Those Oscar Missed: Best Sound Mixing

Best Sound Mixing can be a tough or confusing category for those unfamiliar with the term or concept.  Basically, this category recognizes the finest sound mixing or recording in a film, which is done by the person (known as the sound mixer) who was responsible for recording all the sound on set during filming using professional audio equipment.  The Academy has made some obvious (and not-so-obvious) snubs in the past, even with sound mixing.

One major snub that immediately comes to mind is 1981’s Blow Out.  Sound mixer James Tanenbaum was responsible for the recording of all sound during the shooting of Brian DePalma’s tale of a sound recordist who accidentally records a political assassination.  Sound plays an important role in this film, as it is the gunshot that Jack Terry (John Travolta) can hear on his tape before the “blow out” of the tire that leads him to believe that the car accident was no accident.  A variety of sounds were recorded in addition to dialogue; ambient sounds in the forest including the hoots of an owl and a stream under a bridge.  There’s also crowd noise for the Liberty Day Parade, film equipment being used in a recording studio, and women auditioning their screams for a cheap slasher flick among the sounds recorded for this film.  It’s such a shame that Tanenbaum wasn’t nominated for his work here, for he has yet to be nominated for an Oscar.

The actual nominees at the 54st Academy Awards were:
Raiders of the Lost Ark – Bill Varney, Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker, & Roy Charman (*Winner)
On Golden Pond – Richard Portman & David M. Ronne
Outland – John Wilkinson, Robert W. Glass Jr., Robert Thirlwell, & Robin Gregory
Pennies From Heaven – Michael J. Kohut, Jay M. Harding, Richard Tyler, & Al Overton Jr.
Reds – Dick Vorisek, Tom Fleischman, & Simon Kaye

Another major snub that comes to mind is 1986’s Highlander.  Sound mixer Tony Dawe and sound re-recording mixers Richard Overton, Kevin F. Cleary, and Don J. Bassman were responsible for the recording of all sound during the shooting of Russell Mulcahy’s tale of a 16th century Scotsman who becomes immortal and continues to battle other immortals to the death into the mid-1980s.  A variety of sounds were recorded in addition to dialogue; Scottish clans fighting on a battlefield, the various duels between immortals, the strike of lightning, ambient sounds of a police station and a church, weapons fire during the World War 2 sequence, and the explosions that occurred after a quickening.  It’s too bad Dawe, Overton, Cleary, and Bassman weren’t nominated for this film.  Dawe is a four-time nominee (for 1983’s Return Of the Jedi, 1987’s Empire of the Sun, 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and 1989’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), Overton and Cleary are three-time nominees (for 1988’s Die Hard, 1989’s The Abyss, and 1990’s The Hunt For Red October), and Bassman is a four-time nominee (3 nods for 1988’s Die Hard, 1989’s The Abyss, and 1990’s The Hunt For Red October, 1 win for 1970’s Patton).

The actual nominees at the 59th Academy Awards were:
Platoon – John Wilkinson, Richard Rogers, Charles Grenzbach, & Simon Kaye (*Winner)
Aliens – Graham V. Hartstone, Nicolas Le Messurier, Michael A. Carter, & Roy Charman
Heartbreak Ridge – Les Fresholtz, Dick Alexander, Vern Poore, & Bill Nelson
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – Terry Porter, David J. Hudson, Mel Metcalfe, & Gene Cantamessa
Top Gun – Donald O. Mitchell, Kevin O’Connell, Rick Kline, & William B. Kaplan

1995’s Heat is a film that you’d think would’ve been nominated, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.  Sound mixer Lee Orloff and sound re-recording mixer Chris Jenkins, Ron Bartlett, and Mark Smith had the task of recording on-set sound that included car chases, gunfire, helicopters, the ambient sounds of rooms (which mattered during the quieter moments), as well as airport ambience including the planes, their engines, the wind on the runways, etc.  Dialogue was especially important in this film (despite all the action), and if I could pick one sequence where it was most important, I would go with the diner sequence with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro.  Orloff is a seven-time nominee (6 nods for 1989’s The Abyss, 1993’s Geronimo: An American Legend, 1999’s The Insider, 2000’s The Patriot, 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and 2006’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, 1 win for 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day), Jenkins is a four-time nominee (2 nods for 1990’s Dick Tracy and 2008’s Wanted, 2 wins for 1985’s Out of Africa and 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans), Smith is a one-time nominee (1 win for 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans), and Bartlett has yet to receive a single Oscar nod.

