It’s time again from my annual breakdown of the categories at the Academy Awards for the month leading up to the ceremony, which is on Feb. 24. We start with the technical awards, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Visual Effects.
Last year, you might recall “Hugo” swept all three of these awards, the biggest surprise of which involved beating “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” in the visual effects contest. In general, it’s not uncommon to see one film sweep up a lot of the technical Oscars, and in sound especially, it’s rare when one film doesn’t take both awards.
This year, three films were nominated for both editing and mixing, and only one film has a chance at the tech trifecta — “Life of Pi.”
Best Achievement in Sound Editing
- “Argo” – Erik Aadahi; Ethan Van der Ryn
- “Django Unchained” – Wylie Stateman
- “Life of Pi” – Eugene Gearty; Philip Stockton
- “Skyfall” – Per Hallberg; Karen M. Baker
- “Zero Dark Thirty” – Paul N.J. Ottosson
This is a tough category this year, with many recent Oscar winners nominated. Let’s start with last year’s winners, Gearty and Stockton, who won for “Hugo” and look to repeat with Life of Pi. Both films comes from great technical filmmakers and received much critical praise for innovative visuals. With 11 Oscar nominations, “Pi” is this year’s “Hugo,” only the competition is much stiffer.
Ottosson returns to the list of nominees for the first time after winning both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing Oscars for his work on “The Hurt Locker.” So with a film like Zero Dark Thirty, it’s tough to talk as though there’s any difference in the quality of work. It’s a similar case with Skyfall sound editors Per Hallberg and Karen M. Baker, who won both sound categories a few years back for “The Bourne Ultimatum.”
One of those three films looks to be the likely winner. Wylie Stateman has been nominated numerous times, but Django Unchained doesn’t offer enough to put him over the edge, and Argo can’t be expected to outdo “Zero Dark Thirty” given how similar the films are and how incredibly realistic “ZDT” looks, sounds and feels.
Honestly, you can make a perfectly valid case for “Pi,” “Thirty” and “Skyfall.” It’s just a matter of getting a sense of which films the Academy appears to be favoring on the whole. That makes me nervous about “Zero Dark Thirty” given the backlash of some Academy members with regards to the torture scenes.
Prediction: “Life of Pi”
Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
- “Argo” – John T. Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, José Antonio García
- “Les Misérables” – Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Simon Hayes
- “Life of Pi” – Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill, Drew Kunin
- “Lincoln” – Gary Rydstrom, Andy Neslon, Ron Judkins
- “Skyfall” – Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, Stuart Wilson
For four straight years, there’s been an interesting correlation between sound mixing and Best Original Score. The winner of Best Sound Mixing has (over that time) always been nominated for Best Original Score. That doesn’t exactly help us narrow it down this year, as four Best Sound Mixing nominees were also Best Original Score nominees, and the fifth film is a musical.
With a nomination for Best Sound Editing, the most unlikely of the bunch would have to be Lincoln. After picking “War Horse” to win for both sound categories last year, I won’t go down that path with my prediction. Action films or films with lots of music tend to win in these categories and “Lincoln” has neither.
As a big contender for Best Original Score, some serious consideration has to be given to Life of Pi as well, which included lots of music and animal sounds.
Then there’s Les Misérables. Every time there has been a major musical contender for Best Picture, it tends to win this award (“Dreamgirls” and “Chicago” both won). Considering “Les Mis” involves on-set sound, that either assures it will win by a landslide or guarantees it won’t depending on how voters viewed that experiment.
One thing to consider is that the Cinema Audio Society Awards have always, in their nearly 20 years of existence, included the winner of the Oscar in their list of nominees. This year, only “Lincoln,” “Skyfall” and “Les Mis” were nominated by the CAS and the Academy.
Best Achievement in Visual Effects
- “The Avengers” – Janek Sirrs, Jeff White, Guy Williams, Daniel Sudick
- “The Hobbit: Any Unexpected Journey” – Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White
- “Life of Pi” – Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik De Boer, Donald Elliott
- “Prometheus” – Richard Stammers, Trevor Wood, Charley Henley, Martin Hill
- “Snow White and the Huntsman” – Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, Phil Brennan, Neil Corbould, Michael Dawson
This will be the third year now where five nominees have been chosen in this category as compared to two, which really just means it gets inflated with more of the year’s bigger visual blockbusters. This year, they’ve been as big and impressive as ever.
Snow White and the Huntsman did an excellent job, but in an underwhelming film. The Academy definitely has standards, as you can only criticize the quality of the overall movie of one Best Visual Effects winner since 2000 and that’s “The Golden Compass,” which managed to upset “Transformers,” the first film.
With the exception of “Spider-Man 2,” superhero films also usually come up short in this category. The Avengers can’t be taken lightly, but the big, clunky films tend not to be the ones that get awarded, but rather the more subtle, artistic films. I certainly do think you can consider Prometheus ahead of it despite some great, scenic 3D work, which likely is what secured the nomination.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has to be a serious contender when you consider that all three “Lord of the Rings” films won this award. Things have changed since then, and only one member of that team (Joe Letteri) is on this one. I’d normally consider it a threat because WETA Digital has cleaned up in past years, but after “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” lost last year (with two of those sound editors on “Hobbit”) in favor of a more artistic film, it subdues that notion substantially.
That’s why I’m worried about going against Life of Pi, the artsy 3D option of this year, or as I’ve said before, this year’s “Hugo.” With exception of “Hereafter” (which was a mediocre awful movie), the rare time a film is not an action movie and gets nominated in this category it wins (“Hugo” and “Benjamin Button” case in point). I see the Academy looking at the production quality of that film as a whole and awarding it the win.
Prediction “Life of Pi”