In recent decades, the Oscars had separate sound categories, one for mixing (in essence, the overall sonic design) and another for editing (special sound effects). But starting in 2021, the two were consolidated into a single award, and the inaugural winner was Sound of Metal, which was not an action film, a war epic or a musical (the genres that typically win here), but an intimate, low-key drama about hearing loss. It might not be the best barometer for this year’s category, which is dominated by three massive studio productions that were supposed to come out in 2020 (No Time to Die, Dune and West Side Story) and might very well have dominated the category last year.
BELFAST, Denise Yarde, Simon Chase, James Mather, Niv Adiri
Director Kenneth Branagh told his sound team that, as a child in Northern Ireland, the sound of a violent mob approaching his street sounded to him like a swarm of bees. “We did experiment with a swarm of bees in the sound mix, but it really didn’t work,” said re-recording mixer and sound supervisor Simon Chase of that moment, which is recreated in the opening of Branagh’s autobiographical film. Instead, the team settled on the audio of an oncoming train, recorded in London. “Ken didn’t mind that it wasn’t the right train horn or whatever,” re-recording mixer Niv Adiri said. “It felt right to him.”
DUNE, Mac Ruth, Mark Mangini, Theo Green, Doug Hemphill, Ron Bartlett
What sound does sand make? That was one of the challenges for supervising sound editors Mark Mangini and Theo Green, who buried microphones in the desert and pulled them through the grains in order to simulate the noise giant sandworms make. “Then we’d bring that little sound back to the studio and magnify it into the sound of a 400-meter worm traveling underneath you,” Mangini said. And in order to capture the audible energy of super-valuable “spice” in the ground, the sound guys turned to the cereal aisle of the grocery store: They recorded themselves walking over sand that had been mixed with Rice Krispies.
NO TIME TO DIE, Simon Hayes, Oliver Tarney, James Harrison, Paul Massey, Mark Taylor
In 60 years of James Bond movies, the franchise has only won five Oscars, the first of which was a Best Sound Editing award for 1964’s Goldfinger. (It was a prize that Skyfall also scored in 2013, in a rare Oscar tie with Zero Dark Thirty.) For this 25th Bond adventure, the sound designers and editors were tasked with layering multiple tracks to increase the tension for an elaborate scene in the fog-draped woods, as bad guys on motorbikes circle 007 like sharks, while in other scenes, lovingly threading Hans Zimmer’s beauty of a Bond redux score into the action.
THE POWER OF THE DOG, Richard Flynn, Robert Mackenzie, Tara Webb
Mackenzie, Tara Webb
The wind whistles through the cracks of a big wooden house in The Power of the Dog, a startling metaphor for what’s happening to several of the movie’s repressed, lonely characters. And that sound of desolation and yearning was manifested by production sound mixer Richard Flynn (Top of the Lake) and his collaborators—not just in that howling wind but via the creaking of floorboards, the tugging of rawhide ropes and the incessant clicking of the teeth on a black comb.
WEST SIDE STORY, Tod A. Maitland, Gary Rydstrom, Brian Chumney, Andy Nelson, Shawn Murphy
In the last two decades, musicals or music-adjacent movies have won for sound six times (Chicago, Ray, Dreamgirls, Les Misérables, Whiplash, Bohemian Rhapsody). And though the singing in West Side Story was not all recorded live on the set, the sound team’s job was to seamlessly transition into and out of songs. Industry legend Gary Rydstrom has been nominated 19 times, while Andy Nelson now has a record 22 sound nominations, third most among all living persons.
There’s no nominee here with the word sound in its title, a sure path to victory. And in the absence of any contenders whose names suggest sound (A Quiet Place Part II, tick, tick…BOOM!), this seems a pretty safe bet for Dune—unless voters want to give Daniel Craig’s Bond films a nice parting gift or salute the two legends who worked on West Side Story (but whose names are not on the ballot).