And the award goes to...11 Top Contenders for Best Sound Editing and Mixing

December 09, 2014 4:34pm
Source: Mix Magazine

MIX Magazine makes their top picks for this years top oscar sound contenders!

It’s that time of year, when Hollywood honors the year’s finest contributions in film production and post-production. For Mix, that means the best in film sound editing and mixing. Who will take home the statues from the 2015 CAS Awards, MPSE Golden Reels and Academy Awards?


The Apes prequels have proven quite lucrative and creative more than 40 years after the original appeared on screens. For the sound teams, they are a real gift, full of action, battles, weapons, horses, old and new technologies…these films require a vast amount of original sound effects and Foley recording. Rightfully the effects get a lot of attention; they’re good. And for the first time in the series they were mixed in an immersive format, Dolby Atmos. But in the Mix film sound event in September, rerecording mixer Andy Nelson pointed out that while the human vocals were restricted to the screen channels, the director gave them leeway to bring the ape vocals and group Ape ADR into the surrounds, creating a subtle and effective distinction.

How to Train Your Dragon 2:

It’s Randy Thom doing sound on a big animated film. What’s not to like? Always inventive, detailed and a part of the storytelling, Thom has won an Oscar before designing sound for world’s that don’t exist, with Pixar’s The Incredibles. At the Mix sound for film event in September, during the keynote speech, Thom talked about sound’s contribution to the art of storytelling, using a scene from Dragon 2 to illustrate perspective shifts from within a main character’s head—subtle shifts with effects and movement to aid the image. When listening to the track with your eyes closed, it’s sometimes easy to forget that these animated worlds don’t really exist.


Director David Fincher and sound designer Ren Klyce share one of those special collaborative relationships, going back to the early audio genius of Se7en and Fight Club. The crews have gotten slightly bigger, and the music team of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross has already hauled in an Oscar of their own, but the core of the audio approach—deft realism as the anchor, with inventive un-realism as the flavor—stays the same. In this procedural thriller, Fincher described the Reznor-Ross tracks as “spa music…creating this feeling of being on anti-depressants.” See the November 2014 Mix for more on the film.


Paul N.J. Ottosson hit big with an Oscar for Best Sound Editing for The Hurt Locker, then again for Zero Dark Thirty. In Fury, he is again involved with war, but this time going back to the 1940s, with all the period vehicles, weaponry, radios and background walla that such a film involves.

Exodus: Gods and Kings:

It’s a Ridley Scott epic! It’s going to have big sound. And it’s going to have exceptional sound. Oscar nominee Oliver Tarney designed and supervised the film, working again with re-recording mixers Paul Massey and Mark Taylor (as he did on Monuments Men). Exodus was the first film mixed in native Atmos at Twickenham Studios’ Studio A. Note the interiors moving to the exteriors, with reverb slap off the nearby mountains. And make note of the group ADR in the big scenes—all kinds of ancient languages, from Hebrew to Coptic to Hittite, scripted and sometimes recorded outdoors at Shepperton Studios in 5.1.


Producers and directors are going to start to take note of sound designer Ai-Ling Lee. In this memoir-turned-movie, the audience spends a lot of time in the head of the Reese Witherspoon character as she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail on her quest for recovery and redemption. Of the track, re-recording mixer Andy Nelson says: Although this is a physical journey that Cheryl takes, it is as much if not more an internal journey. Therefore the sound had to track with her inner thoughts as much as the external sounds. This was achieved by her inner dialog, music for emotional connection and memories, and lack of external sound at those moments. Then the outside world comes back to remind us of her physical path. All under Jean-Marc’s direction. Very collaborative and very satisfying. A real way to tell story with sound.”

Transformers: Age of Extinction:

Michael Bay makes big movies. Big movies with big sound. The tracks are not at all shy, yet they have the detail and rootedness that keeps the film anchored in the real world while the visuals explode on the screen. That’s not always easy. Sound designers Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn teamed up with re-recording mixers Greg P. Russell (a longtime Bay collaborator) and Scott Millan to deliver an effects-heavy (check out the gadget Foley!), music-driven explosion of a summer soundtrack. It’s what you would expect, and it’s excellent.

The Grand Budapest Hotel:

Six-time Oscar-nominated composer Alexandre Desplat is not afraid to take chances, but even this one was a stretch, For Wes Anderson’s quirky escape into Budapest, Desplat abandoned the traditional orchestra completely, yet kept to the traditions. He brought in a host of Central European instruments, including balalaikas and the cimbalom, a type of hammered dulcimer common to Eastern European gypsy music. He flew in a 50-member balalaika-orchestra from Moscow for the final recording. “We’ve tried to capture the sounds that are in our subconscious from Middle Europe, from the Moldavian cimbalom to Alpine horns, as well as yodeling, monk songs and the balalaika,” Desplat explains. “It’s a mix that can be soulful, haunting and fun—and cover a range of emotions, from light to dark. We used the same musical vocabulary you would with a classical orchestra but the sound is very different.”


It’s a Christopher Nolan picture, with Richard King supervising the sound. When these two paired on The Dark Knight and Inception, both times King walked home with the Best Sound Editing statue. While the recognition may suffer from coming on the heels of last year’s winner, Gravity, go hear this film. It’s Nolan-King. Enough said.

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance):

This is one of those films that seems to come out of nowhere, a critic’s darling (it was the talk of the New York Film Festival) with an auteur director who puts forth an accessible story—well, accessible to film fans, anyway. Pay attention to the rhythm and the pace of the edit. The director asked for a variety syncopated rhythm tracks, multiple drums, that accompanied the director during production, the edit, and post. And you feel it pulse in the film

The Fault in Our Stars:

Once in a while one sneaks in, whether for a soundtrack or a song (in this case “While I’m Alive” by STRFKR, along with a few others). It’s a tearjerker, grounded in reality in a way that connects to its audience. The audio track is understated but effective in its grounded approach. Then the music sucks the audience in, in a most Love Story-esque way.