Oscars 2011: Best Sound and Best Visual Effects

Well, it’s Groundhog Day, and while Punxsutawney Phil did not see his shadow and spring will come early, Movie Muse will do nothing to cut short  you four more weeks of Oscar.

The site enjoyed a golden age during Oscar month last year in terms of traffic, so I figured despite all the work involved (look for posts every two or three days) that I ought to bring it back. I begin as I did then with breaking down the Best Achievement in Sound, Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Best Achievement in Visual Effects categories.

Last year, I predicted “Avatar” to sweep these achievements, but it was “The Hurt Locker” that took both sound categories, an early hint that James Cameron’s technological marvel would not be winning Best Picture. This year, “Inception” takes its place as the biggest contender in all three categories. Two of the last three years, one film has swept both sound categories and the last two years, the eventual Best Picture winner took home at least one sound award. What will hold true for 2011? I don’t know, but the one eternal truth is I just take stabs in the dark in these categories mostly.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

  • “Inception” – Lora Hirschberg, Gary A. Rizzo and Ed Novick
  • “The King’s Speech” – Paul Hamblin, Martin Jensen and John Midgley
  • “Salt” – Jeffrey J. Haboush, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan and William Sarokin
  • “The Social Network” – Ren Klyce, David Parker, Michael Semanick and Mark Weingarten
  • “True Grit” – Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff and Peter F. Kurland

Let’s start with making the annual distinction between “mixing” and “editing.” Mixing refers to mixing the master track of the film, so all of the sounds from sound effects to the score — in other words, how all the sounds of the film are mixed together . That’s why, minus “Salt,” these are all films contending for Best Picture, because it’s about the overall impression.

The two I would eliminate immediately are “Salt” and “The King’s Speech.” The former sticks out like a sore thumb and the latter is riding the Academy’s love of the particular film (12 nominations is a lot). “Salt” does fit the bill of films winning that have a suspense and/or action element in them (“Hurt Locker,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” “The Bourne Ultimatum”), but I just don’t see it happening with the strength of the music in these other films.

The remaining three are tied to the filmmakers behind them. The teams on “The Social Network,” “Inception” and “True Grit” are regular collaborators with their film’s directors, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan and the Coen brothers, respectively. These teams were also both nominated previously for films made by those directors: “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Dark Knight” and “No Country For Old Men.” So who finally gets the win?

Although you could make a compelling case for any of them, I think “Inception” had the most memorable sound. “The Social Network,” however, had more impressive sound than any of us would have guessed. I’m a bit nervous to hand my prediction to “Inception” on the basis of no Editing nomination, but it was so good.

Prediction: “Inception”

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

  • “Inception” – Richard King
  • “Toy Story 3” – Tom Myers and Michael Silvers
  • “Tron: Legacy” – Gwendolyn Yates Whittle and Addison Teague
  • “True Grit” – Skip Lievsay and Craig Berkey
  • “Unstoppable” – Mark P. Stoeckinger

Sound editing refers to sounds that are created, often times manufactured in a sound studio, to enhance a film. “Unstoppable,” for example, needed to create screeching train noises and “Tron: Legacy” had to completely invent the sounds of its world. The same goes for “Toy Story 3” being that it was all animated.

I feel more confident here in choosing “Inception,” which would mean a second Oscar for Richard King, who won for “The Dark Knight.” Although you’d think something like “Tron: Legacy” would get credit for sound invention, the Academy tends to honor the most realistic sounds and “Inception” had lots of those. That’s also what’s very intriguing about “Unstoppable.” Tom Myers has been nominated for the third straight year now, but it’s unlikely to be the charm.

Prediction: “Inception”

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

  • “Alice in Wonderland” – Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 1” – Tim Burke, John Richardson, Christian Manz and Nicolas Aithadi
  • “Hereafter” – Michael Owens, Bryan Grill, Stephan Trojanski and Joe Farrell
  • “Inception” – Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb
  • “Iron Man 2” – Janek Sirrs, Ben Snow, Ged Wright and Daniel Sudick

There’s little question in my mind who wins here. The one thing that you should know, however, is that the Academy is supposed to award this on the basis of the way visuals enhance the telling of the story, not simply their impressiveness. Otherwise, a film like “Hereafter” would have no business earning a nomination.

Although Ken Ralston is a legendary visual effects designer having worked on the original “Star Wars” trilogy and won four Oscars, “Alice in Wonderland” was slightly underwhelming, albeit solid I must say. “Inception” however, was completely contingent on its visual effects to tell its story and I see this as a runaway.

Prediction: “Inception”


  1. Simon Brookfield says:

    I’m with you hombre. If Inception does not at least take this (after the director snub) I will disown them all…

  2. Heather says:

    Personally I thought the sound mixing for Inception was horrible. The voices too soft, the music too loud. But that’s just me.

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