Dramas, toons add twist to mix race

Subtle sound-mixes sometimes sneak by voters

Weather, war, disaster movies and epics generally bring home the gold for sound mixing in the craft awards. But this year might be a little different.

It isn’t the greatest year for impressive sounding epics, says Richard Lightstone, president of the Cinema Audio Society, whose members are film and TV sound mixers. “It’s hard to say which are going to be the overwhelming films.”

Lightstone, who’s also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ sound branch, says that this year there’s going to be more subtlety in the final vote. The tides are shifting toward more dramatic contenders and even animation. He cites “Finding Neverland” and “Closer” as pictures that present the best kind of mixes — those that place the audience in the right place at the right time — but suspects that voters might not vote for sound jobs that subtle.

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“Many times in the past, the best sound-mixed film has been derisively called ‘the most noise.’ It’s the ones with the most sound effects” that win, he says.

Of the seven films already picked for the sound-editing shortlist — “The Aviator,” “Ray,” “Spider-Man 2,” “Collateral,” “The Incredibles,” “Polar Express” and “The Day After Tomorrow” — it follows that a fair portion of those will score sound-mixing noms.

Among the ones with “the most noise,” “Spider-Man 2” with its detail-oriented mix of big sound effects, comicbook dialogue and dynamic music is an extremely likely contender. It was mixed by Sony’s Greg Russell and Kevin O’Connell, who together also mixed “Spanglish.”

Also high on the list is “Aviator,” for which mixer Tom Fleischman rode the music and dialogue faders significantly higher than those for sound effects (a Scorsese trademark). The result seamlessly blends 1930s- and ’40s-era source music with the picture, and creates moments of spine-tingling tension when the partially deaf Hughes is on the brink of losing it.

By contrast, the equally source-music-dominated “Ray,” mixed by Todd A/O’s Scott Millan, uses sound to convey Ray Charles’ heightened aural sense of the world. “It was critical to make sure the audience believed that it was Jamie Foxx performing,” says Millan, who also co-mixed “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Bourne Supremacy.”

With a record two toons making the sound-editing shortlist, both edited and mixed by Skywalker Sound’s Randy Thom, “The Incredibles” and “The Polar Express” are the likeliest animation contenders. Though “Incredibles” is another loud film with a big music element, Thom’s mix is artfully precise and spacious. “I’m a firm believer in mixing being more about what to get rid of, not what you need to put in,” he says.

His fellow mixer on the project was Gary Rizzo, who mixed “Fahrenheit 9/11,” an incredible mix job, but as a documentary it’s an unlikely contender for a sound-mixing nom.

Though foreign films rarely make it to the sound-mixing top five, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amelie” was a rare contender in 2001, and his “A Very Long Engagement,” mixed again by Vincent Arnardi, is an equally likely contender this year.