Academy Awards Project: Best Sound Editing
2019 is a very bizarre year for these sound technical categories (editing and mixing, of course). The majority of both categories contains works found in the major categories. Most years, this would be the place where blockbusters and mainstream action flicks would shine. Here, we don’t see a Bumblebee or a Ready Player One, but one action film, three mainstream pieces, and a foreign arthouse marvel. Before we continue this double-header, once again we must separate the two and explain the differences. Sound editing is the creation and assembly of sounds, while sound mixing is putting every sound together like a cohesive puzzle. With that being said, let’s dip into which of these films created the best noises and audible cues. Here are the nominees for Best Sound Editing, ranked from worst to best.
Biggest Snub: Cold War
Cold War is anchored by music, and to have music, you need sounds. If a film like Bohemian Rhapsody (which does involve individual instrument sounds) or Roma (which involves the sounds of city life) can make it here, surely Cold War isn’t the most far fetched suggestion for sound editing. The audible palette in Cold War is nice when you take everything together, but noticing each and every little sound is soothing in its own right.
5. Bohemian Rhapsody-John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone
The biggest selling point for this nomination is the Live Aid scene, but I feel like the mixture of all of the sent-in fan audio clips (a neat idea, actually) has more to do with sound mixing than editing. The recording sessions are quite a treat, with every booming drum hit and twanging guitar pluck. I feel the mixing in Bohemian Rhapsody is where it truly shines, but the editing is definitely tasty.
4. Black Panther-Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker
Usually, the creation of imaginary sounds can garner some extra points, especially if they sound tangible. In Black Panther, you feel like you are a part of a real world (outside of the subpar visual effects in some scenes), and a great deal of this has to do with the sound editing. The sounds of Wakanda — natural or technological — pop, and any fictitious beings (I have those rhinos in mind) do feel as though they are creating these noises organically. It’s a standard Marvel film in this department.
3. First Man-Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
Most of the flare for this nominee comes from the actual attempts at space exploration. Every time a space shuttle attempts to go off, you’re suddenly in a new world (even if we never escape Earth). The fire blazing. The control panel panicking. The creaking of the outer shell. Every little detail sends each scene over the edge. In any regular year, First Man might actually be one of the top contenders, but we do have a couple of very unique picks to get to.
2. A Quiet Place-Ethan van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
The sole nomination for John Krasinski’s horror flick, A Quiet Place only got a nomination for sound editing. It’s weird, because the Academy may have misunderstood the film’s use of silence as a means of not including it in the sound mixing category, but I would argue that that makes it an even worthier candidate. Nonetheless, we can look at all of the sounds of the world that simmer underneath the deafening silence. We can also pick out the sounds generated by the unidentified creatures that have taken over the world. That latter part is the kicker, here. Making the noise of these alien beings (whose ability to hear is what leads them to their prey) sound great is important (think if they sounded stupid or fake; we wouldn’t take them seriously, especially because sound is everything for them). A Quiet Place nails it.
1. Roma-Sergio Diaz and Skip Lievsay
The majority of Roma is hinged on what you see, and what you hear. The sound mixing is euphoric in this film, but much of that weight is carried by the individual sounds themselves. The riots breaking out feel like they are right beside you. The burning and falling trees are soothing, yet terrifying. The everyday bustle of humanity that swallows you whole. All of these things are enhanced by sound mixing, but they are already so strong because of how they were initially made. Roma goes the extra mile with its composition of noises, because it was greatly intended to be an immersive experience (not in the way a blockbuster intends, where you feel the action, but in a new way, where you live this life for a few hours). We will see how the actual mixing fares out tomorrow. But for now, the sounds in Roma are a big enough portion of the film’s success to garner it the crown for the best sound editing of the year.
Our Predicted Winner: It is very difficult to call at this point, because many tech awards aren’t quite given the light of day like other categories are. If Black Panther is destined to win tech awards, it may very well pick up a win here. If it is Roma’s year to sweep as many awards as possible, it can also be a major candidate here.
Our Academy Awards Project is an ongoing series that will continue until all the categories have been ranked and reviewed. Tune in Monday to Saturday for a new category each day.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.