Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars 2010: Sound + Score

The sound categories comprise the most forgettable and indiscernible cinematic aspects for me. How easy it is to take for granted those complex and myriad ways in which a film’s world is created and heightened through sound! Listening specifically for the aural effects, as I did this morning while watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, is an overwhelming and even humbling experience; sound designers are easily the most underappreciated in the industry, and yet how vital they are to the success of any given film. That I am not acutely aware of their work as I watch a film is a merit, not a discredit, to their oftentimes subtle artistry.  With this in mind, I offer you my picks and predictions for all the sound-related categories.

[Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winners will be in orange.]

(aural effects)

1. Avatar
2. Hurt Locker
3. Star Trek
4. Inglourious Basterds
5. Up

Even I have to admit that Avatar’s special effects, including the aural effects, are superlative. Each sound in the forests of Pandora is detailed and precise: the fluttering of the butterfly-like creatures, the whispering of the wind rustling through the trees, the soothing tones of a waterfall; the computerized ticks of futuristic technology are just an added bonus on top of the superb aural experience. Basterds’s creepily audible scalpings and Star Treks infernal “blips” and laser-like shivers just don’t come anywhere close to the design of Avatar.

(a film’s overall sound)

1. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
2. Avatar
3. The Hurt Locker
4. Star Trek
5.  Inglourious Basterds

While Avatar remains a cut above the rest, I can’t help but lean towards the futuristic techie sounds that infiltrate and generate the world of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. That film is its sound–along with those fabulously creative CGIed robots, of course – and without it, the incessant and intensely choreographed action would fall completely flat. Despite these accomplishments, one can’t overlook how the dessert winds whip violently through Iraqi towns that bustle with energy one moment only to abruptly silence the next; how a single helicopter hovers ominously overhead; or, most significantly, how tension mounts with inevitable explosions or releases cathartically with the audible defusings of bomb after bomb.  While The Hurt Locker’s sound design lacks the flashiness of its co-nominees, that does not make its attention to detail less accomplished – it simply makes me want to root for its win all the more.


1. “The Wear Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” (Crazy Heart)
2. “Loin de Paname” (Paris 36)
3. “Almost There” (The Princess and the Frog)
4. “Down in New Orleans” (The Princess and the Frog)
5. “Take It All” (Nine)

Singer and Writer Ryan Bingham performs “The Weary Kind”

This ain’t no place for the weary kind / This ain’t no place to lose your mind / This ain’t no place to fall behind /
Pick up crazy heart and give it one more try

I’ve never cared much for country music. I can’t ever seem to get past the nasal twang that overwhelms most “country music” today; and so, admittedly, I miss some of the greatest musical storytelling there is, and some of the most startlingly emotionally honest lyrics out there. While it’s not surprising that I found the Crazy Heart heartbreakingly beautiful, it is surprising that I found myself downloading the entire soundtrack, including the Oscar-nominated (and sure winner), “The Weary Kind.” If you also saw the film, you know that none of the other nominated songs come anywhere near encompassing the entire feel and story of their respective films; “The Weary Kind” completely encompasses the, yes, weariness and heartbreak and even the faint glimmer of optimism of Jeff Bridge’s lonely yet stalwart Bad Blake. While “Loin de Paname” adequately offers the cabaret feel of 1930s Paris (though perhaps reminds one a bit too much of Edith Piaf), Randy Newman’s jazzy Nawlins-inspired tunes are entirely forgettable (causing us to long for the Disney heydays of Menken and Ashmen) and Maury Yeston’s indistinguishable “Take It All” simply reminds us of the utter fiasco that was the horrible cinematic adaptation of his unimpressive stage musical, Nine.  Truth be told, the only nominee that doesn’t make me weary while listening is “The Weary Kind.”


1. Up
2. Sherlock Holmes
3. Fantastic Mr. Fox
4. The Hurt Locker
5. Avatar

Michael Giacchino’s wins big for Up, incorporating delightfully breezy tones with music that soars as high as the characters themselves, lightly transporting us through the clouds and under the sun as Carl and Russell adventure together. Hans Zimmer’s Holmes score is typically accomplished and intensely heart-pounding, Fox’s tunes are whimsically jaunty wonderfully reflecting the film’s own clever humor, and The Hurt Locker’s score gets the job done, but none of these scores encompass the feel of their respective films as fully and whole-heartedly as Giacchino accomplishes with Up. (And Horner’s work on Avatar is just plain terrible)

Up Next: Visual Design (costumes, make-up, art direction)


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