2020 Oscar Circuit: Best Sound Editing/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. 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!

Before we get into the rundown of the contenders, it’s important to know the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. Simply put, when you think about Editing, you’re thinking about the sounds gathered for use in a film (the category was once called Best Sound Effects Editing). When you think about Mixing, you’re thinking about what is done to those sounds afterward. Essentially, the editors put in noise, from super simple background noises to what the most incredibly of visual creations in a movie sound like. Then, it goes over to the mixers, who in postproduction take the already placed sounds and tinker with them. They may make those background noises louder or softer, for example, or layering on something extra to give a creature added life. This also explains why musicals historically do so much better in one category than the other. Now that we know a bit about the differences in the two categories, we can dive in!

And the Nominees are:

Best Sound Editing

  • “1917” (Oliver Tarney and Rachel Tate)
  • “Ford v Ferrari” (Donald Sylvester)
  • “Joker” (Alan Robert Murray)
  • “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” (Wylie Stateman)
  • “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” (Matthew Wood and David Acord)

Best Sound Mixing

  • “Ad Astra” (Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, and Mark Ulano)
  • “1917” (Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson)
  • “Ford v Ferrari” (Paul Massey, David Giammarco, and Steven Morrow)
  • “Joker” (Tom Ozanich, Dean A. Zupancic, and Tod A. Maitland)
  • “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” (Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler, and Mark Ulano)

NOMINEE BREAKDOWN (Sound Editing)

“1917”

Nominees: Oliver Tarney and Rachel Tate

One of the two most likely winners in this Sound category, “1917” is easy to see as a frontrunner here. After all, it’s a war movie, which has historically done well in the category. Then, there’s just the overt quality of how visceral the work is, placing you in the thick of World War I. Every element of the film does that, but the sound is on another level. Oliver Tarney is a three time nominee here (also having been cited for “Captain Phillips” and “The Martian“), while Rachel Tate has her first invitation to the Oscars. Odds are, both are in an excellent position to win their first Academy Awards. They won Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Dialogue / ADR at the Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards, putting them in a strong spot.

“Ford v Ferrari”

Nominees: Donald Sylvester

The other Sound Editing frontrunner is “Ford v Ferrari,” which also boasts a win from the Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel Awards. The film took home Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing – Effects / Foley, matching up with “1917.” First time nominee Donald Sylvester helped make the sounds of auto racing instantly captivating, and all the more so in theaters. One may wonder if some of its charms are lost when watching on a screener, but that could also be overblown. If this category doesn’t go to the war movie, look for the racing drama to take it home instead.

“Joker”

Nominees: Alan Robert Murray

What to make of “Joker” leading the nominations? Does the citation in this category have more to do with the film being an Oscar juggernaut or with the fact that Sound Editor Alan Robert Murray is an Academy favorite? A two time winner and ten time nominee overall (“American Sniper,” “Eraser,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Ladyhawke,” “Lethal Weapon 2,” “Letters from Iwo Jima,” “Sicario,” “Space Cowboys,” and “Sully“), Murray is consistently cited for his work. Some combination of his reputation and the actual sound design of this super villain origin story got it into the race. That being said, it’s almost assured of losing, so predict an upset at your own peril.

“Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”

Nominees: Wylie Stateman

Sound is an essential component for Quentin Tarantino. Teaming with returning collaborator Wylie Stateman, Tarantino brought the 1960s to us with “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.” It wasn’t just that it looked like the era, it sounded like it too. In another year, this ninth nomination for Stateman (“Born on the Fourth of July,” “Cliffhanger,” “Deepwater Horizon,” “Django Unchained,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “Lone Survivor,” “Memoirs of a Geisha,” and “Wanted“) would be the charm. Unfortunately, flashier and more awarded contenders “1917” and “Ford v Ferrari” are the only serious contenders for Best Sound Editing. A third place finish, at best, is in the cards for this one.

“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”

Nominees: Matthew Wood and David Acord

One suspects that if this conclusion to the “Star Wars” saga was stronger, it could be more seriously in the running for an Oscar win. “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” makes it three for three in these new episodes getting into the Best Sound Editing race. In fact, Matthew Wood has been nominated all three times, also getting cited previously for “There Will Be Blood” and “WALL-E,” making him a five time nominee. David Acord has his second citation, having joined Wood as a nominee for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” They won’t win, but a few months ago, they were conceivable victors. Now, it’s just a filler nomination. Alas.


 

NOMINEE BREAKDOWN (Sound Mixing)

“Ad Astra”

Nominees: Gary Rydstrom, Tom Johnson, and Mark Ulano

The sole nomination for “Ad Astra” comes in Best Sound Mixing. Part of the reason this science fiction tale wasn’t shut out is surely due to the presence of Gary Rydstrom. More on him in a moment, but he’s joined here by two time winner (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and “Titanic“) and nine time nominee (“Cast Away,” “Contact,” “Forrest Gump,” “The Polar Express,” “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” and “War Horse“) Tom Johnson, as well as Mark Ulano, who is a four timer, also nominated this year for “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” in addition to winning his first time out for “Titanic” (“Inglourious Basterds” is his other nom). Rydstrom, however, is the rock star of Sound, for Oscar. A seven time winner (two each for “Jurassic Park,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” and a single win for “Titanic”) and nineteen time nominee across multiple categories (two Sound nods for “Backdraft” and “War Horse,” sole citations for “Bridge of Spies,” “Finding Nemo,” “Lincoln,” “Minority Report,” “Monsters, Inc,” and “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” as well as a Best Animated Short nom for “Lifted“), he’s an institution. Just getting the nomination here was the true reward for the flick, as Rydstrom won’t be fueling this one to a surprise win.

