Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars 2013: Best Sound Editing

Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange

(aural effects)







Missing: The Dark Knight Rises

For the classically-styled Spaghetti Western with a Southern flair Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino told sound editor Wylie Stateman he wanted it to feel “analog and spirited.” To accomplish this, Stateman went to places like Death Valley and Zion National Park to record canons, gunshots, whips, and chains within the echoes of those deep valleys and against natural stone walls. Because music is such a large part of any Tarantino film, Statemen and his crew went so far as to sync the clacking of the hooves and the creaking of the wagons with the music. The resulting sound is simultaneously authentic western and contemporary revenge story, replete with signature Tarantino blood splatters.

The syncing award, though, goes to Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton for their work on Life of Pi: open-air, open sea recordings of crashing and lulling waves; throaty growls of tigers and high-pitched screams of hyenas, the flapping and smacking of flying fish thrown against the side of the hull; and every other amplified yet realistic sea sound you can imagine. In doing so, they matched the film’s visual splendors with equally formidable aural effects.

If you miss having those battling ‘bots in this category as much as I do, fret not: Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn, nominated last year for their work on Transformers: Dark of the Moon, are repping this year with their much subtler work on Argo. By far the least flashy nominee, it’s certainly not the least accomplished. Argo‘s sound effects are the most realistic of the bunch, lacking the Hollywood polish and predictability of, say, Skyfall‘s fisticuffs, car chases, and gunfire. The CIA thriller takes place in the ’70s during the Iranian Revolution, and the sounds of that era and locale are prevalent throughout: Elaborately recreated scenes of protestors chanting in Farsi in the streets can be heard from both within the chanting crowds and, slightly muffled, behind the windows of the American embassy. A constant din of Tehran’s congested traffic, replete with accelerating mopeds and and  two-toned-styled police sirens are also heard from a distance and amidst the chaos. The raw grittiness of Argo‘s sound perfectly captures the period and place, and will most likely earn this prize.

Paul N.J. Ottosson, who won the Oscar for his work on Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, is a possible spoiler for crafting the hyperreal, yet organic sound of this “reported film”: few musical cues and lots of foley including all the aural replications of weapons and war, like the humming blades of stealth helicopters (which have never been filmed/recorded before) and the scuffles and gunshots of a nerve-wracking raid. Zero Dark Thirty‘s spare, yet precise work, and while some may argue about the depiction of torture, no one’s going to argue with its sound.


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