The actual nominees at the 68th Academy Awards were:
Apollo 13 – Rick Dior, Steve Pederson, Scott Millan, & David MacMillan (*Winner)
Batman Forever – Donald O. Mitchell, Frank A. Montaño, Michael Herbick, & Petur Hliddal
Braveheart – Andy Nelson, Scott Millan, Anna Behlmer, & Brian Simmons
Crimson Tide – Kevin O’Connell, Rick Kline, Gregory H. Watkins, & William B. Kaplan
Waterworld – Steve Maslow, Gregg Landaker and Keith A. Wester

2005’s Kingdom of Heaven is yet another major snub.  Sound mixer David Stephenson and sound re-recording mixers Michael Minkler and Myron Nettinga had the monumental task of recording on-set sound for Ridley Scott’s Crusades movie that included (besides dialogue) swords clashing, arrows being shot, axes being swung, the ambience of a blacksmith’s shop, winter wind, horses riding, armor being put on, shovels digging, fired being lit, water streaming down an irrigation system, a storm at sea, soldiers marching, catapults firing, and not to mention clashing armies.  It’s too bad the Academy didn’t nominate them for this terrific work.  Minkler is an eleven-time nominee (8 nods for 1979’s The Electric Horseman, 1980’s Altered States, 1982’s Tron, 1985’s A Chorus Line, 1989’s Born On the Fourth of July, 1991’s JFK, 1993’s Cliffhanger, and 2009’s Inglourious Basterds , 3 wins for 2001’s Black Hawk Down, 2002’s Chicago, and 2006’s Dreamgirls) and Nettinga is a one-time nominee (1 win for 2001’s Black Hawk Down).  Stephenson has yet to receive a single Oscar nod.

The actual nominees at the 78th Academy Awards were:
King Kong – Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges, & Hammond Peek (*Winner)
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – Terry Porter, Dean A. Zupancic, & Tony Johnson
Memoirs of a Geisha – Kevin O’Connell, Greg P. Russell, Rick Kline, & John Pritchett
Walk the Line – Paul Massey, Doug Hemphill, & Peter Kurland
War of the Worlds – Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer, & Ron Judkins

One final major snub would be 2007’s Spider-Man 3.  Sound mixer Joseph Geisinger and sound re-recording mixers Greg P. Russell and Kevin O’Connell had the task of recording on-set sounds for Sam Raimi’s third Spidey adventure that included (besides dialogue, of course) cheering crowds, rushing water, a crumbling section of a building, a sandstorm, a crashing meteorite, banging pipes, a church bell ringing, cameras snapping, ambient sounds of NYC (including Times Square traffic), police dogs barking, etc.  It’s a shame they weren’t nominated for their work here.  Geisinger is a one-time nominee (for 2004’s Spider-Man 2), Russell is a fifteen-time nominee (including 2004’s Spider-Man 2), and O’Connell is a twenty-time nominee (including 2004’s Spider-Man 2).

The actual nominees at the 80th Academy Awards were:
The Bourne Ultimatum – Scott Millan, David Parker, & Kirk Francis (*Winner)
3:10 To Yuma – Paul Massey, David Giammarco, & Jim Stuebe
No Country For Old Men – Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, & Peter Kurland
Ratatouille – Randy Thom, Michael Semanick, & Doc Kane
Transformers – Kevin O’Connell, Greg P. Russell, & Peter J. Devlin

Other films that were considered include 2004’s Miracle, 2010’s Tron: Legacy, and 2011’s Super 8.

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