Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Do You Hear What I Hear?; Incoherent Oscar Sound Mixing

Aaaah, sound.

In addition to being one of the, allegedly, more difficult categories to explain sound work on a film often leads to interesting arguments about who can really tell what’s good sound and what’s not. I’m generally pleased with the entire slate of nominees we have here, three are in contention for my own year-end awards and the remaining two don’t seem to be coasters. Interestingly, we have a slate of four Best Picture nominees and what possibly was the tenth Best Picture hopeful.

The Nominees: Argo; Les Misérables; Life of Pi; Lincoln; Skyfall

Now who wins for sound mixing – the mixing of available sounds into a film?

Argo: John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and Jose Antonio Garcia
One of the three films nominated in both categories the mixing team for Argo features first time nominee Garcia and veterans Reitz and Rudloff (both of them winners for The Matrix and nominated together for Flags of Our Fathers and The Perfect Storm, Rudloff also a winner for Glory and Reitz a nominee for Days of Heaven). In discussing their use of sounds the mixers note how the three varying locations in the film all needed to have a different aural feel to it. So many of the film’s highpoints depends on moments of tension and it’s as much the (fêted) editing that contributes to the heightened tension as it is the sound design. A Best Picture hopeful a win here would not be unrealistic, and yet it’s probably at #4 in my head in probability of a win.

Life of Pi: Ron Bartlett, D. M. Hemphill, and Drew Kunin
Like Argo, Life of Pi boasts an easy “sound friendly” scene to explicate its place here. The sinking of the ship Pi and his family are on is a prime example of the team dealing with mixing various sounds – other key examples on his lifeboat include use of sound then add that to the important moments of silence and the significance of the sound work is clear. If Life of Pi becomes the great technical champion of the night a triumph here would not be unlikely. Bartlett and Kunin are celebrating their first nominations, Hemphill is celebrating his seventh – his first in 1990 for Dick Tracy and his most recent for Walk the Line in 2005.

Lincoln: Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, and Ronald Judkins
Gary Rydstorm has eleven nominations (in this category only) and picked up two of his five Oscars for sound mixing in Spielberg films – Saving Private Ryan, (he has ten other nominations). The work in Lincoln seems the least likely winner here, but its sound mixing is not superfluous. The featurette released for the sound in the film takes notes of the importance of the ticking clocks and balancing the roaring debates with the single voices amidst. It’s unfussy work but not unworthy. Judkins is celebrating a first nomination but fellow nominee Nelson is a veteran here like Rydstrom.

Les Misérables: Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, and Simon Hayes
The disparaging scoffs of this taking an “underserved” sound win “just because it’s a musical” have already begun in full force. Musicals need sound a great deal, though, it’s why most musically inclined big name films of the past two decades have showed up here (Evita, Moulin Rouge!, Aladdin, Walk the Line, Ray, Dreamgirls, Chicago) with the last three winning. Not only Les Mis a musical, the live-singing components makes the sound mixers work that much more significant, add in the barricade fighting and it’s not difficult to see what the draw could be. Winning the BAFTA for sound the film is a likely winner, but not the only possibility. Nelson is celebrating his 17th and 18th nominations for this category this year (he also mixed musicals Moulin Rouge! and Evita and won his Oscar for Saving Private Ryan. Hayes and Paterson are first time nominees.

Skyfall: Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, and Stuart Wilson
Millan is celebrating a ninth nomination in this category (wins for Apollo 13, Gladiator, Ray and The Bourne Ultimatum) and Wilson was a nominee last year for War Horse. But, it’s Russell celebrating his sixteenth non-winning nomination whose stats most are finding interesting. Critically acclaimed films which depend on action sequences have found much favour here. Like with Argo scenes of amped up tension depend on the sound-work and who knows how much good faith there in giving Russell his Oscar at last?

It’s difficult to cry foul here, even if my own ballot is different. The only nominee one could realistically have expected here is , perhaps, Zero Dark Thirty which only shows up in Sound Editing.

Predicted Winner: Les Misérables, I suspect that this could become a significant winner of below-the-line awards. Just a hunch.

Alternate: Life of Pi, which is probably just as likely as Les Mis. Maybe I’ll change my mind before the big night.

Are you satisfied with the sound mixing ballot from the Academy? The musical or the tiger? The CIA or the secret agent? Who wins?

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