Oscars 2010: Best Sound and Visual Effects Predictions


The sound and visual effects aspects of a film are interesting in that they are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the movie-watching experience. In that way it makes their achievement categories for the Academy Awards a great place to start my Oscar predictions.

Visual effects are the most easily noticed effects in a film, especially nowadays. Even the most casual moviegoer can be a critic when it comes to special effects/visual effects. We’ve watched them grow and evolve over time and we know when they’re unbelievably realistic as opposed to when they’re shoddy.

Sound editing and mixing on the other hand, are the very last things we would ever notice while watching a film and most of us – myself included – often don’t notice them at all. Sounds are meant to enhance the realism of the environment. The knock on a door is a sound hard to capture while filming, for example, or genuinely creaky footsteps. These things are often added in post-production to a film (along with the other sound element, the musical score). Then they’re mixed with all the other audio from the film. We don’t notice them because they should be there in reality or they enhance emotions we’re feeling as we follow a story, so we’re not impressed when they show up. Film is a visual storytelling medium and it’s too tough to pay attention to sound mixing and editing.

Nevertheless, I’m going to try and make sense of these categories and pick a winner, despite not remembering the sound on all these films. Visual effects should be much easier, however.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

  • Avatar (Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson, Tony Johnson)
  • The Hurt Locker (Paul N.J. Ottosson, Ray Beckett)
  • Inglourious Basterds (Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti, Mark Ulano)
  • Star Trek (anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson, Peter J. Devlin)
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Geoffrey Patterson)

Sound mixing is the master track of the film, how well all the different elements of sound blend together. All are clearly deserving of nominations, but off the bat I’m going to eliminate “Transformers” because I that’s just a mess of sound and the original didn’t win in this category two years ago, so I’m just assuming.

Other than gunfire scenes there’s just a lot of dialogue in Inglourious Basterds, so as much as Michael Minkler has taken home Oscars in recent years for Dreamgirls, Chicago and Black Hawk Down, I’m not seeing it for this one.

Every other film would seem worthy here. Even The Hurt Locker, seeing as it is reliant on sound for the suspense. The favorites here, however, would have to be the science-fiction films taking place on mostly not Earth. That’s a lot of sound to mix.

Prediction: Avatar

It’s too easy to pick this film because of the towering achievement of post-production that it represents.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

  • Avatar (Christopher Boyes, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle)
  • The Hurt Locker (Paul N.J. Ottosson)
  • Inglourious Basterds (Wylie Stateman)
  • Star Trek (Mark Stoeckinger, Alan Rankin)
  • Up (Michael Silvers, Tom Myers)

I need much less time to debate this category. Christopher Boyes (also part of the mix team) is a multiple-Oscar winner and nominee on fantasy films (all Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean movies, for example), so his work on Avatar will surely be rewarded.

The reason is simple. Sound editing is the actual creation of sounds in Post. Need I remind anyone that Avatar takes place on another planet that doesn’t exist? It was all filmed in a studio. These sound engineers had to create all the sounds of a completely fabricated planet. That stuff doesn’t go unnoticed in Hollywood.

Prediction: Avatar

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

  • Avatar (Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham, Andrew R. Jones)
  • District 9 (Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros, Matt Aitken)
  • Star Trek (Robert Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh, Burt Dalton)

Achievement in Visual Effects is always the easiest to pick. Which film awed you the most? It’s a clearer winner than ever this year. If you’ve watched any Avatar special features, you saw how they invented motion-capture techniques as they went along, laying the groundwork for the future of computer-generated images for future decades. Last year, the Academy awarded The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on this same principle and they’ll undoubtedly do it again for Avatar.

Star Trek was also an excellent visual effects film, but it just doesn’t measure up. District 9 is a great example of superb visual achievement under budget constraint. Neither can really contend though are worthy of the nomination and being commended for their VFX work.

Prediction: Avatar