Tuesday, April 05, 2016

OVP: Sound Editing (2014)

OVP: Best Sound Editing (2014)

The Nominees Were...

Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman, American Sniper
Martin Hernandez and Aaron Glascock, Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Brent Burge and Jason Canovas, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Richard King, Interstellar
Becky Sullivan and Andrew DeCristofaro, Unbroken

My Thoughts: We now move onto our vitamins of the Oscar Viewing Project, the sound categories.  After all, it's kind of hard to discuss the sounds of a particular movie, and it's even harder when you have a shirtless Finn Wittrock staring at you from up-above (hey there Dandy!).  That being said, it's an important category and we have been dragging our feet long enough on the Sound Editing (what?-I'm saying we until I get some more insistent commenters on this blog), so let's push ahead as we haven't even hit the halfway point in 2014.

The first nominee I want to discuss is the only one that I never actually reviewed from 2014, and just realized this right now, which is the final installment of The Hobbit trilogy, and the one that I'll admit in advance as my least favorite of the bunch.  The problem with the film isn't that it isn't still riveting (it is), but it suffers in a major way from the splitting of the books into three filmic chapters.  The first two movies in the series didn't have this problem, but the third film needed either to go very off-the-beaten-path in terms of plotting, or required a bit more careful structuring of the characters before we headed into battle.  After all, the film came out during the midst of Game of Thrones glory, when character-development (and quite frankly, sex and violence) have aged Lord of the Rings in a way that once was assumed impossible.  The sound work, though, was quite fine and in particular stood out in the scenes atop the icy mountain, when we wait for the spray of ice or a sword coming hammering down.  The sound editing really spices up the entire film, including the Smaug sequences (of which there are too few), and in general the rumble of the castle as it falls around Ian McKellen.  There's such great care to make it feel like another chapter in the movie, but the battle sequences pop and dazzle, enough so that this nomination (feeling a little bit Revenge of the Sith-in-by-a-hair for the OVP), is worth the trouble.

The same cannot be said for Birdman, getting arguably its least deserving nomination and the one that most feels like it's simply along for the flight.  Birdman has some interesting sounds, and in particular that dizzying score certainly blends well with what is happening onscreen (especially the way it occasionally muffles out the conversation), but the sound editing is minimal at best, and doesn't really feel like something that deserved such a citation.  After all, the most impressive moments are the ones involving the personified Birdman who is talking to Michael Keaton, but these scenes are standard-fare for any action picture and really not what the movie is about.  I remember little aside from a sparing explosion, and any movie-maker worth his or her salt can make an explosion sound exact.  All-in-all, a forgettable filler nomination that felt like it was there to pad the Best Picture winner's bracket.

Interstellar is such a strange movie for me in these write-ups, because it improves upon writing about it, but only because of one specific scene.  The scene on Miller's Planet is riveting, the sort of moment that made you initially fall in love with Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker.  Before doing this write-up I re-watched the scene to see if it holds up, and it does in so many ways.  It also shows the best of this nomination, with the click of the metronome in the background, at first seemingly showing us why time was important (it takes seven years for every hour on this planet), and then showing that every second counts before a wave comes heaping toward them.  The sound work here is incredible, but it's worth noting that it's just one scene, and many other sequences in the movie feel sloppy by comparison.  I kind of hated the extended black-hole sequence, and the sound work doesn't feel nearly as crisp or deliberate.  Still, the Miller's Planet scene is an absolute doozy, and should be remembered when you countdown the best moments in Nolan pictures (Top 10 list you'd like to see-share below?).

You can't make a war film, land it in Best Picture, and not nab spots in the sound categories so American Sniper's inclusion here is hardly anyone's idea of a surprise.  What may be surprising, however, is the fact that the sound here, especially the most memorable scenes of the film, requires next to nothing in terms of obvious editing and in fact I think is sort of the greater for it.  Think of one of the movie's better moments, when Bradley Cooper is muttering "don't pick it up" as he realizes he may have to kill a little boy who is retrieving up a weapon.  There's no bullets, no background noises, nothing really pushing the action except fear and performance and silence.  It's a great scene, but sound editing isn't really a big part of it.  The battle sequences lack the precision of something like Zero Dark Thirty just two years prior, and feel more plucked out of a generic reel than anything approaching Oscar-worthy.  There's nothing to see here, and it reeks again of an uninspired filler nomination.

The final nomination feels that way on the surface, but I would be lying if I didn't confess that I loved the sound work in Unbroken, especially in the bombing mission scene early on in the film.  The surround sound feel of the bullets as they cascade throughout the plane puts you as close to the action as you'd ever want to be, and the way that the dialogue is still audible but also clearly muffled is a great trick.  The film itself is, well, kind of terrible, but this scene is indicative of the care that Sullivan and DeCristofaro place throughout the film, deliberating finding moments to inject a splash or jump that feels very real to the story happening onscreen.  However, this nomination is most definitely for the perfection of that early battle scene, one that made me genuinely recall how good the sound editing was while I was in the movie, a rarity for even my movie-going self.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Golden Reel Awards separate their nominations into three different categories: feature film, animation, and foreign film.  The feature film nominees included American Sniper (the victor), Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Fury, Guardians of the Galaxy, Interstellar, Unbroken and Birdman.  Animated was pretty much every animated film that year, with Big Hero 6 besting The Book of Life, The Boxtrolls, How to Train Your Dragon 2, and The Lego Movie.  Foreign film (not necessarily in a foreign language, it should be noted) went with The Liberator over Human Capital, The Raid 2, ROAR: Tigers of the Sunderbans (I'm intrigued also), and Uzumasa Limelight.  Sixth place was probably Guardians of the Galaxy, all things considered, as it was such a big hit and landed in VFX so you know it was close.
Films I Would Have Nominated: Certainly I would have made room for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, whose sound work is sensational and something that I think is added to best in some of the quieter moments (remember that masterful sequence with Toby Jones and the computer, and then the cascade of missiles?).  I'd also probably go for Fury, a movie that, unlike American Sniper, finds ways to distinguish its war-time moments and really relies heavily on its central character of the tank.  And finally I'd want to honor the bump-in-the-night shrieks of The Babadook.  It's a combination of mixing and editing making this such a horrifying endeavor, but the editing is adding some wonderfully violent touches.
Oscar’s Choice: In one of those rare moments where the Academy went in an entirely different direction with this category and Sound Mixing, they decided to pitch Clint Eastwood a bone by giving this to American Sniper over (probably) Birdman and Interstellar.
My Choice: It feels so weird to say this, but I want it to go to Unbroken, arguably the film I liked the least of these five in overall quality but in this particular field was best-in-show.  Follow that up with The Hobbit, Interstellar, American Sniper, and Birdman.

Those are my thoughts-what are yours?  Are you with me in picking the wartime Unbroken or were you hoping for more of Bradley Cooper's sniping?  Do you have the same mixed memories of Interstellar?  And how could Oscar have possibly ignored Captain America?!?  Share your theories in the comments below!

Past Best Sound Editing Contests: 200820092010201120122013

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