Academy Awards Project: Best Sound Mixing
Once again, we are pairing up the sound editing and mixing categories, because the two aspects of filmmaking go hand in hand. To reiterate the difference, sound editing is the creation of sounds, whereas sound mixing is the piecing of every sound together. This is working with so many different elements, and making sure everything is audible, crisp, and not too chaotic. Many subpar action films before 2019 have dominated this category (at least nominations wise) because that was one area they excelled in. If you can hear bullet casings hit the ground amidst many explosions in a big fight scene, that is usually a sign of good sound mixing. If these same explosions are naturally loud, but they do not overtake literally every other sound, that is also a good sign. Essentially, you may not know what bad sound mixing is until you listen to a bad instance of it. Sound in film can often be underrated, which is why this category is important to get to know. There’s no better way to do that than by looking at what the year had to offer. Here are the nominees for Best Sound Mixing, ranked from worst to best.
Biggest Snub: Annihilation
There are a few action scenes in this psychedelic thriller, but the main ticket here is how this new world just glistens audibly to us. This piece of Earth affected by the Shimmer runs just a little bit differently. There are so many tingles from nature, combined with the indescribable noises of the more abstract beings here. Then, you have the ferocious beasts (the alligator and the bear, mainly), where the latter animal’s main cry is a mixture of so many sounds (including human). Mix that with the abstract score the film has, and you have one hell of a head trip.
5. First Man-Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Ai-Ling Lee and Mary H. Ellis
First Man will come last, only because it gets its opportunity to showcase its sound mixing very seldom compared to the other nominees. When you see the shuttle testing take place, the sound mixing is on full glorious display here. All of the gizmos going off are still audible next to the roaring of flames and the radio commands from base. First Man is a true experience during these moments, and when the camera is shaking during lift off, it’s the sound mixing that fills in the blanks for us.
4. Black Panther-Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor and Peter Devlin
For the action films of the year, Black Panther definitely stands out as a top candidate in this category (you can argue The Avengers: Infinity War could, too, but clearly Marvel was pushing this film for the majority of its possible categories instead). Even during the times of chaos, you can relatively tell what is going on sound wise. During the quiet moments, you are greeted with something a bit extra: the sounds of nature and technology converging. This is one of the many reasons why Wakanda sticks out to many of us. It feels so tangible for a fictitious kingdom.
3. A Star is Born-Tom Ozanich, Dean Zupancic, Jason Ruder and Steve Morrow
The only film to be nominated here and not the Best Sound Editing category (where A Quiet Place earned a spot instead), A Star is Born is a definite shoe in here. You have the many concert scenes, where you feel the mixture between stage-and-crowd sounds is well balanced. I also adore the silence this film employs, where music is found in the world around us (almost like a John Cage philosophy at play here). For a musical film, A Star is Born relishes in the ambience of the world around us, and that makes it truly special here.
2. Bohemian Rhapsody-Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin and John Casali
Okay, credit is due where credit is due. Bohemian Rhapsody ranked last in my Sound Editing list, but it ranks much higher here. Why is that? Considering the amount of performance scenes that are being juggled, plus the constant noise throughout the film that actually works (it is certainly not one of the low points of this film by any stretch), there is a lot to consider. It ranks higher than A Star is Born simply for the Live Aid recreation, where countless fan-submitted audio clips were placed into the scene. That alone is an insane achievement.
1. Roma-Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan and José Antonio García
Once again, Roma has come out on top (like it did in the Best Sound Editing list). You feel like you are in ‘70s Mexico. You can pinpoint each and every little noise better than, arguably, most films this decade. The sound mixing here is truly some of the best of the new millennium, and it helped Roma reach a new stratosphere with its texturing. As the film purposefully runs at a glacial pace, the sounds run through your mind like a river. The mixing is so pinpoint accurate, you could swear it perfectly lines up with literally every single subject on the screen, whether it is the distance of where the waves are crashing, or the individual sparks emitted from a tree that is on fire. Watching Roma on Netflix might be a disservice, especially with this category. To experience the film with Dolby Atmos in a theatre was truly transcendent. Either way, Roma definitely has the best sound mixing of the year.
Our Predicted Winner: Like I said yesterday, it is still really difficult to call this one so early, but it could definitely swing in anyone’s favour. To at least have some guesses for the time being, Roma could take this category if it is granted its category sweep (or partial sweep); if not, I can imagine Bohemian Rhapsody taking in some tech awards (simply because they are a major reason why the film was dominant enough to work its way to Best Picture).
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.