2018 Oscar Circuit: Sound Mixing & Sound Editing

Sound

Ah, the Sound categories.  For every person to claims to understand the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, there seems to be a horde of people who couldn’t differentiate the two categories if their lives depended on it.  For decades, the the achievement of sound editing was an Academy scion, relegating to special Oscars and categories with only two nominees, which Sound Mixing has been a staple of the ceremony since the beginning.   I won’t bore you with the difference here (it’s a Google search away, I promise), but it is safe to say few know the difference.  The Sound Branch has received criticism historically for overlapping their two categories (after all, most well-mixed films have great sound editing; and well-edited sound tends to be brilliantly designed), often 4/5 or 3/5.  However, this year marks the first time where Sound Editing and Sound Mixing overlap 5/5, raising calls for the categories to be combined:

Nevertheless, while I disagree wholeheartedly that the categories should be combined, I do think the analysis this particular year, allows for the categories to be combined into a single Oscar Circuit.  Since no musical is in contention, and it marks the first time ever the races overlap perfectly, this is a rare incident to be sure.

And the Nominees Are:

Best Sound Editing

  • Baby Driver (Julian Slater)
  • Blade Runner 2049 (Mark A. Mangini, Theo Green)
  • Dunkirk (Richard King, Alex Gibson)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Matthew Wood, Ren Klyce)
  • The Shape of Water (Nathan Robitaille, Nelson Ferreira)

Best Sound Mixing

  • Baby Driver (Tim Cavagin, Mary H. Ellis, Julian Slater)
  • Blade Runner 2049 (Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Mac Ruth)
  • Dunkirk (Gregg Landaker, Gary Rizzo, Mark Weingarten)
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Michael Semanick, David Parker, Stuart Wilson, Ren Klyce)
  • The Shape of Water (Christian T. Cooke, Glen Gauthier, Brad Zoern)

This year, “Dunkirk” seems to be poised to take home at least two Oscars, in these sound categories.  Having won the CAS and BAFTA for Best Sound, Christopher Nolan‘s film is firmly in the lead.  Only two films since 2000 have failed to win a Sound Oscar after winning both those prizes: “Walk the Line” and “The Revenant.”  Additionally, it is the “loud” war film, a moniker that tends to lead to gold in the sound races.  Interestingly, Alex Gibson appears to be the first Supervising Music Editor nominated for Sound Editing, as a credit to the unmistakable blend of music and sound in Dunkirk’s sound landscape.  Historically un-rewarded sound mixer Kevin O’Connell finally won his Oscar last year for a war film; perhaps that’s enough to do the trick for “Dunkirk.”

Lurking in the shadows is “Baby Driver,” lying in wait to make a “The Bourne Ultimatum” style run in a few tech races.  Edgar Wright‘s car chase caper has already won the BAFTA Film Editing prize, and if voters respond to the soundtrack (integrated so perfectly into the design of the film), it may well do well in Sound Mixing especially.  If the Sound races do split, I would bet on “Baby Driver” taking Mixing, with “Dunkirk” nabbing Sound Editing.

With the film front-running in no less than three categories, including Best Director, and a darkhorse to win Best Picture, “The Shape of Water” could surprise here.  After all, while the visuals of the Amphibious Man in Guillermo del Toro’s love story was an achievement of the costumers, VFX designers, and makeup artists, the sound of the creature belongs solely to the Sound team.  Not only did they make the Amphibious Man believable as a living creature, but that he was believably communicative with Sally Hawkins’ character.  Not unlike what the “Arrival” sound editor was able to accomplish last year, for which he won Best Sound Editing.  In years past, “Birdman” and “The Revenant” challenged here as Best Picture contenders, but ultimately lost to louder, more “standard” films for these categories.

The new age of Star Wars cinema seems cursed to make billions while leaving the Dolby Theatre each year Oscarless.  While the sound landscape of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” is masterful (especially Kylo Ren’s lightsaber sound effects and the mix when Rey is having her force visions), I question the AMPAS’ desire to award these films, especially in a sound race.  I’d reckon this film is last in both sound categories.

In his third consecutive collaboration with a different sound mixing and editing team, a Denis Villeneuve film returns to the Sound Mixing and Sound Editing races.  His 2016 effort, “Arrival” won Sound Editing while his 2015 film, “Sicario” was nominated there.     Much of “Blade Runner 2049” exists on the aural plane, with just as much storytelling being accomplished through sound design as Roger Deakins is accomplishing with visuals.  If voters are feeling ornery and inspired, they may cast a vote for Villeneuve’s opus here, giving it a good change to collect the majority of its five nominations.

While upsets in the form of “Baby Driver” or a “The Shape of Water” sweep, “Dunkirk” should handedly win both Sound Mixing and Sound Editing.

Will Win Sound Mixing & Sound Editing: Dunkirk
Should Win Sound Mixing : Blade Runner 2049
Should Win Sound Editing : Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Could Win Both: Baby Driver
Should Have Been Nominated in Sound Mixing & Sound Editing: mother!