OSCAR COUNTDOWN: Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) 2013 Oscar Predictions, Best Sound Editing

Starting today and running through Oscar season, Film Misery will be offering almost daily breakdowns of the categories in the Oscar race. Today we begin with the technical sound categories.

The categories for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing might be among the most difficult to predict this year because they seem very unlikely to follow the recent trends. The past three years straight have given us the same winner for Mixing and Editing with the awards going to The Hurt Locker, Inception, and Hugo, respectively. This year there are three films that are contending in both categories: Argo, Life of Pi, and Skyfall. However, I am not predicting that any of those three will win either award. Below is my detailed breakdown of both categories.

Best Sound Editing

The Nominees:
Argo
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Skyfall
Zero Dark Thirty

One of the noticeable trends in the Sound Editing category is that anytime a war film is nominated, it usually wins. That has held true every year since 2000 with the exception of last year when Hugo upset War Horse to take the award. This year gives us the modern day war film Zero Dark Thirty to potentially continue the trend of war movie success in this category. Zero Dark Thirty‘s sound editing team already won this award in 2009 for Kathryn Bigelow’s comparable film The Hurt Locker. Zero Dark Thirty required more sound effects than most of the other films in this category and its climactic final scenes are highly dependent on good sound editing in order to succeed.

While Zero Dark Thirty seems like the frontrunner, there are a few factors that may hold it back. It was not nominated for Best Sound Mixing and only one film since the year 2000 has won Best Sound Editing without being nominated in other sound category (Letters from Iwo Jima, which had its counterpart Flags of Our Fathers nominated in Sound Mixing instead). Zero Dark Thirty was also conspicuously absent from the 2013 Motion Picture Sound Editors award nominations, implying that fellow sound editors are not favorable towards the work done in the film. Also, it is unclear how much the backlash aimed at the depiction of torture in Zero Dark Thirty will impact the film’s overall Oscar chances, even though that has little to do with the sound editing work.

Waiting in the wings to take down Zero Dark Thirty are films like Skyfall or Life of Pi, both of which have liberal use of sound effects. This is a category where films that don’t win anywhere else often succeed and that could be the case for these two films (although it might also be the case for Zero Dark Thirty). There is also a brewing storm of support headed in the direction of Ben Affleck’s Argo, which is looking more and more like it could take home more than just the main category awards on Oscar night. Argo features the fewest scenes with blatant use of sound effects of any movie nominated, but people may vote for it just as a show of support. The film I see as the least likely winner in this category is Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, with fantastical shoot-outs that don’t get the same respect as real-world violence in other movies.

Predicted Winner: Zero Dark Thirty

Les Miserables (2012) 2013 Oscar Predictions, Best Sound Mixing

Best Sound Mixing

The Nominees:
Argo
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Skyfall

Just like war movies usually win the Sound Editing category, musicals have an advantage in the Sound Mixing category. Since the year 2000, every year there has been a musical nominated for Best Sound Mixing, it has won with the exception of Walk the Line in 2005. With Les Miserables receiving a nomination, this year marks the first time a musical film has been nominated in this category since 2006. Les Miserables will not only receive the benefit of being the only musical, but it also has a very unique and highly publicized sound mixing feature: all of the singing was recorded live. This gives the sound mixing team the additional challenge of needing to edit around outside noises that the microphones on set picked up during shooting. The degree of difficulty should be enough to make Les Miserables a tough film to beat.

However, it is certainly not a lock. Les Miserables was not nominated for Sound Editing and, as mentioned above, those awards often times go hand in hand. The recent trend in this category has been to award action movies like Inception, The Hurt Locker, and The Bourne Ultimatum. This may indicate that Skyfall has a decent probability of beating Les Miserables. There is also a high possibility that Life of Pi pulls a Hugo and wins a lot of technical awards without winning anything in the major categories. Lincoln seems like an unlikely addition to this category, but Spielberg’s films often get sound nominations and Lincoln is his most appreciated film in years. It seems only slightly more likely to win than Argo, but both films are long shots.

Predicted Winner: Les Miserables

What are your predictions for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing?

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  • I certainly agree about ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, especially since it’s likely to be the film’s only win in my opinion. I however believe ‘Argo’ will take Sound Mixing. As strong as musicals have played in that category in the past, ‘Les Miserables’ isn’t terribly emphatic in terms of sound, even with the wrinkle of live singing. To my mind it’s no different than capturing spoken dialogue. ‘Argo’, however, is standing in greater favor with the Academy as time presses on. It could very well end up taking both sound categories.

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