2020 Oscar Category Breakdown: Best Sound

Today is Best Sound. We’re used to this being Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. Which is how things have been for roughly 60 years. The Sound Editing category started in 1963, but after a few initial years disappeared for a while until Star Wars and blockbusters started happening, and it’s basically been a mainstay since 1982. Though they didn’t really take it all that seriously until 2006, since before then it had maximum three nominees in it. So we only had about 14 years of two Sound categories, five nominees apiece. And what did they notice was happening? By the end, nobody could tell the categories apart and the same stuff started getting nominated in both and then most years the same film would win both categories. So they made the executive decision to just combine the two back into a singular Best Sound category, which was something suggested by the sound branch of the Academy, so it’s not like they took it away from them or anything.

And so now, while we do have something new and we do have to figure two sets of ideologies competing in the same category (because remember, it was always — musicals win Mixing and war movies win Editing), we also have two sound guilds handing out precursors and BAFTA. So instead of all the cat juggling we used to have to do to figure all this out, now we have a wealth of information and only need to figure out a single category. We’ll see how these first few years go, but I imagine our lives just got a whole lot easier.

Here’s Best Sound:

Best Sound

Greyhound

Mank

News of the World

Soul

Sound of Metal

This was a pretty straightforward category all the way through. News of the World, Sound of Metal and Greyhound hit all the precursors and you figured Mank would do well here as well. The only question was that last spot, since there were a bunch of films that did well in the precursors and it was just a matter of what they’d put on. Trial of the Chicago 7 felt like something that would do well here, as did Soul, given their propensity to put Pixar in the Sound categories. And Tenet was always there to be reckoned with. In the end, Soul got put on, Chicago 7 got left off and these five made it on. Nothing too surprising and ultimately a really strong category to boot, for our first foray into a single Sound category.

5. News of the World — It’s the film with the least amount of heat in the category. It managed four nominations, but considering how they tried to position this film going in, I don’t see how anyone can be bullish on this film’s chances at even one win on the night. I don’t even see how it competes in most categories. Hard to see this as anything other than an ‘also-ran’ in this one.

4. Mank — It’s got 10 overall nominations, so clearly people respect it. But having won zero precursors and generally not feeling like a factor in most of its races, I can’t see this being any higher than a fourth choice. I mean, if you want to downgrade Soul’s wins because it had its own separate animation category, sure, but you still can’t reasonably claim anything higher than third choice on this.

3. Soul — It won guild precursors in the animated sound categories, but it didn’t win anything straight up on its own. So you don’t actually know how this is gonna fare in a single category situation against the other two and theoretically this does have about as good a shot as anything at winning. But, based on the primary guild categories and how things feel like they’re gonna go, I think this is your third choice.

2. Greyhound — It won MPSE SFX+Foley, which is a big winner and usually foretells an Editing win. Though we no longer have that category, so I think that means I have to consider it second choice. It’s possible Soul is a better upset contender than this, given its profile, more nominations, and war movies not generally being high profile sound winners unless they’re of the stature as Dunkirk. Could it happen? Absolutely. Would I tell you to call this the favorite? Absolutely not.

1. Sound of Metal — It’s in the title. The movie’s about sound. The entire journey hinges on how they play with sound to make you aware of Ruben’s deafness and what a hearing aid sounds like. Plus it won CAS, the Sound Mixers guild and won BAFTA. And if you’re asking me which precursors I trust the most for this category, it’s those two. So yeah, I think this is a comfortable favorite in this, of all categories.

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