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Oscars: ‘Rogue One,’ ‘Hacksaw Ridge,’ ‘13 Hours’ Mix It Up in Sound Categories

Variety logo Variety 12/31/2016 Kristopher Tapley
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This year’s contenders for the sound editing and sound mixing Oscars run the gamut from war epics to lo-fi musicals to sci-fi escapades. And it’s hard to begin anywhere else other than a galaxy far, far away….

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” feels primed to follow in the footsteps of the five previous films in the “Star Wars” franchise that scored sound notices, including last year’s “The Force Awakens.” It’s the most battle-heavy film of the series in some ways, basically a war film. And war films tend to fare well in the sound categories. The “Rogue One” crew, including mixers David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson, along with effects editors Scarabosio and Matthew Wood, have 15 Oscar nominations between them.

Speaking of war films, Mel Gibson’s “Hacksaw Ridge” features an entire back half that puts the audience smack dab in the middle of a war zone, just as movies like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Black Hawk Down” have done in the past. Kevin O’Connell is the only member of the sound team with previous Academy recognition, but he’s also a record holder: 20 nominations without a win. Maybe Gibson’s big return will be his lucky charm? He’s joined by mixers Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace, along with editors Mackenzkie and Andy Wright.

And not to be forgotten is early-year release “13 Hours” from Michael Bay. Bay’s films often score with the Academy’s sound branch, regardless of how they play to critics, because they’re simply below-the-line specimens. This account of the 2012 Benghazi attack could be another example. Mixing duties were tackled by 16-time Oscar nominee Greg P. Russell (incidentally, Kevin O’Connell’s former partner, with whom he shares many of those winless nominations), along with Gary Summers (another titan) and Jeffrey J. Habboush. Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van Der Ryn handled effects. That quintet, by the way, has 36 nominations and six wins between them.

Musicals are always worth keeping an eye on. Sometimes they miss (“Nine”), but often they land, and many times, they win (“Les Miserables,” “Dreamgirls,” “Chicago”). So if “La La Land” is as poised for glory as it has appeared for months, it might as well be considered a potential frontrunner here. And talk about Oscar credentials: director Damien Chazelle knew what he was doing tapping his own 20-time nominee, Andy Nelson (“Saving Private Ryan,” “Les Miserables”). Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow fill out the team.

And regarding musicals, “Moana” would be worth keeping in mind here. It’s the fullest audio experience of Disney’s recent animated musicals, with much more going on than simply balancing the songs just right. Mixer Tom Johnson (“Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Titanic”) is an eight-time nominee and two-time winner.

As noted in a previous column, “Sully” may be poised for an interesting footnote: Two-time Oscar winner Alan Robert Murray (“Letters from Iwo Jima,” “American Sniper”) headed up the sound editing with longtime partner Bub Asman, while his son Blu Murray served as film editor. Both could very well land nominations. Mixing duties were handled by Jose Antonio Garcia and John T. Reitz (“The Matrix,” “Argo”) along with Tom Ozanich.

Garcia, Reitz and Ozanich also led Ben Affleck’s mixing team on “Live By Night,” with effects editing by Aadahl and Van Der Ryn. It’s clearly a laureled crew, but even if the film has tanked with critics, it’s worth keeping in mind in a few places, including these categories. There are plenty of gunfight scenarios that play out very cleanly on the soundtrack.

Also worth keeping on the radar is “The Jungle Book,” particularly on the mixing side of the equation, where Christopher Boyes, Lora Hirschberg and Ronald Judkins brought Jon Favreau’s vision to aural life. They have 21 nominations and eight wins between them for work on such films as “Jurassic Park,” “Pearl Harbor,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and “Inception.” Effects were handled by Boyes and Frank Eulner.

And a potential spoiler on the sound editing side — or who knows, maybe both categories — is “Deepwater Horizon.” The film lived and died by its complex sound environment, and seven-time nominee Wylie Stateman (“Born on the Fourth of July,” “Lone Survivor”) did an impeccable job. Mike Prestwood Smith, Dror Mohar and David Wyman turned in mixing duties.

Others in the sci-fi realm that could turn up include “Arrival,” “Passengers” and “Star Trek Beyond,” while complex soundtracks for films like “Jason Bourne” and “Captain America: Civil War” warrant a mention as well. Who can say what sort of coattails a film like “Silence” will have if it ultimately tickles the Academy’s fancy, and something like “Allied” feels like it could be lurking, too.

But let’s close with an underrated job from an otherwise abundantly awarded Steven Spielberg crew: “The BFG.” This is a movie that did not capture the interest of the critics or the public last summer and isn’t much of a priority for Disney (which released four of the 16 films mentioned above). But it featured expert work in the areas of visual effects and sound design. Mixers Gary Rydstrom and Andy Nelson, along with effects editor Richard Hymns, combine for 47 Oscar nominations and 12 wins over the last three decades. That’s branch royalty right there.

The Cinema Audio Society will chime in with a list of mixing nominees on Jan. 10, which ought to help thin the herd here. The Motion Picture Sound Editors group will, as ever, bring up the rear after Oscar nominations are announced with their own list on Jan. 30.

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