I began Tech Support this season by analyzing two of the categories that award disciplines which can be explained relatively easily – Best Visual Effects and Best Cinematography. This week's field isn't so easily reductive, but I always give it a try for new readers.
The sound editing Oscar recognizes achievements probably better reflected in its previous names – Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Sound Effects. In essence, the category rewards the creation of artificial sounds, which are necessary for the movie’s soundtrack. It differs from sound mixing, which is the weaving and integration of all sound elements – dialogue, music, effects and production audio – into one coherent soundtrack.
Traditionally, fairly similar films are nominated here as in the sound mixing category (last year’s 2/5 matchup aside): loud films, war films, blockbusters, Best Picture contenders with action, etc. That said, films in which most of the soundscape is artificially created do tend to do better here than in the mixing field, such as animated titles and, for instance, last year's nominee in the field, "TRON Legacy."
The category does have a few names who tend to pop up repeatedly (some of whom do double duty as mixers), though new nominees are welcomed almost every year. This has been more noticeable since the size of the category expanded five years ago from three to five nominees.
In my mind, the best bet for a nod this year, even if it is sight-unseen, would have to be Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse.” In addition to the war and horse sounds, the film looks like it will be in contention for Best Picture and many of the other crafts categories as well. The fact that Richard Hymns is a three-time Oscar winner for Spielberg movies (“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “Jurassic Park” and “Saving Private Ryan”) only helps its chances.
The fact of the matter is that “War Horse” is not the only Spielberg effort I would expect to be a contender in this category, though. The animated/performance capture “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn” also presents an opportunity for sound effects editors to demonstrate their skills. While supervising sound editor Chris Ward has not been nominated before, I nevertheless strongly suspect this will be a contender.
“Tintin” is not the only animated endeavor I would keep my eyes on. “Rango” was not only a reasonable hit for an animated film, it also brought in many sounds of the Old West, something the sound branch looks favorably on from time to time. Addison Teague was nominated in this category last year for “TRON Legacy” and was also on the sound team for "Avatar."
Given Pixar’s extraordinary track record in this category over the past decade, it may appear very unwise to bet against “Cars 2.” Tom Myers has received three straight nominations here, for “WALL-E,” “Up” and “Toy Story 3.” Even so, I am skeptical about this film’s chances. Its predecessor in the series is the only Pixar film in the past decade not to score a nomination here. While that could be considered a fluke, it’s worth remembering that this film underwhelmed in the eyes of almost everyone. Is it in contention? Absolutely. But I’m not sold on it.
Looking back on June releases, “Super 8” was heavily reliant on sound effects – from the train crash to the alien creature to the eerie sounds that build the mood. I have no idea if it will actually survive until year’s end in the mind of the sound branch, but Matthew Wood (a two-time nominee) and Ben Burtt (a two-time winner and legend in the field) would probably be wise to keep Oscar night open on their calendars.
Like its visual effects team, the sound editing crew of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” will try to return to the game this year despite “Revenge of the Fallen” having missed out on a nomination. I’m not as convinced of its potential in this category as in visual effects, not because of the quality of the work, but also because the category hasn’t expanded since “Revenge of the Fallen.” Even so, any film with a soundtrack like this one must be considered in this category. It was better reviewed than its series predecessor.
It is true that “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” managed to excite a fan base perhaps unlike any other film this summer. Its visual effects are clearly headed into the history books. Could the sound effects of the apes, as well as the more traditional action-based crashes and whatnot, make a first-time nominee out of supervising sound editor Chuck Michael? It’s certainly possible. That said, this could be a “visual effects only” film for the Academy, with more traditional sounds and more seasoned veterans taking the nominations here.
I remained surprised that the “Harry Potter” series has never managed a nomination here. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2” is the last chance to reward the magical sounds and aural elements of J.K. Rowling's universe. It seems odd that the sound branch would start to notice now. Though it’s not out of the realm of possibility for James Mather to find himself a first-time nominee come the new year.
“Drive” has some very vocal fans, as the cult of Ryan Gosling continues to grow and Albert Brooks may be able to steer his against-type turn towards an Oscar nomination. The film has an interesting soundscape and elements edited together for chase sequences could make the branch perk up a bit. Lon Bender won this award for “Braveheart” and was a surprise nominee five years ago for “Blood Diamond.” That gives it some hope in my eyes.
“Real Steel” is Hugh Jackman’s latest foray into shirtless action. The film was well reviewed and successful enough such that the combination of robots and fights may, just may, result in a nomination when all is said and done. Sometimes lone wolves show up in this category somewhat surprisingly. (“Unstoppable” jumps to mind from last year, as well as the likes of “Space Cowboys,” “Fight Club,” “Face/Off,” “The Fifth Element” and more in recent memory.)
Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” will attempt to bring us into a fantastical world that will captivate family audiences. Sound effects will doubtless abound and Philip Stockton is in many ways overdue for a first nomination. I’m still not sure this project is in Scorsese’s comfort zone but if it succeeds, I certainly expect a nomination here is quite possible.
I’ll end with another film I’m having difficulty reading: David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” This may well be just a December cash cow. The studio will likely be content with that. But it has the potential to be more depending on how the Academy is feeling. The sound categories would be among its strongest chances in my opinion.
And with those musings ends my third look at a category this year. Next week, we move back into the realm of the visual as we analyze Best Costume Design.
Any thoughts on the Best Sound Editing category? Cut loose with your thoughts in the comments section below.
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