Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars Predictions 2014: Sound Mixing

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.



Skip Lievsay, Niv Adiri, Christopher Benstead & Chris Munro

Skip Lievsay, Greg Orloff & Peter F. Kurland

Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, Mike Prestwood Smith & Chris Munro

Andy Koyama, Beau Borders & David Brownlow

Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick & Tony Johnson

Should be here: 12 Years a Slave (and yes I’m aware that I’m the only one who thinks this)

There is no love lost for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug this year, and that includes its abundance of sound, with all the sword-fighting and dragons slithering all over the place. No one cares about awarding this film, and frankly, there are much better nominees.

Captain Phillips does a solid job in articulating the sounds of the sea, as well as all those machine-gun-happy Somali pirates, but it’s not showy enough to make much of a wave among this year’s nominees.

The Mark Wahlberg-driven military drama with absolutely no political point of view, The Lone Survivor, has a surprisingly fantastic sound design. Of course, there’s lots and lots of gun shooting and hovering helicopters, but most impressive are all the violent tumbles down rocky mountains. The sounds are actually painful: You hear every crack and thud and snap as bodies slam against cliffs and trees and god knows what else. War movies are favorites among the Academy for the sound categories, but the competition is fierce this year, and The Lone Survivor is not a top contender.

In space, no one can hear you scream. The classic tagline is true: there’s no air to transmit vibrations, so there’s just total, deafening silence. For Gravity, that means that anything that is audible is heard from the inside: Ryan’s (Sandra Bullock) breath, her heartbeat. The audience is aurally inside her spacesuit with her. You breathe with her. It’s a bit of a cheat that we can hear these things (the idea being that we can hear things through touch), of course, but the overall effect is startling effective in its minimalism. (The score, then, filled in where the sound design could not). This is highly innovative work, and it would be crazy town to think that anything else could win this award.

But the Academy does love to give this award to musicals (see last year’s Les Mis win), and Inside Llewyn Davis is as close to a musical as we’ve got in this race. It’s kind of a live-performance movie, in which Oscar Isaac actually sang and played each song as the Coen Brothers filmed. The music is the true star of this film, and the designers treated it as such, bringing it, naturalistically, to the forefront. This is the second nomination this year for longtime Coen Brothers collaborator Skip Lievsay, who is also nominated for Gravity. He’s been nominated four other times (twice for True Grit and twice for No Country for Old Men), and it looks like this year, no matter what happens, he’s going to go home a winner.


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