Welcome to Oscar week 2014. The 86th Academy Awards, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, are this Sunday and it’s time to break down and analyze just who or what is going to be walking off the stage with an Oscar. If you follow my website, you will know that I’ve been tabulating all of the minor and lead-up award winners in all of the Oscar categories since last November on my 2014 Awards Tracker. To put it in educational terms to match this website’s theme, those numbers have been by “data analysis” to predicting just what films are going to win. It’s time to make my formal predictions. In this post, we look at the music and sound technical categories that include song, score, editing, and mixing. Let’s go!
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
The nominees: “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2,” “Let it Go” from “Frozen,” “The Moon Song” from “Her,” “Ordinary Love” from “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”
AWARDS TRACKER (number of prior award wins in this category):
3- “Let it Go,” 3- “Please Mr. Kennedy” from “Inside Llewyn Davis,” 1- “Young and Beautiful” from “The Great Gatsby,” 1- “Ordinary Love,” 1- “Atlas” from “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire”
Who was snubbed: Looking at the Awards Tracker data, it would appear the big snub is any song from “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the most musically-inclined movie of the year that is not named “Frozen.” The Oscars will be missing Justin Timberlake’s star power, but the film itself was surprisingly shut out in all categories, which raised a lot of eyebrows towards the dominance of the Coen brothers. Other snubs you could make a case for are Lana Del Rey’s ballad from “The Great Gatsby” and Coldplay’s end credits song from “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” Remember, this was the category where an insider vote controversy got a nominee booted, bringing this final field to four instead of five.
Happy to be there: Maybe, considering the scandal, they all should be happy to be there in some ways. The least-awarded nominee is “The Moon Song” from “Her” sung by Karen O. of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. That’s a nice inclusion to this field, all of which are solid nominees.
Who should win: If I had a vote, I’d give the Oscar to Pharell Williams and his catchy tune “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2.” It’s a fun song that applies beyond the movie. However, even a popular industry guy like Pharell doesn’t stand a chance against the Disney machine.
Who will win: This award was wrapped up by “Frozen” and “Let it Go” from the moment the song was recorded in the studio before the film was even finished and released. It’s the film’s big centerpiece and was designed to be a showstopper and repetitive theme thanks to all of the popularity and hype. Personally, I wasn’t impressed by “Frozen,” music and all, and think “Tangled” was better from two years ago, but there’s no way it doesn’t win the Oscar on Sunday night.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
The nominees: “The Book Thief” by John Williams, “Gravity” by Steven Price, “Her” by Arcade Fire, “Philomena” by Alexandre Desplat, “Saving Mr. Banks” by Thomas Newman
AWARDS TRACKER (number of prior award wins in this category):
6- “Her,” 6- “Gravity,” 4- Hans Zimmer, “12 Years a Slave,” 4- T. Bone Burnett, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” 1- Alex Ebert, “All Is Lost”
Who was snubbed: I’m a big movie score fan and I think they got a lot of this category all wrong. Hans Zimmer has never won an Oscar and he had two stellar scores this year between “12 Years a Slave” and “Man of Steel,” two wildly different, yet detailed works. At the same time, the Golden Globe winner in this category, “All is Lost” by Alex Ebert, is a perfect score for a movie nearly devoid completely of dialogue. I could go all day. I like that movies are starting to lean towards non-traditional composers for films, much like Arcade Fire and their justifiable nomination for “Her.” If they wanted one more worthy nominee like that, the work of Explosions in the Sky from “Soul Surivivor” would fit this field nicely.
Happy to be there: In talking about the trend of non-traditional composers getting into movies, I hate to say this, but the two most classic and traditional scores among the nominees are the two that don’t belong. Make no mistake. John Williams is the great film composer in history, but his fine work on “The Book Thief” doesn’t come close to his former stuff, even the dramatic entries like “Schindler’s List.” The same goes for Thomas Newman and his score for “Saving Mr. Banks.” His dynamite stuff from last year’s “Skyfall” was better than this.
Who should win: As you can see from the Awards Tracker stats, this is a two-horse race coming close to a photo finish. A good movie score sets the tone. Both frontrunners, “Gravity” and “Her” have scores that do that very well. Personally, I think Arcade Fire’s mood in “Her” is better and more effective, but I have a bad feeling it’s not going to win. It would be my vote.
Who will win: So begins the “Gravity” juggernaut. I think Steven Price’s score for “Gravity” steals the Oscar in that photo finish of a race too close to call. “Gravity” is far more widely seen than “Her” and its score is a big part to its tension and success. It’s a really good score, but it’s not the best. “Gravity” is expected to rake in the many technical categories (as you will soon see), but this is an artistic one that it steals by sheer popularity.
BEST SOUND EDITING
The nominees: “All Is Lost,” “Captain Phillips,” “Gravity,” “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” “Lone Survivor”
AWARDS TRACKER (number of prior award wins in this category): 2- “Gravity”
Who was snubbed: In these somewhat obscure technical categories, it’s hard to argue something shouldn’t be there. If anything, too many prestige pictures and quiet Best Picture nominees invade this category where more technological-minded films and blockbusters probably deserve this type of award more. Therefore, I’ll say “Man of Steel” and its technical merit should be here, but that’s just one name out of several.
Happy to be there: This category (and the next one) isn’t as obscure as Best Documentary Short Subject, but plenty of regular Oscar viewers think these awards should be pushed to the separate Scientific and Technical Oscar Awards ceremony the Academy holds before the big night. I don’t disagree. Once again, these techies get their fifteen seconds of fame for this.
Who should win: When I think of “sound editing,” I think of a film situation where many different elements of sound have to come together in the right amounts for certain times. I also think of scenario where a lot of extra “noise” has to be accounted for and taken care of streamline the finished product. Looking at it with my own lens, I think the best editing and clean-up of sound came in either “All Is Lost” or “Captain Phillips” for completely different reasons. Both have the challenges of being at sea, where one values silence and emptiness and the other embrances chaos.
Who will win: That said, this is one of many technical categories that is going to get swept up by “Gravity.” I will argue that the silence and insulation of space and small pods isn’t the better editing job, but it still makes sound feasible where it behaves and acts differently, which is a nice achievement. I’ll happily let the experts decide.
BEST SOUND MIXING
The nominees: “Captain Phillips,” “Gravity,” “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Lone Survivor”
AWARDS TRACKER (number of prior award wins in this category): 2- “Gravity,” 1- “Frozen”
Who was snubbed: Here’s another place where I throw a bouquet and vote towards “Man of Steel” and its immense scope of sound to combine with its visuals.
Happy to be there: Maybe I’m off and I’m over-thinking the sheer work of sound, but I don’t know what “Inside Llewyn Davis” is doing here. That seems like live mics and a soundboard, something every van-traveling cover band can pull off, not something that’s an Oscar-level achievement. Sorry.
Who should win: Here we go with my personal fake definitions again. When I think of “sound mixing,” I think of film that has to merge several sound elements from noise, textures, sound effects, and musical score into a cohesive mix that doesn’t come across like a Michael Bay trainwreck of white noise and banging pots-and-pans mess. By that personal rationale, I think “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” should win for sheer volume of work. Peter Jackson and company merges an entire palette of special effects, stunning multiple dialogue work, and brassy music into a grand finished product of sound.
Who will win: This one also is going to go to “Gravity” and move the juggernaut even further. The film is a strong technical achievement and I really can’t argue with these wins. It has its own formidable mix of sound effects that is award worthy and impressive.