Oscar Circuit: Sound Mixing


Our look at the individual Oscar categories continue.  If you missed a piece, click on the tag titled Oscar Circuit 2014.  You can also see the official Oscar Predictions page for Best Sound Mixing.

The categories of Sound Mixing and Sound Editing sound like they should belong in one big “Best Sound” category, right?  Sound is so integral to film that when it was implemented into film in the late 1920s it literally revolutionized the industry for decades, so it makes sense the Academy wants to emphasize the importance sound plays in one’s enjoyment of a picture.  With that being said, the definition of sound mixing is the layering of sounds and music within a feature.  Considering I barely understand how to operate my DVD players sound system (and I certainly didn’t install it myself), I’m probably not the most well-versed in movie audio, but let’s give it a whirl.

The Nominees are:

  • Captain Phillips – Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith, and Chris Munro
  • Gravity – Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead, and Chris Munro
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, and Tony Johnson
  • Inside Llewyn Davis – Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff, and Peter F. Kurland
  • Lone Survivor – Andy Koyama, Beau Borders and David Brownlow

If you look at statistics, the sound mixing category is commonly in line with the Best Picture nominees and this year two of the movies nominated for Best Picture also are nominated for Sound Mixing.  Much has been said about Gravity’s chances of winning Best Picture and if it wins Best Sound Mixing the odds increase.  The sound mix for this movie is interesting as it’s predominately dialogue and the ever-present breathing of Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney.  In space, no one hears you scream, but the audience is bound to the characters of the film by being reminded they are human.  Ryan’s gulps and sips of air make every breath precious which is necessary since the score doesn’t truly kick in until the finale.  There also great moments of loud noise – the explosion which kick starts the film – juxtaposed with moments of intense quiet.  The scene to listen to is when Kowalski shows up towards the finale, a moment where Ryan’s muted protestations are combined with the loud opening of the shuttle door.  The sound here is subtle to the point where you don’t stop to really hear, but it’s the only element reminding you of the reality of the film’s situation.  If this wins the category – and Sound Mixing is Gravity’s to lose – it’s a safe bet the movie will win Picture.


Captain Phillips’s mix is loud and mechanical with every creak of the ship combining with the crackle of Hanks voice on the radio calling for help or being talked to by someone.  Similarly, there’s also the added element of naturalism to the movie with the sound of the water on the boat acting as the heartbeat of the film.  The brunt of the movie’s praise stems from the acting performances of Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi, and the sound really isn’t much to write home about.  The score is non-intrusive and it appears that Gravity utilizes the same techniques Phillips does (less score, mechanical sounds, etc), only better.  Chris Munro is nominated for this and Gravity, so he may come out a winner regardless, but his work on Phillips is intense regardless.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is in here because of the varied layers of almost all fantasy movies.  Not only do you have the sweeping score in all of Peter Jackson’s features, there’s also the roar of a fire-breathing dragon!  The Lord of the Rings series plays on all aural senses, and Desolation of Smaug is no different.  The various locations range from quiet fields with trilling birds to water sounds and the loud clanging of clinking gold providing a cacophony of sounds which never overshadow each other.  In terms of aural complexity, The Desolation of Smaug wins, but I doubt people were truly listening to the audio when the movie is a visual spectacle. Then again, couldn’t one say the same about Gravity?


Sound mixing is generally the category where musicals go automatically since they blend dialogue, music, and dialogue through music simultaneously so it’s a given to see Inside Llewyn Davis.  If the film received nominations in other categories, this could have proven to be its Best Picture lock, but instead it’ll be happy to win this at all.  The music and dialogue is where the mixing comes into play and while the music is great, the mixing itself is pretty standard.  There are no huge theatrical moments of loud/quiet, and other than the music there are no distinctions in the sound itself.  Again, if this was nominated in other categories it could secure its big wins, but instead it’s should be happy to be nominated.

Lone Survivor

Lone Survivor is another outlier with this being its sole nomination.  The sound mixing here predominately involves sounds of war: helicopters, gunfire, and shouting.   The sounds of bodies falling on rocks provides gruesome tactile images to the audience and certainly provides lasting reminders without having to show additional gore, but that’s about it.  War movies generally provide little variation in sound mixing, and really Lone Survivor gets the nomination for its bombast.

WILL WIN: Gravity

COULD WIN: Captain Phillips

SHOULD WIN: Inside Llewyn Davis

What do you think?

72 points

Written by Kristen Lopez

Is it enough to say I'm obsessed with movies? If you're reading a movie website then you should suffer from the same affliction, right? Other than that obvious statement I'm a graduate student hoping to obtain my Master's in English. Before you ask, yes I love to read or else I wouldn't be studying the subject. I'm finicky about Tudor history (Google it if you're confused), and if you say you're a bigger Michael Fassbender fan than I, I will cut you. I also love Disneyland, blog about classic film, and would love to be paid big dollars to watch and review movies.

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