Wednesday, March 15, 2017

OVP: Sound Editing (2007)

OVP: Best Sound Editing (2007)

The Nominees Were...

Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg, The Bourne Ultimatum
Skip Livesay, No Country for Old Men
Randy Thom and Michael Silvers, Ratatouille
Christopher Sarabasio and Matthew Wood, There Will Be Blood
Ethan Van Der Ryn and Mike Hopkins, Transformers

My Thoughts: Moving on in our 2007 lineup (don't realize what this is about?-tons of links below for the newer members to the blog, and a link above for an explanation of the Oscar Viewing Project), we have the sound categories up next.  I put five pictures of men up-top on-purpose, as these five films are weirdly male-dominated, with only Megan Fox coming close to being a leading woman in this list.  Lack of diversity aside, this is another case where 2007 proved to be one of the best years in the history of the Oscars, as none of these nominees stand out as particularly poor nominees, and some are more than worthy of their inclusion here.

Since I haven't written an OVP write-up in a while, and need to get back into the swing of things, we're going to start out with the surprise winner of this category, The Bourne Ultimatum.  The movie was a surprise inclusion in part, for me, because it had never been honored previously.  What was supposed to be the final installment (until Matt Damon and Universal decided to say to hell with legacy in the face of endless piles of cash), this felt like a way to honor a series that had been on the periphery of the Oscars more than anything else.

That said, it's a pretty good batch of sound editing, and in my opinion the worthiest of the three nominations that the film (which I didn't particularly care for) received.  The sound from the busy thoroughfares is consistent and articulate enough that it's clearly tacked on, and I think that the sound team knows how to give a sense of panic through wonderfully choreographed fight scenes and using the wide camera angles cinematographer Oliver Wood employs to give more intensity.  Look at how we don't know where an attack is coming from, or where Jason is headed, and how the sound work is aiding in making you feel the chaos he's achieving in that moment.  A lesser action film would use music in the background or cutaways to try to more traditionally heighten the chases, but here we're living in the moment alongside Jason Bourne, and it's one of the better tricks of this franchise.

It's impossible to look at the Transformers films objectively and not marvel at two things: these pictures are almost ludicrously awful, except in the rare situations where the Academy nominated them.  I will admit first-hand that I am a huge fan of the sound work from these pictures, and that all started here.  While I want to say that this got more impressive as the series advanced (particularly the third film's work with the Driller), but there's no denying that when you picture Bumblebee or Optimus Prime transforming in your head, you can hear the whir of gears and metal.  These films wouldn't work if their effects weren't impressive-that's the sole reason to see it-but they are.  This goes above even Michael Bay's standard explosions and gains gargantuan, specific effects that aid in creating a franchise.

It's strange to go from the brashness of Transformers to the delicate nature of something like No Country for Old Men, but both do rely on specificity, even if it's in completely different contexts.  Here we have several quiet, drawn out gun battles that almost exclusively nab their tension from the sound editing-there's no spare bullet that you aren't counting when Llewellyn is fighting off Anton Chigurh, and sound (or the lack thereof, but we'll get to that with the mixers in our next article), is a crucial part of this package.  Add to that arguably the single most impressive and specific sound effect (that of Chigurh's cattle gun, which haunts many a dream), and you get why this was nominated, and it wasn't just group-think for the Best Picture.

There Will Be Blood, while never quite as iconic in its work here as No Country for Old Men, its brother-in-violence here, also is very fastidious about its sound work.  Here we have an oil tycoon coming alive in a wave of heat and oil aboard a rig.  There's obviously the explosion scene which is so crucial, but the film gives you a wave of fury every time that Daniel Plainview is working, amassing his fortune.  This is that rare case where the sound editing feels almost character-aiding-seeing Daniel become alive amidst the fire and sound shows a great deal of personality, and I loved the contrast the quiet, pin-drop aspects of the rest of the field in conjunction with the work here.  It's a marvelous way to give your movie ambiance.

The final nomination is Ratatouille.  At this point, Pixar was in a place where it almost always was nominated for its work (a trend that inexplicably and abruptly ended after Toy Story 3), but I'd argue that Ratatouille feels like the strangest nomination for the studio as it didn't have monster scares or superheroes or robots, but instead scurrying mice and waiters.  Still, there's something to be said for the cacophony of restaurant sounds amassed here, giving us the warmth of a Parisian dining experience, as well as the quick clang of the kitchen.  Ratatouille is largely about comfort and warmth, and you can feel that in the expert sound work during the busier sequences.  There's no standout effect like Transformers or No Country for Old Men, but it's sturdy work all around.

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 The Bourne Ultimatum (winner), 3:10 to Yuma, American Gangster, I Am Legend, No Country for Old Men, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Spider-Man 3, and Transformers.  Animated seemed to be every film in the conversation, with Ratatouille correctly trumping Bee Movie, Meet the Robinsons, Persepolis, Shrek the Third, Surf's Up, Tekkonkinkreet, and The Simpsons Movie.  Foreign film (not necessarily in a foreign language, it should be noted) went to The Orphanage over Atonement, Eastern Promises, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Redacted, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and Sharkwater.  Sixth place was more than likely American Gangster, though I'd buy 3:10 to Yuma or Pirates of the Caribbean if you wanted to make that claim.
Films I Would Have Nominated: If I had to truly look at this objectively, I'd likely have found time for at least 3:10 to Yuma, which is a wonderfully-etched western and way better than anyone seems to claim (why isn't this a more celebrated picture) or perhaps even Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.  But it has to be said once again that Oscar made a pretty solid slate here-no duds in the bunch.
Oscar’s Choice: Oscar, like I said, skipped over an easy chance to honor its Best Picture nominees and instead went with a very popular action franchise in The Bourne Ultimatum (I suspect it was close, though)
My Choice: This is a really close race for me.  I'd say Bourne in last, and Ratatouille in fourth, but the rest are a tight race.  Maybe No Country for Old Men, Transformers, and There Will Be Blood, in that order?  That feels the most comfortable for me.

Those are my thoughts-what are yours?  Are you with me in picking No Country for Old Men, or are you all about that Bourne?  Does everyone agree that this is a very solid lineup for this category, arguably the strongest overall they ever pulled together (certainly in the five-wide days)?  And who do you think was in sixth place?  Share your thoughts below in the comments!

Past Best Sound Editing Contests: 200820092010201120122013, 2014

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