Our Oscar Predictions - Audio Design Desk

Our Oscar Predictions

Audio Design Desk Team
Thursday April 22, 2021

After a year full of great films in 2019, 2020 was heavily impacted by the pandemic and had fewer movies to offer. But lower quantity certainly doesn’t mean lower quality, and the 2021 Oscars are shaping up to be a good race. While we could ramble on about our predictions for every category, we just wanted to take a moment and focus on the Sound and Score nominees. Remember, these are just our opinions—so feel free to disagree!

In the Best Sound category, we have war epic Greyhound, golden-age throwback Mank, western drama News of the World, Pixar’s Soul, and finally, heavy indie drama Sound of Metal. While each nominee has their strengths, the clear frontrunner in this category has got to be Sound of Metal by Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés, and Phillip Bladh. This film had the immense technical challenge of actualizing the sound of hearing loss, and generally making the audience experience a journey of deafness and emotional growth along with the main character. This involved not just the lack of sound, but the passing and ringing of select frequencies.

But in the case Sound of Metal doesn’t win, it’ll most likely be Mank—David Fincher’s film about the controversial creation of Citizen Kane. Instead of giving Mank a modern feel, the sound team went deep into mixing and processing to create a sound similar to that of Citizen Kane if you had seen it in theaters originally. Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance, and Drew Kunin added several layers of frequency specific distortion, small amounts of wow and flutter, as well as echoing reverbs from old theaters to achieve this effect, and it adds an impressive layer to this contemporary film set in the 1930s and 40s.

For the Best Score category, we have a few repeats from Best Sound: Soul, Mank, and News of the World. But we also have a couple new nominees with Spike Lee’s Vietnam war drama Da 5 Bloods and Lee Isaac Chung’s immigrant tale and family drama Minari. Now, we’re pretty sure the frontrunner here is Pixar’s Soul. Bringing in Jon Batiste to write the original jazz cues was an A+ choice; he might have even understood the tone of the film more than anyone else. His music really does sweep the audience into another realm, and you’re left wanting more every time it stops. Even the smallest taste of Batiste’s score, like when protagonist Joe plays just a few notes, immediately livens the mood. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross also contributed to the score, offering their trademark ethereal synth drone sounds to tie everything together between the world of jazz and the afterlife.

If Soul doesn’t come away with the win, it’s because Reznor seemed to pour most of his efforts into his other nominated score, Mank. Again, this film is all about capturing the feeling of Citizen Kane in its heyday, so the music had to feel exactly as it did then—and getting to see Reznor depart from his usual synthy feel was a fascinating breath of fresh air. Reznor went above and beyond, orchestrating strings and horns and mixing and blending seamlessly, resulting in cues that sound like they’re directly ripped from older films. Arguably his best score to date, Reznor’s work does have some strong competition, and it’ll be interesting to see who takes this award home.

What do you think of our predictions? What was snubbed from the nominations? Let us know on socials or Slack!