involved.   Scott Millan has been an Oscar favorite over the past twenty years gaining nine nominations and 4 wins including The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) and Gladiator (2000).  He was also the recipient of the Career Achievement Award last year by the Cinema Audio Society.

Greg P. Russell, perhaps one of the best known Sound Mixers working today has endured sixteen nominations with Oscar that hasn’t resulted in a win…yet.  Between Russell, Cinematographer Roger Deakins, and Composer Thomas Newman, the three total 41 Oscar nominations and no wins.  If the love for Skyfall dives deeper and more profound with its five nominations, a beautiful story can be made when the three amigos win on the same night for the same movie.  While Russell’s past works like Con Air (1997) and The Mask of Zorro (1998) don’t stick out as the pinnacle works of his career, his big loss to colleague Millan for Transformers (2007) is still as unbelievable as ever.  With four nominations coming after, perhaps they’re ready to finally make it up to him and reward a career that spans over thirty years.

Stuart Wilson is on his second consecutive nomination after last year’s inaugural inception for War Horse, but he’s no newbie to the industry.  Wilson’s stamp can be found on Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011), in which he received a BAFTA nomination and for Fernando Mierelles’ underrated classic The Constant Gardener (2005).  He will be working on the upcoming Brad Pitt blockbuster World War Z due out later this year.

Soundworks Collection:

WILL WIN – The edge has to be in the team of Skyfall’s favor.  The film did score five Oscar nominations and if Oscar feels inclined to reward some of the great craftsman including Roger Deakins and Thomas Newman, this feels like an odd one to leave out.  It’s even believed that the film may or may not have been #10 as a potential Oscar nominee.  Spoilers could be an Argo train that brings in all its technical categories or the technical marvel of Life of Pi.

Discuss.