‘Mank,’ ‘Soul,’ or ‘Sound of Metal’ – Which Movie Will Take Home the Oscar for Best Sound in 2021?

And the Academy Award for Best Sound Goes To…? Probably a question many of us are asking ourselves, especially when so many great movies with incredible sound design and exceptional mixing came out last year. It’s anyone’s guess who is taking home the award this year, but a small “tweak” to this category makes it so much easier to predict the winner.  

For the 93d Academy Awards edition, the motion picture academy merged Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, the two distinguished categories, into one: Best Sound. With the two former awards often going to the same film, the academy decided that combining the two for the upcoming 2021 Oscars was a “sound” choice. Both sound editors and mixers will be recognized in the new category.

Even though the two categories are merged, sound editing and sound mixing are still different processes. Sound editing, for example, is the art of putting various sound tracks and sound pieces together, everything from sound effects to dialogue, foley sounds and automated dialogue replacement. Sound mixing, on the other hand, refers to the skillful adjustment of the overall sound, score and music levels throughout the motion picture.

A brief history lesson of the Best Sound Oscar Category

The last time both of these categories were combined was way back in 1962. Since then, the Best Sound category was split up between various categories, including Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. 

With both being obviously distinct, the merger still makes sense because, for the past few years, both awards went to the same movie. One of the few exceptions occurred last year, when sports drama film Ford v Ferrari won the Best Sound Editing trophy, while Christopher Nolan’s 1917 took home the award for Best Sound Mixing.

These categories have typically favored blockbusters, with films such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Dunkirk, Mad Max: Fury Road, Inception, as well as The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King winning both awards in their respective year.

But enough with the history lessons. Let’s see which films are eligible for this year’s “Best Sound” award.

Who will take home the Oscar for Best Sound in 2021?

Netflix is dominating this category. Unfortunately, this pandemic has put a huge dent in theatrical releases, and several 2020 movies have been either pushed to a new 2021 release date, or went straight to online streaming. “With the Oscars going virtual this year, it’s surely a game-changer,” said Adonis Tsilimparis, Composer and Co-Founder at Cutting Room Music. “The COVID 19 Pandemic has certainly revolutionized the Film Industry so much that it has put a final nail in the coffin of movie theater revenue.

“The streaming world has seen the advent of so many new services like Disney Plus, Discovery Plus and others,” continued Adonis. Many films are now bypassing the traditional theatrical route and are going directly to streaming services. It’s obvious that this will, in turn, affect the nomination process of the Oscars.” There are a handful of movies released by streaming platforms with incredible sound design that could end up being nominated, or even snatching the Oscar Statuette.

For this year’s edition, the event will be held exclusively online, so everyone will be attending from the comfort of their homes. So, before grabbing our popcorn and tuning into the awards—or actually seeing the official nominees list—let’s take a look at some predictions.

The Midnight Sky (Netflix)

Randy Thom, Dan Hiland, Todd Beckett, Danny Hambrook and Bjorn Schroeder worked on the sound design for George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky. Randy Thom, a 15-time Academy Award nominee and two-time winner, created an incredible sound experience for the movie, which he details in an exclusive interview at A Sound Effect. The amount of talent that went into the sound design of the movie from all these incredible artists can be heard and felt throughout the movie. The Midnight Sky will definitely land a nomination, if not even the trophy. The movie’s score was composed by Alexandre Desplat.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Netflix)

The story of the movie follows 7 people on trial due to various charges surrounding the uprising at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Illinois. Renee Tondelli, Dan Kenyon, Julian Slater, Michael Babcock, Thomas Varga helmed the sound design of the movie. Almost each of these artists have one or more previous academy award nominations for either best sound mixing or best sound editing. A deep, unsettling tension can be felt throughout the movie, thanks to the incredible work that went into its sound design.

Mank (Netflix)

Equipped with a stellar cast, Mank is the story of a social critic and alcoholic screenwriter scrambling to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane for Orson Welles. The story, which is set in 1930s Hollywood, is captivating, and what David Fincher manages to accomplish with top-notch directing, Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance and Drew Kunin manage to improve further with incredible sound design. Without a doubt this movie is among the top choices for getting nominated or even winning the Best Sound award.

Soul (Pixar)

The heartfelt movie Soul is about a musician who has lost his passion for music, is transported out of his body and must find his way back with the help of an infant soul learning about herself. Coya Elliott, Ren Klyce, David Parker and Vince Caro sound mixing and editing are at the core of the movie, accompanied by the original soundtrack composed by NIN’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.

Sound of Metal (Amazon Studios)

Starring Riz Ahmed, this movie can be considered a masterpiece for its sound alone. The story revolves around a heavy-metal drummer’s life, which goes into a whirlwind when he starts losing his hearing. Phillip Bladh, Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Carolina Santana worked on the sound design, and the original score was produced by a handful of artists and musicians, including the star of the movie, Riz Ahmed.

Conclusion

The incredible talent and hard work that went into the sound design creation for these films is breathtaking, and honestly, we can’t wait to see at least one or two of them get nominated. Apart from these 5 movies, there are countless others deserving both of a nomination and even a win for the Best Sound category, including titles such as TENET, Wonder Woman 1984, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, News of the World, and many more.

Here at CuttingRoomMusic, we believe quality sound design, sound engineering and original compositions make movies come to life. If you’re looking for a partner to breathe life into your work with music or sound, our dedicated team of talented professionals with a wide range of skills, experience, and connections is ready to jump aboard your project. We love what we do, we do it with passion and we look forward to working with you.

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