2019 Oscars Look: Best Sound Editing

sound editing

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 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:

  • Black Panther” – Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker
  • Bohemian Rhapsody” – John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone
  • First Man” – Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
  • A Quiet Place” – Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
  • Roma” – Sergio Díaz and Skip Lievsay

Deciphering the difference between sound editing and sound mixing is a tale as old as time for Oscar fans who wonder why these two are not just combined into a single work. Aren’t they the same thing? Not at all. They are crafts that interact with each other closely for the final result, but their processes are quite different.

Sound editing involves producing or capturing the sounds that will create the story form audio perspective, while the mixing of these sounds is entirely a post-production endeavor that functions in levels and shifting values to finesse the soundscape that will enhance the images. Of course, it’s not out of the ordinary for the same film to win both awards because these two technical elements complement each other, but that’s not always the case.

This year, four out of five nominees overlap between sound mixing and sound editing. The two disparate films are “A Quiet Place” for Sound Editing and “A Star is Born” for Sound Mixing, and they are great examples of what each craft does. In the horror/thriller, the sounds that comprise the nearly silent narrative are outstanding and specific; in the romantic musical, it’s the mixing of original songs that stand out. Let’s take a look at the nominees for Sound Editing.

“Black Panther” (Marvel)

Black Panther vs Killmonger first fight

Nominees: Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker
Oscar Scene: Final confrontation between T’Challa and Killmonger’s supporters.

Sounds associated with Wakanda’s sophisticated vibranium-fueled technology, in addition to the multitude of other effects needed to breathe life into the epic battles of this politically sophisticated blockbuster, are certainly what landed it in this category. Action-packed films tend to do well in the sound races, and Ryan Coogler’s major achievement is in contention for Best Picture. But that might not be enough to push it ahead of other contenders that feel much more defined by their sound design. Still, that final confrontation between T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and the usurping king Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), as well as their respective armies of supporters in a divided Wakanda, is truly a remarkable feat for all craftspeople involved.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” (20th Century Fox)

Bohemian Rhapsody

Nominee: John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone
Oscar Scene: Brian May creates “We Will Rock You” as a tribute to Queen’s audience

Aside from Rami Malek winning the Best Actor trophy for embodying Freddie Mercury (with the help of some bad wigs and teeth), the maligned production’s biggest chances at Oscar glory are in the sound department. The musical drama, a box office hit but a critical failure, revels in Queen’s songs and live performances. In other words: sound is very important to the narrative. Among the many instances where the sound editing craft shines through is a pivotal scene where big-haired Brian May decides he wants to give the audience something they can perform alongside the band. He stomps his feet and claps his hands to a rhythm that resembles a marching army. He then gets his bandmates to repeat, as Mercury asks what the lyrics should be. The birth of “We Will Rock You” is a prime example of the craft being awarded, even if the movie as a whole is undeserving. “Bohemian Rhapsody” will likely go home with more than a single victory.

“First Man” (Universal Pictures)


Nominee: Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
Oscar Scene: Every time Neil Armstrong is inside a rocket

The two talented women behind the sounds in Damien Chazelle’s unconventional homage to one of America’s most emblematic men have now collectively received six Oscars nominations. They were previously nominated together for the director’s musical “La La Land,” and this year Lee, a Singaporean sound master, is nominated for both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. Their inspired work in the space period drama was surely a painstaking quest to recreate an experience very few of us will ever have: flying to the moon on a rocket. At the heart of their labor came the task of selecting which sounds could recreate that physical intensity in a movie that’s so emotionally restrained. They delivered. One can only imagine what their collections of sounds look like in order to achieve what they did. They deserve to walk away with the prize. Unfortunately, support for “First Man” beyond the crafts categories was non-existent. That might mean voters appreciate the technical prowess but were left cold by its tone.

“A Quiet Place” (Universal Pictures)

A Quiet Place 2

Nominee: Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
Oscar Scene: Emily Blunt injures herself hiding from an extraterrestrial predator

The movie’s sole nomination is perhaps the most appropriate one. John Krasinski’s thriller relies on silence and the accuracy of the sounds that construct its nerve-wracking narrative. This is a film whose language is as much sonic as it is visual. The creation of the extraterrestrial growls and the delicate collection of small noises that score the family’s hyper-quiet life truly merit the recognition. Despite the fact that one of the nominees, Ethan Van der Ryn, has already won two Oscars in this category for Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” and “King Kong,” this doesn’t seem like the year he’ll complete the trio of golden little men. This mention simply ensured that one of 2018’s biggest hits wasn’t entirely left out of the ceremony.

“Roma” (Netflix)

Roma movie

Nominee: Sergio Díaz and Skip Lievsay
Oscar Scene: A student protest turns violent as Cleo tries to buy a cradle

To accurately depict Mexico City in all its chaotic beauty, Alfonso Cuarón’s team had to capture or recreate countless sounds that together constructed the cacophony of a metropolis at a difficult time in its history. Street vendors, marching bands, and the distant barking of dogs are among the most significant elements that provide sensory authenticity. One scene that stands out among the rest is when Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) is at a furniture store looking for a cradle just as conflict erupts outside where students are savagely beaten and killed. Suddenly, the violence that at first sounded removed from the character’s immediate reality penetrates their space and threatens their safety. That sequence is different from when Cleo is outside a movie theater wondering where her boyfriend Fermín (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) went as people offer their products for the moviegoers on their way. Both are, however, enhanced by the accompanying sounds.

PREDICTED WINNER: “Bohemian Rhapsody”



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Written by Carlos Aguilar

Originally from Mexico City, Carlos Aguilar was chosen as one of 6 young film critics to partake in the first Roger Ebert Fellowship organized by, the Sundance Institute and Indiewire in 2014. Aguilar’s work has appeared in prestigious publications such as The Wrap, Indiewire, Vulture,, MovieMaker Magazine, Remezcla Filmmaker Magazine, Variety Latino, Slate, Bustle, Americas Quarterly, among others.

Besides his work in journalism, Aguilar regularly works as a screener for the Sundance Film Festival and a screenplay reader for Sundance’s Screenwriters Lab. Carlos Aguilar has also been on the jury at renowned festivals such the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Gasparilla International Film Festival, the Louisiana International Film Festival, and the Los Angeles Indian Film Festival.

Aguilar currently co-hosts, One Week Only, a weekly podcast highlighting independent and international cinema. He also regularly participates in panel discussions about the importance of people of color in film criticism and his experience as a DACA recipient working in the film industry.


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