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Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Best Sounding Movies of 2017

We'll have our annual Oscar predictions podcast in a few weeks after the nominees are out, but why not get a head start on figuring out what your picks will be for your Oscar pool? Often the categories that make or break a bet will be the technical awards, and the two sound awards for editing and mixing are among the most mysterious for many. No longer! Here are our picks from our resident sound guy for the best sounding movies of 2017, along with some predictions. For a breakdown of the difference between the Sound Editing and Sound Mixing awards, check out my picks for 2014's best sounding films.

Baby Driver
Julian Slater - Supervising Sound Editor / Re-Recording Mixer / Sound Designer
James Peterson, Mary H. Ellis - Sound Mixers
Watson Wu - Car Sound Effects Recordist
Bradley Farmer - Music Editor

It's rare that sound is as crucial as–arguably more important than–the cinematography in a movie, but Baby Driver is certainly one that fits that profile. The film is pumped full of rhythmic sound effects that blend in and out of the soundtrack and create a musical world that the entire movie is set to. Think about the early long-take scene above of Baby getting coffee, when every sound around him, from the sweep of a broom to the beep of an ATM keypad are timed to the music and his movements. We're talking about a movie that literally filmed car chases to live music to ensure everything rhythmically lined up. And since the movie is so car-focused, it was essential that they create some excellent car recordings made specially for the film. It's likely to be nominated for both sound categories, and it stands a very good chance of taking home the editing award for its precise, toe-tapping sound design.

Richard King - Supervising Sound Editor / Sound Designer
Gary Rizzo, Gregg Landaker - Re-Recording Mixers
Mark Weingarten - Sound Mixer
Alex Gibson - Supervising Music Editor

One of the many incredible things about Nolan's WWII masterpiece Dunkirk is it's sound; in particular the way the music and picture blend together in a perfect rhythmic crescendo that is sure to give viewers a near heart attack by the end. There is music in almost 100% of the film, and the way it is edited together makes it feel like a seamless symphony that never stops building. Another big part of the nonstop intensity of the movie is the extreme and often terrifying sounds of passing gunfire, a fighter plane fading in from a distance for a bombing run, or the side of a ship suddenly bursting open with an explosion. War movies often take home the sound editing award, so it's got a good shot at that one in particular, especially given that Richard King has been nominated five times and won for three of those films (Master and Commander, The Dark Knight, Inception).

Craig Henighan - Re-Recording Mixer / Sound Designer / Supervising Sound Editor
Jill Purdy - Supervising Sound Editor
Paula Fairfield - Sound Designer
Simon Poudrette - Sound Mixer

Mother! is one of my favorite films from 2017, and it's phenomenal sound design is one of my favorite things about it. The film has literally no music, so to fill that aural gap, Henighan and co. create weird soundscapes by amplifying the ambient sounds of the film. Every drop of mysterious medicine mother trickles into her water, every shard of broken glass, and every footstep from a floor above play with unnatural clarity and often ring out in surreal ways that recall the infinitely ringing lobby bell in Barton Fink (another masterclass in sound). All of this heightens the first person perspective of the movie and makes the chaos of the third act all the more intense. The surround mix of the film is also extremely important and well done, as it creates a real sense of space and direction that ties us more intimately to the house in which the entire film takes place. This one might slide under the Academy's radar, but it absolutely deserves nominations in both sound categories. (Soundworks Collection did a great in depth interview with Henighan and Aronofsky about the sound of the movie)

Get Out
Trevor Gates - Supervising Sound Editor
Chase Everett, Jonathan Wales - Re-Recording Mixers
Robert C. Bigelow, Jeffree Bloomer, John D'Aquino - Sound Mixers

Horror movies often get a chance to run wild with over the top sound design, from juicy gore sounds to tense atmospheres, and perhaps this year's best example is Get Out, which masterfully utilizes both big jump scare moments and more subtle sound design. The deer sequence near the beginning of the movie is a great example of how to execute a perfect jump scare, but my favorite sound in the movie comes from it's scariest idea: the Sunken Place. When Chris is hypnotized and his consciousness drops down into a black empty space, all we can hear is the voice of his captor over the dull roar of watered down screams and ambiences. It's incredibly frightening, and the sound perfectly complements the visuals on the complex sequence, and for that it's deserving of some major recognition. (Here's a great podcast where Supervising Sound Editor Trevor Gates talks about Get Out)

Blade Runner: 2049
Mark A. Mangini - Supervising Sound Editor
Ron Bartlett, Doug Hemphill - Re-Recording Mixers
Mac Ruth, János Csáki Jr. - Sound Mixers

The original Blade Runner is famous for, among other things, its sound, so Villeneuve and his sound team had some big shoes to fill. In addition to its lush synth score by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, the 35-years-later sequel manages to capture the sounds of the world in a way that is both faithful to the original and perhaps even more expansive. Supervising Sound Editor Mangini went to great lengths to recreate the musicality of the ambiences by using verbed out chimes and guitars, and the alternating dust and rain of this future is amplified by carefully placed rattles and drips. In Blade Runner: 2049's slow, long take shots, it's often the sound that tells the story while we take in the gorgeous visuals, so for that reason it is almost guaranteed nominations in both categories. Mangini has been nominated for the editing award four times, and won in 2015 for Mad Max: Fury Road, and Doug Hemphill boasts seven nominations and one win (The Last of the Mohicans) for the mixing category, so there's definitely a level or prestige there, too.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Matthew Wood - Supervising Sound Editor
Ren Klyce - Sound Designer
David Parker, Michael Semanick - Re-Recording Mixers
Stuart Wilson, Tim White - Sound Mixers

Science-fiction films often have the most room to get creative with sound in ways more grounded films cannot, and there is no greater legacy of sci-fi sound than that of the iconic Star Wars sounds created by Ben Burtt. The Last Jedi is notably the first Star Wars film to not have Burtt at the helm of the sound team, but his replacements are no newcomers between Ren Klyce (David Fincher's regular sound designer and five time Oscar nominee) and Matthew Wood (Wall-E, Super 8, and Rogue One, with three Oscar noms). The Last Jedi has some stunning scenes of lightsaber duels, outer space bombing runs, and rickety speeders, all of which are impeccably sound designed in the grand tradition of Star Wars. Yet it is perhaps the very un-Star Wars decision to use silence during the lightspeed crash sequence that is perhaps the most memorable sound moment in the movie. Nearly every Star Wars film has been nominated for one or both Sound awards, so it will likely be nominated in at least the editing category this year.

The Shape of Water
Nathan Robitaille - Supervising Sound Editor
Christian T. Cooke, Brad Zoern - Re-Recording Mixers
Glen Gauthier, Paul Gosse, Sylvain Arseneault - Sound Mixers

In a film where the protagonists are a mute woman working in a super-secret 1960s government facility and the amphibious creature who is imprisoned there, it's no surprise that the sound team had to work overtime to genuinely create the world of the movie. At the forefront here is the careful sound work on the creature's vocalizations and movements that were created using, among other things, raw meat, pineapples, old 1/4" tape, a rubber lobster, and del Toro's own voice. The whole film, though, puts an emphasis on the importance of sound to convincingly build this world that is equal parts fantasy and real. From the subtle sci-fi laboratory ambiences to the deliberate design of rain storms, The Shape of Water uses sound to tell the story just as much as its dialogue, or anything else. (Read more in this excellent interview with Supervising Sound Editor Nathan Robitaille over at A Sound Effect)
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