“1917”

Nominees: Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson

Much like in Sound Editing, the Sound Mixing category seems primed to be taken by “1917,” though it may not be as unbeatable. Where as Editing is often very favorable to war flicks, Mixing can go in other directions. However, when that happens, it can usually be in favor of a musical. That isn’t the case here, complicating matters. Mixers Mark Taylor and Stuart Wilson are both seeking their first Oscars, though Taylor is a three time Academy Award nominee (“Captain Phillips” and “The Martian“), while Wilson is a six timer (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “Skyfall,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and “War Horse“). Also worth noting is that the Cinema Audio Society didn’t nominate this one, likely having not seen it in time. If it had been outright snubbed, that would be enough to move away from it. Instead, this is a pick-em situation with the other top contender in the category, as you’ll see below.

“Ford v Ferrari”

Nominees: Paul Massey, David Giammarco, and Steven Morrow

Hoping to upend the World War I epic here as well is this racing flick. In its back pocket is the Cinema Audio Society win in the top field of Motion Picture — Live Action. “Ford v Ferrari” actually features Sound Editing by the reigning winner of the category in Paul Massey. This represents his ninth nomination overall (winning for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” while also being nominated previously for “3:10 to Yuma,” “Air Force One,” “Legends of the Fall,” “The Martian,” “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” and “Walk the Line“). Working here with now three time nominees David Giammarco (“3:10 to Yuma” and “Moneyball“) and Steven Morrow (“La La Land” and “A Star Is Born“), the team has an excellent chance to win. It really does seem like a coin flip in regards to which movie will win Best Sound Editing, “1917” or “Ford v Ferrari.”

“Joker”

Nominees: Tom Ozanich, Dean A. Zupancic, and Tod A. Maitland

The clown prince of crime again waltzes into a tech category. “Joker” features a trio of Sound Mixers who have yet to win Oscars. Tom Ozanich is a two time nominee (“A Star Is Born“), Dean A. Zupancic is a three timer (“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “A Star Is Born”), and Tod A. Maitland now has four citations under his belt (“Born on the Fourth of July,” “JFK,” and “Seabiscuit“). Much like in Best Sound Editing, the nomination here will have to be the win, since it’s just not going to happen, up against two evenly matched frontrunners.

“Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”

Nominees: Michael Minkler, Christian P. Minkler, and Mark Ulano

A look at the glory days of Hollywood makes for an interesting toy box for any Sound Mixer to play around in. Doing it for Quentin Tarantino? Well, that’s just upping the ante.  Tarantino’s mixers are a combination of first time nominees and Academy favorites. This is Christian P. Minkler‘s first Oscar nomination, while Ulano is, as mentioned above, a prior winner and up to four citations overall, including his other nod this year for “Ad Astra.” Then, there’s three time winner Michael Minkler, already holding Academy Awards for “Black Hawk Down,” “Chicago,” and “Dreamgirls.” Overall, Minkler is a twelve time nominee (“Altered States,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” “A Chorus Line,” “Cliffhanger,” “The Electric Horseman,” “Inglourious Basterds,” “JFK,” and “TRON“), clearly representing someone voters have gone for in the past. It won’t come close to happening this time around, but it’s a group that will undoubtedly be back in the running again soon.


Over the past decade, six of the nine ceremonies have seen Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing go to the same film. This year, that very well could happen to either “1917” or “Ford v Ferrari.” When two movies are this close in the race, a split is decidedly possible, though in what direction is hard to ascertain, given that neither are musicals. So, factoring in how too many voters still can’t separate Sound Editing and Sound Mixing in their mind, they may well just default to their Best Picture pick. That’s the tiebreaker and why “1917” emerges victorious in both categories here. It’s a close call and could go the other way (it would surprise nobody if “Ford v Ferrari” grabbed one of these two prizes), but when in doubt, go with the more obvious player in the top categories.

WILL WIN: “1917” in Best Sound Editing / “1917” in Best Sound Mixing

POTENTIAL SHOCKER: “Ford v Ferrari” in Best Sound Editing / “Ford v Ferrari” in Best Sound Mixing

SHOULD WIN: “1917” in Best Sound Editing / “Ad Astra” in Best Sound Mixing

SHOULD HAVE BEEN NOMINATED: “Ad Astra” in Best Sound Editing / “Avengers: Endgame” in Best Sound Mixing

Which film or films do you expect to win the Academy Awards for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing? Let us know in the comments below!