Monday, March 20, 2017

OVP: Sound Mixing (2007)

OVP: Best Sound Mixing (2007)

The Nominees Were...

Scott Millan, David Parker, and Kirk Francis, The Bourne Ultimatum
Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, and Peter Kurland, No Country for Old Men
Randy Thom, Michael Semanick, and Doc Kane, Ratatouille
Paul Massey, David Giammarco, and Jim Stuebe, 3:10 to Yuma
Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, and Peter J. Devlin, Transformers

My Thoughts: In attempting to get these articles out faster than I currently do (yikes, how I sometimes take breaks with these OVP articles), we're doing this one less than a week after our last one, and I am attempting a third on Thursday, so we shall see where we go.  Suffice it say, though, the Academy isn't making it very easy on me here, as once again we have a quartet of the same nominees in both Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, begging the question-they know there's a difference, right?

I mean, I do, which is why I can say, for example, that the Sound Editing is better in a film like Transformers than the Sound Mixing.  With this nomination we have reached a critical moment in the  Sound Mixing category for our OVP, that of a nomination for Kevin O'Connell, who until 2016 had never won (the only good thing about "Oscar-winning" Hacksaw Ridge is that his streak has ended).  One of the biggest questions for me in the OVP was always if I would have people like O'Connell who constantly are nominated, but never win, or if I would agree with the Academy when they resisted certain people, so I'll be tracking O'Connell relatively closely in this regard.

Transformers films always have had a lot of sound, but while the editing is a distinctive roar, the mixing is sometimes exemplary and sometimes quite dull.  The mixers here do a great job in the action sequences, combining the traditional explosion effects with the score and the whirring of the machines, but there's nothing particularly noteworthy about the scenes that, well, don't feature the robots battling each other.  The picture is far too reliant on a score, for example, than I would want, to move things along and there always seems to be a "too heightened" effect on any piece of dialogue, even something rudimentary, as if the actors are speaking to someone other than the person in the scene.  This may be blamed on the actors, well, phoning it in, but it reflects in the sound work in my opinion.  Combine that with it frequently being WAY too loud even for a Transformers movie, and you have a fine if not nearly as impressive nominee for the editing category.

The Bourne Ultimatum is in a similar situation where the editing is a worthier inclusion than the mixing.  Unlike Transformers where it's just a "well that's Michael Bay" situation, here the mixing actually started to distract me in some scenes.  I consider it an unforgivable sin whenever the music, for example, overpowers the dialogue-the point of the movie is to hear what is happening with the characters, and frequently it feels like these two are coming in in the same register, particularly in the lead-up to action sequences, when they're cutting away to headquarters or Jason is on the telephone.  The dialogue in general never sounds quite right; perhaps because it's expositional dialogue so often, it feels like they should just kill the John Powell music all-together & let us actually get a pin-drop feel for the scenes, but for me the chase/fight sequences (where the sound editing is the star) are the only ones that really stand out as being particularly worthy.

The other two double-nominees, however, are much better in their mixing than their editing.  This is particularly true for Ratatouille, the only film of this bunch that knows how to properly incorporate its score into the film without it overpowering the actors.  This may be because its voice work, but that doesn't mean that Ratatouille shouldn't be commended for that wonderful Michael Giacchino score being so lovingly added to select scenes, or that sound mixing isn't responsible for the delights of the food critic sequence or anything involving a cooking montage.  The salivating way that food is featured is due just as much to the sound work, which is simple, elegant, and doing its job, as it does the rich animation on the screen.  An underrated Pixar movie (particularly in an era where we see what Pixar isn't capable of...which is making a sequel), and one that is aurally sophisticated.

No Country for Old Men is kind of in a class by itself when it comes to using sound (or lack of it) to add to the sound mix.  Honestly, it's hard to talk about this movie's sound (I think perhaps its best feature, give or take the writing), and not gush.  The movie relies very little on Carter Burwell's score, and only brings it out in key sequences, while it pulls back in others to create a heightened sense of tension, relying only on dialogue or the toss of a coin to impact the theatergoers.  Even when there is noise, frequently it's more likely to be a humming engine or cows or something that isn't comforting to the audience like a sweet string piece to keep the viewer guessing.  "You can't stop what's coming" is the tagline of the movie, but the sound mixers ensure you can't guess what's coming either, messing with you the viewer in terms of audible clues, and keeping the action going.  It's a risky bet, considering it could be off-putting for an audience that relies on sound internally to know where to place its attention, but it works because the mixers are so specific (and the film itself is so good).

The final nominee was the odd-man-out, and such a strange odd-man-out he was: 3:10 to Yuma.  The remake nabbed a pair of Oscar nominations, and this one feels odd mostly because you'd think that a shoot-em-up western would have had a better chance in Sound Editing.  Either way, the movie does know how to handle some of its scenes well-I thought the sound work when it came to the gun battles was solid, and there's some of the trail sequences that work well.  It does fall, however, into the pattern of too much sound during some pivotal scenes, particularly toward the end when they're holding off gunfire, and the dialogue is muted out by the whirling bullets sound onscreen, which is a huge pet peeve of mine; I get that this occasionally is intentional to show what our heroes are dealing with a given scene, but that nod doesn't seem to be happening here as it didn't happen in previous scenes-it feels more like we're just getting a lot of noise.

Other Precursor Contenders: By what I can tell here, this may have been the last year the Cinema Audio Society didn't split their nominees into animated and live-action.  If they didn't, then shockingly Ratatouille missed out here (as did 3:10 to Yuma), with Into the Wild and 300 the lucky ones at this contest (No Country for Old Men was the winner).  The BAFTA Awards picked Academy favorite The Bourne Ultimatum, here having it emerge victorious over the Oscar-nominated No Country and the more 1990's-styled nominees of Atonement, There Will Be Blood, and La Vie en Rose.  In terms of sixth place here, it's hard to say.  Part of me thinks There Will Be Blood (an editing nominee, and one that I'm surprised couldn't land for mixing as well), while the other half of my brain wonders if Sweeney Todd wasn't far off from being a surprise inclusion, as this category is partial to musicals.
Films I Would Have Nominated: I surely would have included There Will Be Blood, and am perplexed why the Oscars thought here was the time to skip it.  I also would have wanted the sound work of David Fincher's Zodiac (a director who almost always has particularly good detail for this category), and perhaps the roaring rivers of Into the Wild, a movie that lives-and-dies off of this category.
Oscar’s Choice: Oscar completed its 3/3 Bourne victory, with No Country for Old Men missing out on what would have likely been a victory otherwise.
My Choice: Easily No Country for Old Men-this isn't even a contest, as this would make my all-time list.  Follow that with Ratatouille, Transformers, 3:10 to Yuma, and the eventual victor Bourne Ultimatum.

Those are my choices-how about you?  Are you wondering why I have such an eye-roll for the Bourne films or are you with me that  No Country for Old Men was completely robbed here?  Anyone else figure out the mystery of the Yuma/Blood split (which to do this day I'm stunned didn't go the other way around)?  And who was in sixth place here?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

Past Best Sound Mixing Contests: 200820092010201120122013, 2014

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