Oscars: The Sound Race (Really) Mixes It Up
It’s shaping up to be particularly interesting year in the race for the Oscar in sound. The sound branch reinstated its shortlist and bake-off a year ago (one year after combining sound editing and mixing into a single category), and this season it narrowed the field for its Oscar to a fascinatingly diverse shortlist of stellar work on 10 movies.
Notably, the shortlist includes both an international and documentary feature: Germany’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Edward Berger’s adaptation of the classic novel for Netflix (which also made the shortlists for international feature and for score, makeup and hairstyling, as well as visual effects), and Brett Morgen’s David Bowie documentary, Moonage Daydream (also shortlisted in the doc feature competition). Historically, Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Mexico’s entry in what was then called the foreign-language film category, was nominated for sound editing and mixing in 2018; the seminal concert doc Woodstock earned a best sound effects nom in 1971.
Also of note on this year’s shortlist is the inclusion of Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, a frontrunner in the animated feature race (the movie also was shortlisted for Alexandre Desplat’s score and original song “Ciao Papa”). Animated features have a unique challenge: They don’t have production sound, meaning everything must be created. Since the turn of the century, Pixar’s The Incredibles won the sound editing Oscar in 2004, while six other animated features have received nominations, most recently 2020’s Soul.
This season’s shortlist for sound is rounded out by the tentpoles Avatar: The Way of Water, The Batman, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Top Gun: Maverick; the music-heavy features Babylon and Elvis; and the genre-bending Everything Everywhere All at Once.
Some context: 2009’s Avatar was nominated for both sound editing and mixing, and 1986’s Top Gun also was nominated in the sound categories, then called best sound and best sound effects editing. Black Panther earned nominations in sound editing and mixing in 2018. Even the caped crusader previously factored into the sound race: Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight won for sound editing in 2009.
Musicals and musical films also have a recent track record in sound. The Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody won both sound categories in 2018, and nominees have included Babylon helmer Damien Chazelle’s La La Land and, earlier this year, Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story.
Among the individuals to watch in this category is two-time Oscar-winning rerecording mixer Andy Nelson, who with 22 Academy Award nominations holds the record for the most noms in sound and is currently tied with Randy Newman for the third-most noms among living people. This year, his sound work is shortlisted for Babylon, The Batman and Elvis.
From here, branch members will be able to view excerpts from each of the 10 shortlisted films beginning Jan. 12 in the Bay Area, followed by New York, London and Los Angeles, before they vote on the five nominees.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.