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Oscar's Sound Montages Show The Instruments and Play The Orchestra

Daniel Crooke here to talk about the pitch-perfect Sound Editing and Mixing montages from this year’s Oscar ceremony that ended in shiny, chrome, and hugely deserved wins for Mad Max: Fury Road. Known to some fair-weather film fans as the mystery stuffing that clogs the airtime between Best Supporting Actress and Actor, the sound categories are often the most overlooked because they’re the least understood. This gives the producers of the Oscars a daunting task – explain the intricacies and differences of two finely tuned crafts and hope that the audience both understands those definitions and why sound is crucial to creating cinematic universes. 

This year, the Sound montages demonstrated the transporting power of signals and noises and thrillingly distilled how exactly they’re shaped.  More onomatopoeias after the jump...

The Sound Editing montage (or mixtape, really) directly focuses on the blink-and-you-miss-it quality that can come naturally to the parts of a film that aren’t named DiCaprio. But when pulled apart and isolated, it can be easier to hone in on the finer beauty of a performance in sound. As a quick definition, sound editing comprises the individual ingredients – the whirs, bangs, slices, and grinds. Sound mixing is the way you cook them all together – how much you use of each ingredient, whether to nuke it on a low or high temperature, in an oven or a Crockpot, anything that influences the overall taste and tone of the finished product. And considering the lead-based aggression on display in this year’s nominees, the dexterity of savory craft and instruction in the montages prove that you can make your bullet cake and eat it too.

In years of Oscar past, the most oft cited success story in unpacking this category was the year when The Dark Knight was used as a close reading to examine and explain the sound crafts. While this commanded a professorial tone, this year’s short attention span, flash cut cards were perfect for dispersing info in the Vine era. Diamond-cut and kaleidoscopic, the range of individual sounds – from The Martian’s clinky tinker toys to Sicario’s blunt, muffled impacts – makes a symphony of clackers and clangs that not only show the precision involved in creating one sound but their collective impact pressed up against each other.


While the Sound Mixing montage is not yet available online, it flowed perfectly from Editing's showcase of the pieces and Mixing's of the whole. Bridge of Spies instantly validated its place in the line-up, upping the terror, tangibility, and timing of its home invasion. One couldn’t help but wish Carol’s woozy, swoony car scenes or Steve Jobs’ weighty playings of the orchestra had made the list to quiet the roar. But, above all else, Mad Max: Fury Road was on display in full force – whereas The Revenant submerged its sound, Mad Max chewed it up, spit it back out into an industrial fan, and sprayed all over the audience’s eardrums.

Were there any also-rans this year whose voices you wish had made it into these sterling sequences?

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Reader Comments (7)

Loved, loved this. Well done for the show doing this.

March 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRyan T.

The montages that they used for sound editing & mixing were terrific little explanations of the craft.
As for a film that didn't get nominated but deserved recognition, see "Love & Mercy" which is terrific at mixing. The film walks you through the mixing of The Beach Boys "Pet Sounds" Album.

March 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

"Love & Mercy" and "Creed" for Mixing, no doubt. "Son of Saul" should have shown up in at least one but probably both categories.

March 1, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan

I loved this presentation too except the uncomfortable realization that most of these films were nominated due to being violent films. so many gunshots in those clips.

but yes very well presented/explained via the clips.

March 1, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

LadyEdith + Jonathan - Big yes to Love & Mercy, the Pet Sounds sequence was both immersive and captured the ecstasy of inspiration in those sessions. It would be very easy to overdo the sounds and "voices" in Wilson's head but I thought it was nimbly done. And Son of Saul's sound is scarier than some of its images - together, unforgettable.

Nathaniel - I was struck by the violence and gunshots as well. Tried to distance my admiration for the ratatat construction of the montages and the overwhelming gun fetish that got the films nominated. You can overwhelm without violence and I'm sure it's harder to capture too - Carol's mix swept me up in the rapturous, internalized passions of its characters so hard...

March 1, 2016 | Registered CommenterDaniel Crooke

Same here. I also loved these clips, but was taken aback by the violence.

March 2, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterIvonne

Loved the sound editing one, although I feel sound mixing may have sounded (ha ha) too similar. It's hard to replicate the sound design on a film in small bite sequences like that. It kinda just sounded like another sound editing package.

My favourite unheralded titles in these categories were TANGERINE, STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON and HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT in the mixing side, and THE TRIBE and SON OF SAUL in editing. But those sorta films are never gonna be nominated (well, except for COMPTON, which I am still baffled by the exclusion of).

March 2, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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