My Thoughts: A lot of Oscar categories live in a bit of a vacuum when it comes to judging the nominees. Sound editing is frequently difficult to differentiate from the work of the sound mixers (sound editing involves artificial sounds that are inserted in the film, rather than the sound mixer who is in charge of the overall sound). How much of, say, The Hobbit, a largely computer-generated film, is in fact Sound Editing? It’s hard to tell, but since that’s the whole purpose of the OVP, I shall do my best right now.
Since I feel like I’ve been ending with it or saving it toward the end in so many write-ups, I’m going to start with our most-nominated of films, Gravity (I’m aware it tied American Hustle, but we haven’t gotten to seven of Hustle’s nominations yet and it barely feels like it’s been a part of our first nine write-ups). Gravity is a triumph in almost every visual aspect, but its sound work is just as remarkable. I love the way that the crashes burst through the silent air, tearing at the calm that we’ve been breathing deeply for. The entire film relies upon these sorts of rushes-noise means trouble in the film, and anything that is approaching is a sign of dread. I love the way that the editors use that-giving us just pin-pricks of sounds at first, almost as if we are in a horror movie. It’s stirring, excellent work, and easily to the task of the film that houses it.
Just as wonderful, surprisingly so, is Lone Survivor, a film that I never would have seen without its pair of Oscar nominations but one that I’m glad I did. I had a lot of problems with the ending of the film (and don’t give me that “it’s real life” crap-this is why I hate biopics, since you cannot change for a better story since truth is never actually stranger than fiction), but the editing and sound work were sublime. I love the relentlessness of the fight scenes, and the constant cacophony of bullets that we are aurally pummeled with. The movie functions so well as a case study in war, and you feel an authenticity in the fight scenes that you rarely get from a film-there’s a realism at play here that elevates the movie above almost every other generic war film that I really admired, and at times it’s even better than Gravity.
This category has always been partial to films with submarines, so there was little doubt in my mind that Captain Phillips would be included once I saw the movie. Like the film’s editing, though, I found myself loving the middle third’s sound editing but feeling blasé about the other two sequences. The middle third is exhilarating, with every gunshot and bang adding to the film’s overall thriller-angle. Any film can have a bullet whiz by, but it takes a truly strong one to make that bullet scare us in the audience, which Captain Phillips manages to do. That being said, the first third has nothing to offer in Sound Editing, and I feel like in the final scenes that the sound work is too muddled (this may be the mixers fault, but as I said, this isn’t an exact science and I’m blaming them both) and not distinct enough from the dialogue.
All is Lost scored its sole nomination in this category, making it the annual film to get nominated here but not for Mixing, which I suppose makes some sense. It is at sea (the sound editors love water-see also Captain Phillips) and the film is deeply reliant on its sound work, as Redford rarely speaks, but for a sensory connection of the ocean we need to hear the sinking ship and beating waves. That being said, this feels like it should have been a Mixing nomination-the Editing aspects feel so background and routine that I cannot help but feel like this was a nomination that the Academy felt it had to give to a film with solid credentials that was missing elsewhere. I will not pretend that I didn’t wildly dislike the movie (I found it tepid and pointless), and even though the sound work was better than the rest of the film, that’s not saying much. In a field that excelled when it came to its sound editing, this nomination may read as “classy” to some, but I think “boring” is a better descriptor.
Finally we’ll end with The Hobbit, which was probably the biggest shocker in the sound categories, honestly. After the first film missed I figured that this was not going to happen anymore for the series (weirdly, Desolation of Smaug got the same number of nominations as An Unexpected Journey despite the first film getting considerably more ink). The sound editing in this film is strong. Though it never approaches the epic battles that occur in the original movies (I suspect we’ll get there soon enough with the third installment), it still has wonderfully inventive scenes, like the fights at Thranduil and the entire sequence with Smaug, the sleepy dragon. Everything in this film is pristine in terms of its sound work, and while it doesn’t go to the industry-defining lengths that Gravity does or the deeply rich and surprising work of Lone Survivor, this is still a welcome and surprising nomination.
Other Precursor Contenders: The Golden Reel Awards separate their nominations into three different categories: feature film, animation, and foreign film. The feature film nominees found room for all of AMPAS’s contenders (plus the same winner in Gravity), as well as Fast and Furious 6, 12 Years a Slave, and Iron Man 3 (so much for choosiness). This category historically has been kind to animated movies, but none of the Reel nominees could get in with Oscar this year. They included Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Epic, The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Frozen, Monsters University, and Ernest and Celestine (Epic won, making this perhaps the only time all season where an animated film topped Frozen in an OVP precursor). And finally The Grandmaster was the winner for foreign film, besting Blue is the Warmest Color, The Past, and Wadjda. While theoretically 12 Years a Slave or Frozen could have been the competition here, I think that Rush, which largely got shut out with Oscar but scored a top haul at the Globes, was probably the just-miss in this field.
Films I Would Have Nominated: As I mentioned previously, I haven’t seen Rush so that’s out for me. I hate to throw in yet another blockbuster, but I think I would have subbed in Man of Steel for at least a nomination here-that movie was better on its technical merits than many have given it credit for, and I think probably deserved a citation here as well as in Visual Effects.
Oscar’s Choice: Gravity continued its domination of the tech categories, scooping up another trophy over Captain Phillips.
My Choice: Tougher than I initially anticipated (and making me genuinely curious about how Sound Mixing is about to turn out), I will go with Gravity just over Lone Survivor, with The Hobbit, Captain Phillips, and All is Lost behind.
Those are my thoughts-what are yours? Are you also on the Gravity gravy train, or do you have a different favorite? Was anyone else surprised about how much they loved Lone Survivor? Can someone explain to me the appeal of All is Lost? And what film has the best sound editing of 2013? Share in the comments!