Oscars 2012: Best Sound and Best Visual Effects

So it begins—my third go-around dissecting every category at the Academy Awards in a three-week span. This year, the 84th Academy Awards take place on Feb. 26, three days before we leap. Fittingly, I am experiencing dejá vù all over again, because I began this quest for the 2011 Oscars exactly one year ago today—Groundhog Day.

As always, I begin with the technical of the technical, the Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects categories. These categories provide the best chance for a big blockbuster to come away as an Academy Award-winning big blockbuster. Last year, “Inception” swept all three categories, as many (myself included) predicted. Lately, when a film gets nominated for both sound categories, it wins both sound categories. “The Dark Knight” was the most recent exception, losing Best Sound Mixing to “Slumdog Millionaire.”

Rare this year is a five-film deep visual effects category. It doesn’t happen often, but it might not make a difference. Check out my analysis and predictions below


Best Achievement in Sound Editing

  • “Drive” – Lou Bender and Victory Ray Ennis
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – Ren Klyce
  • “Hugo” – Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” – Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahi
  • “War Horse” – Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

The lone Oscar nomination for Drive comes in this category, which celebrates the achievement of creating sound effects to enhance a film as well as the sound quality of specific aspects: music, dialogue, etc. Knowing that, I see “Drive” as a film with better mixing, but it’s here nevertheless. Too bad it has some serious contenders. With the exception of Hugo, most of these names have multiple nominations or Oscars to there name thanks to working with some of the best directors around.

Hymns and Rydstrom have a lot of pull for War Horse, seeing as they have won multiple Oscars working on Steven Spielberg films. That in mind, the last time either won an award came in their work for “Saving Private Ryan.” To be fair, however, that was the last film Spielberg made comparable to “War Horse.” War films tend to do well in Best Sound Editing, as do action movies in general. In fact, no winner since “Titanic” could not be considered one or the other.

So what about Transformers: Dark of the Moon? Believe it or not, none of its predecessors have won an Oscar in any of these three technical categories, so it doesn’t seem likely that this would change.

Prediction: War Horse


Best Achievement in Sound Mixing

  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” – David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
  • “Hugo” – Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
  • “Moneyball” – Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Gianmarco and Ed Novick
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” – Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffre J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
  • “War Horse” – Gary Rydstrom, Andy Neslon, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson

Sound mixing refers to a film’s master track and how well all the many sounds of a film blend together. As such, it’s often simply called “Best Sound.” While Best Sound Editing winners tend to be war and action films, Best Sound Mixing winners can often be musicals. Obviously, there are no musicals contending this year.

So what about good music in general? You have to look at the Best Original Score category. The last three years now, the winner of Best Sound Editing was at least nominated for Best Original Score: “Inception,” “The Hurt Locker” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” This year, Hugo and War Horse were nominated for Best Original Score for Howard Shore and John Williams respectively. Even though it wasn’t nominated for Best Original Score, you have to give mention to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as its composers won last year’s award.

Moneyball seems particularly out of place, though editing-wise many praised the working in of baseball highlights. Interestingly, Ed Novick has a credit on the film, and he won last year for “Inception.” Of all the films nominated, however, this one is the black sheep. With four films nominated for both sound categories, it’s hard to imagine this year would be a split, so I’m picking the sweep. I haven’t seen the film (as of Feb. 2), but I have a gut feeling.

Prediction: War Horse

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ – Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
  • “Hugo” – Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
  • “Real Steel” – Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
  • “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” – Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” – Dan Glass, Brad Friedman, Douglas Trumbull and Michael Fink

Five films deep for the second year in a row, you’d imagine that this race would be particularly interesting, but it’s not all that close. Real Steel is the one just happy to be at the party, though I must say the visual effects were quite strong. The “Harry Potter” films have not had much luck either, so don’t count on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.

Although the effects are the best of the series, it’s tough to back Transformers: Dark of the Moon either.

That leaves Hugo and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The WETA Digital folks have a deep and extensive Oscar history with wins for some of the “Lord of the Rings” films, “King Kong” and “Avatar.” Surprisingly, of all the four names listed for “Apes,” only one has been a part of those films (Joe Letteri). The Academy knows this is WETA’s work, and they know Andy Serkis turned heads this year to the point where he could’ve been nominated for an Oscar. The film deserves a statuette to put it bluntly, but that doesn’t mean the CGI vistas of “Hugo” and some of the best 3D ever can’t play spoiler.

Prediction: Rise of the Planet of the Apes


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