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“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “The Martian” Battle Out for Best Sound Mixing Oscar

Star Wars Celebration 2015

Charlie Chaplin believed that sound was a fad that would disappear from movies after a short time period. He may have been a genius, but he sure wasn’t right about that. Today, it is hard to imagine most movies without sound. Dialogue obviously recreates the experience of most people’s lives. Proper integration of music can build the theme meticulously. Mixing effects and other non-dialogue sounds captured during filming brings us into the world of the characters.
The Academy Award for Sound Mixing awards up to three sound re-recording mixers – the men and women who “mix” dialogue, effects, music, and, well, everything else, to create the soundtrack we hear while watching a movie. The production sound mixer – the person responsible for capturing the sounds while shooting – is also awarded.

Harrison Ford Star Wars

The category tends to award musicals, which is not surprising given the importance of sound in such films. Prestigious action/science-fiction films are also favored, as are war films. Best Picture nominees and contenders sometimes slip in when one otherwise wouldn’t expect them to do so.
Leading the way this year may well be Ridley Scott’s “The Martian.” Space storms, space rescue, and moments of surprising quietness will undoubtedly impress the Sound branch. The fact that this is a science-fiction film headed towards a Best Picture nomination seals the deal. Six-time nominee Paul Massey and one-time nominee Mark Taylor could find themselves ascending the stage in late February.

the martian matt damon

Closely behind in the realm of outer space is “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Ben Burtt and Andy Nelson are two giants in this field. While likely not headed towards a Best Picture nomination, there is no question that J.J. Abrams’s latest will be a box office behemoth, filled with a loud soundtrack, the likes of which this branch usually embraces. If the film is even respectfully received, it’s well-positioned for a nod here.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is another blockbuster firmly in the running. Two-time winners Gregg Rudloff and Chris Jenkins are among few past nominees on George Miller’s extraordinary below-the-line crew. The film will be contending in several crafts categories. Given Rudloff and Jenkins’s history, this category is certain to be among them.

“Jurassic World” did not excite the critics like “Mad Max: Fury Road” but did it ever light up the box office. The franchise hasn’t been nominated here since Steven Spielberg’s original won this category twenty-two years ago. At the same time, no entry has been as well received as “Jurassic World” since that original. Sound giant Christopher Boyes led this film’s sound crew, and that increases its chances.

On the note of Spielberg, how about his “Bridge of Spies”? The film could likely be most praised for restraint in sound. But that sometimes works. So if this Cold War thriller starts racking up the nominations, who knows where it will stop. Andy Nelson and Gary Rydstrom are also major figures in the sound community.
“Ex Machina” earned a devoted following earlier this year, and it is going to be pushed strongly in the below-the-line categories. Niv Adiri and Ian Tapp have won Oscars for “Gravity” and “Slumdog Millionaire” respectively. Let’s see if they can’t return to the race.

Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” remains a difficult contender to handicap. Once again, Tarantino and The Weinstein Company are waiting to the eleventh hour to let anyone see this film. (I’m not sure that was a great strategy with “Django Unchained,” but I digress.) Three-time nominee Michael Minkler leads this crew. He was nominated for “Inglourious Basterds” and likely came close for “Django Unchained” so he could return with another Western of sorts that is bound to be loud.

“In the Heart of the Sea” seems to be underwhelming. This does not give me hope. Even so, water-based films are intriguing entries here. Chris Burdon was nominated for “Captain Phillips” and could find himself with a second nod. If Ron Howard’s latest scores anywhere, expect it to be in the sound categories.
I’ll end with two very different films featuring the same mixers. Last year, Frank A. Montaño and Jon Taylor were double nominees for “Birdman” and “Unbroken.” This year, they will be attempting to repeat that feat or, at the very least, return to the fold. On “The Reverent,” they reunite with Alejandro G. Iñárritu to bring us back to the American West of the early 1800s. Much chaos and action will ensue, but so will quiet moments where the restraint in sound will be readily apparent. Seems like a good bet.

But “Straight Outa Crompton” also has the makings of a nominee, at least insofar as it’s a well-received musical. Montaño and Taylor are here again, with two-time winner Willie Burton (“Bird,” “Dreamgirls”). Could they find themselves double-nominated for the second year in a row?
Those are the top ten contenders in my view. And I’d predict the final five as “Bridge of Spies,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant,” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Five weeks from today, we’ll see the nominees unveiled.

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