Tech Support: 'Looper,' 'Django' and 'Flight' highlight the race for Best Sound Editing
We all know what a pot sounds like when it comes crashing to the kitchen floor. But what about a Hulk smashing things? Or a Lizard man hissing? Or a bear screeching? Or a…Bane…making a tumbler fall several stories?
Such sounds can rarely be properly captured while filming, leaving our supervising sound editors with the responsibility of creating them. They are awarded at the Oscars for their accomplishments in the category of Best Sound Editing.
Like Best Sound Mixing, this category’s nominees are picked by the sound branch, though winners are chosen by the Academy as a whole. The category tends to favor action films and war films. This is unsurprising given the need to create distinctive aural accoutrement in such movies. Animated films, particularly those of Pixar, also do exceptionally well given that there is usually is no “filming” in the traditional sense where sounds would be captured.
This was the sole category, apart from Best Supporting Actor, that “The Dark Knight” managed to win four years ago. Richard King’s second Oscar was the sole blemish for “Slumdog Millionaire” on a night where it won every other category in which it was nominated. While “The Dark Knight Rises” may not inspire the passion of “The Dark Knight” or “Inception” (for which King also won), I still expect him to return to the conversation this year.
Marvel's “The Avengers” was another summer superhero blockbuster that showcased sound effects to the nth degree. Audiences ate it up and then some (to the tune of over $600 million domestically). If Frank Eulner, previously nominated for “Iron Man,” doesn’t return, I’d be surprised.
Those strike me as the two most likely of the major summer titles to get nominated here. It would still be premature, however, to rule out the work “The Amazing Spider-Man” (done by Shannon Mills and Oscar nominee Addison Teague) given that the franchise has seen luck here in the past. Ditto the alien- and tech-based sounds of “Prometheus” (especially as Mark Stoeckinger and Victor Ray Ennis have four nominations between them, three of which were sole nominations for their films.
“Brave” comes in a long line of Pixar films that have had great success in this category. While “Cars 2,” the studio’s first major miss, received a shut-out from the Academy last year, could this adventure title filled with bows, arrows and bears return the studio to the fold? It’s certainly possible. Even so, I can’t help but wonder if, unlike most Pixar titles, this film is liked more than loved. That could spell trouble in categories outside of Best Animated Feature Film. Gwendolyn Yates Whittle does have two nominations, however.
“The Hunger Games” was a critical and financial success and I cannot shake the feeling it will be rewarded with an Oscar nomination somewhere. The sound effects were not that memorable but I still thought I’d mention it here. Lon Bender is a past winner for “Braveheart” and has scored somewhat surprising nominations for “Blood Diamond” and “Drive.”
On the note of “Drive,” “Looper” is the sort of high concept, September-released action film to which the Academy is unlikely to show much love. See what happened to “Drive” last year. But “Drive” did score a nod here, as noted, so perhaps Jeremy Piersen shouldn’t lose hope for his work on Rian Johnson’s latest effort.
What of films still to be released?
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth. Strangely, two of the three original “Lord of the Rings” films were not nominated in this category (though the one that was, "The Two Towers," won the Oscar). While this gives me pause, it is still obviously a major contender.
Quentin Tarantino’s last crazy war effort, “Inglourious Basterds,” managed to get nominated in both sound categories. “Django Unchained,” being a western of sorts, will doubtless feature memorable sound effects as well. A good gun fight always energizes this branch. Will it be enough to score a nomination? Very possibly – we'll have to see how the reception to the film is, and how much opportunity five-time nominee Wylie Stateman has to showcase his talents.
Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” which premiered at the New York Film Festival to great acclaim, will also require exceptional sound effects to tell its fantastical story. After a long career, Philip Stockton won this category on his first nomination last year for “Hugo.” If this film is a hit with AMPAS, and I suspect it will be, I’d say he could get a repeat nomination.
Another tearjerker with dangerous water at the center will be “The Impossible.” Oriol Tarragó’s career to date has been almost entirely in Spanish movies. While I suspect he’ll be lost among bigger features and more established Hollywood staples, I thought I’d mention him anyways. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Boy should you ever. The sound work in "The Impossible" is some of the most stunning of the year, in my opinion.)
“Cloud Atlas” involves a plethora of sounds, being in multiple time periods and settings, and with significant action involved. The Wachowskis’ “The Matrix” did, after all, win this award. So perhaps Frank Kruse will earn his first nomination this year.
A film whose AMPAS potential I have trouble analyzing is “Zero Dark Thirty.” This operational drama is squarely within Kathryn Bigelow’s comfort zone. It may provide opportunity for sound work similar to that which won Oscars for “The Hurt Locker” in both sound categories. Paul N.J. Ottosson has returned to work with Bigelow again, but her filmography wasn’t really the stuff Oscar was made of pre-“Hurt Locker.” So what sort of consistency will her recent success produce? Plus, I also simply have reservations about this project on the whole.
Another contender could have been a war film but it's not a war film at all: Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln." Spielberg’s films have eight nominations in this category, five of which have won. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was also given a special award when the category was not annually awarded. So if this is a nominations sweeper, watch out. Three-time winner Richard Hymns is once again collaborating with the director.
Robert Zemeckis’s “Back to the Future” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” have both won this category. “Forrest Gump” and “The Polar Express” also received nominations. “Flight” looks likely to be a vehicle to return Denzel Washington to the Oscar fold. A film featuring a plane crash as its centerpiece will, by necessity, require great sound work. So Dennis Leonard could well repeat his nomination for “The Polar Express.”
I’ll end with a film I may be giving too much Oscar consideration to: Sam Mendes’s “Skyfall.” James Bond films seldom do well with Oscar. But given the cast and crew for this one, and the reception so far, I feel, it could – just could – prove to be an exception. Sound effects are central to any Bond movie, and there is no reason to believe that this will prove an exception. After all, Karen Baker and Per Hallberg won here for “The Bourne Ultimatum,” another sequel whose predecessors received no Oscar love. And like that title, this film seems poised for exceptional reviews.
That strikes me as a fairly long and comprehensive list of the potential nominees. But given how poorly I did in predicting this category last year, I felt it necessary. Who do you see rising to the top?