For the sound awards, we found something that always makes the Oscars fun: a lack of consensus.
Even in the category of Best Original Song, which seems to be narrowing in on a clear favorite, there isn’t quite a consensus yet about who will win on Sunday night. The same can be said for all four of these categories — those that deal in the realm of sound, score, and song.
Do we think we know what The Academy will do? Sure. Do we agree with what we believe are their picks in these categories? Not really.
Below, our team works through Oscar predictions for Best Original Score, Best Original Song, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing. As a bonus, we also explain the difference between those last two.
Max Covill: Of the five nominees for Best Original Score, three of the entries are undoubtedly some of the best scores of the year. The other two, well, not so much. Hans Zimmer could’ve been nominated twice this year given his well-received Blade Runner 2049 score, but it is his Dunkirk score that has brought him to the Oscars dance. His score for Dunkirk ratchets the tension of the film up to eleven as Zimmer never lets the audience off the hook. Jonny Greenwood has once again partnered with Paul Thomas Anderson for the feature Phantom Thread. This is probably Greenwood’s best collaboration with PTA, as the music sets the world of Reynolds Woodcock.
Alexandre Desplat is no stranger to the Oscars. He has been nominated nine times and has a win for his soundtrack for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. This time he worked with Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water. Even though the feature has fantasy elements, Desplat instead delivers a score that is more reminiscent of a quirky romance than a horror feature. John Williams earned his 51st nomination for his contributions to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. That is easily the most nominations of all-time, but his work here is unmemorable. The same could be said for Carter Burwell’s score for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The score never rises above satisfactory and doesn’t really provide any additional heft to the picture.
Alexandre Desplat’s score features predominately throughout one of the most beloved features of the year. His body of work also speaks to how diverse his abilities range. Look for Desplat to take home his second Oscar.
Who should win: Phantom Thread
Who will win: The Shape of Water
Max Covill: For every “Falling Slowly” there is a “Writing’s On the Wall.” Sometimes the Oscars get this category right and other times, horribly wrong. This year has two real contenders for the award of Best Original Song and three that are just happy to be there. The two big ones are “Remember Me” from Coco and “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman. Disney usually has a contender in this category given how many musicals they produce, but few have as much prominence in a movie as “Remember Me.” Not only is the song repeated ad nauseum throughout the movie, but it is a pivotal to the plot as well. Coco just doesn’t work without “Remember Me.” On the other hand, “This is Me” has officially transcended the movie it appeared in. Not only that, but it was written by last year’s Oscar winners Benj Pasek and Justin Justin Paul. Singer Keala Settle’s audition for the song has over 12 million views on YouTube. It has been used in countless other events including a group skate at the Olympics. The song is not only a success in the terms of the movie but a pop hit on its own merit. That is usually a strong bellwether toward an Oscar.
The other three songs aren’t bad, they just don’t have the momentum the other nominees have. One is from artist Sufjan Stevens who wrote and performed “Mystery of Love” for Call Me by Your Name. Mary J. Blige is the first woman to be nominated for Best Original Song and Best Supporting Actress for Mudbound. Her song “Mighty River” was co-written by Raphael Saadiq and Taura Stinson. Finally, Common and Andra Day perform Diane Warren’s “Stand Up for Something” from Marshall.
Even though “This is Me” seems to be picking up steam, there will be no stopping “Remember Me.” I can’t remember a song more pivotal to a Disney movie and despite how many times you hear it during the course of the film, you will still want to hear it again.
Who should win: “Mystery of Love,” Call Me By Your Name
Who will win: “Remember Me,” Coco
Meg Shields: If you’re having difficulty sussing out the difference between the two sound categories here’s a handy metaphor: sound editors are like composers, sound mixers are like conductors. While in practice there is a lot of overlap, generally speaking, sound editors are responsible for what you hear, sound mixers are responsible for how you hear it. It’s the sound editor’s job to assemble all of the film’s aural elements—the sound effects, ADR, foley, dialogue, and score—to reinforce the cinematic world, bolster tone, and ground narrative. We’re talking the watery grumbles of the fish nuns and crackling electric ballet of the Praetorian Guard brawl in The Last Jedi; the squealing of tires, revving of engines and punctuating door slams of Baby Driver; the tension-saturated stopwatch ticks, bomb-besieged hull groans, and ocean spray of Dunkirk.
For half of the fourteen years that the sound categories have been classified as they now stand, there’s been a trend of “the loudest film wins both categories.” And while we’re talking odds, the sound editing category tends to favor films that are also best picture nominees. So if you’re looking for betting advice: Dunkirk, Dunkirk, Dunkirk. But for my money, the film whose aural landscape lit my brain on fire was that of Blade Runner 2049, which had to craft a futuristic aural vision of Los Angles from the orange-y, saturated ground up. The result is something that is at once eerily quiet and oppressively cacophonous, with both a clear lineage to the Ridley Scott original and a feel all its own. All told: Dunkirk is the probable candidate but it wouldn’t be the first time an atmospheric sci-fi film directed by Denis Villeneuve snatched the sound editing Oscar out of the claws of a sure-to-win war film.
Who should win: Blade Runner 2049
Who will win: Dunkirk
Meg Shields: Sound mixing is all about deciding how an audience hears everything in a film: what elements to emphasize, tone down, layer, etc. For the first time in the five-nominees-per-category era, both sound categories have nominated the same five films. And at the risk of grossly over-generalizing, the two main sound category interests of the Academy (BIG NOISE and musicals) are represented in the two front-runners for sound mixing, namely: Baby Driver and Dunkirk. Where Baby Driver offers a high octane, non-stop pop-opera mixtape as aurally kinetic as a Gene Kelly tap dance, the unrelenting pace of Dunkirk’s soundscape stands as a bafflingly meticulous, immersive, and a narratively resonant gut-punch.
While the “best picture nominee snags both sound categories” works in Dunkirk’s favor, musicals have traditionally outperformed hails of bullets when it comes to sound mixing. Anyone who disagrees with me about Baby Driver being the best movie musical in years can challenge me to a street race. Wright, truly, is an auditory virtuoso; endowing an all-American heist movie with style and grace, and infecting listeners with his undeniable sense of cinematic rhythm. While last year’s upset (where super duper loud Hacksaw Ridge deposed the sure-fire-musical-winner La La Land) is troubling, Baby Driver taking home the Association of Motion Picture Sound award feels like a somewhat more promising premonition.
Footnote: The Last Jedi deserves its own teeny tiny sound mixing Oscar just for that one perfectly breath-stealing 10-second moment of silence.
Who should win: Baby Driver
Who will win: Baby Driver