The sound race runs the gamut of sci-fi (“Dune,” “The Matrix Resurrections”), horror (“A Quiet Place Part II,” “Last Night in Soho”), superhero (“Spider-Man: No Way Home”), musical (“Tick Tick Boom,” “Westside Story”), action-adventure (“No Time to Die), and western (“The Power of the Dog”). The odd man out from the shortlist, though, is Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical “Belfast,” about his upbringing during the Catholic/Protestant strife of ’69.
However, the sonic power and complexity of Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” (Warner Bros.) is going to be hard to beat. Its great achievement is creating a grounded reality that is both innovative and believable. So, rather than relying on over-hyped sounds, supervising sound editors Mark Mangini (the Oscar-winning “Mad Max: Fury Road”) and Theo Green (the Oscar-nominated “Blade Runner 2049”) conveyed an otherworldly palette that is hallucinatory yet gritty, from supernatural voices that rattle the mind to colossal sandworms that shake the sand dunes of Arrakis. Other highlights include the dragonfly-like ornithopters, whole-body shields that can protect from anything but a slow blade, sand thumpers that boom across the desert like a resonant body to attract the sandworms, and the spice that fuels the universe, glittering and twinkling in the sands.
For “A Quiet Place Part II” (Paramount) Oscar-nominated supervising sound editors Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn expanded the alien creature sound design and created a larger vocabulary for John Krasinski’s horror sequel, in which the soundscape acts like a motor propelling the journey forward for the surviving Abbott family. The 10-minute opening prologue is a sonic tour de force, alternating loud, scary, and silent moments without music. The flashback reveals how the aliens arrived, created chaos, and destroyed the notion of small town normality before the destructive events of the first film.
Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” (Netflix), the psychological western about toxic masculinity involving brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch), George (Jesse Plemons), and George’s stepson, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), explores a visceral soundscape around the natural world. The sound team (overseen by supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Robert MacKenzie and sound designer Dave Whitehead) emphasize ordinary details for dramatic effect, like the pounding hooves of a cattle drive, the stirring wind, the slap of a horse’s flank, and the hum of a stream. But more terrifying is the use of Phil’s banjo as a mocking weapon of intimidation.
United Artists Releasing
“No Time to Die” (UA Releasing) is the first Bond film to be mixed in Atmos, and director Cary Joji Fukunaga wanted sound editors Oliver Tarney and James Harrison to utilize the larger soundscape for Daniel Craig’s swan song. The Aston Martin DB5 opener in Matera is a great example. It begins with ominous tolling bells panning overhead before the relative stillness is interrupted by the arrival of the baddies. Even this seems muted from within the cocoon of the DB5. A salvo of high velocity rounds then thuds and cracks against the metal and glass of the car from every angle. They wanted this barrage to feel like a brutal 360° assault for the viewer. For the climax in the underground lair, Bond experiences dissonant alert tones and detached Russian dialogue washing out over the PA system, followed by the disconcerting loss of radio communication as he enters the concrete structure, and then the high-octane gunfire of the first-person action sequence on the stairwell.
Edgar Wright’s “Last Night in Soho” (Focus Features), which finds aspiring fashion designer Ellie (Thomasin McKenzie) transported back in time to ’60s Soho with horrifying results, became an “analog” homage overseen by Oscar-nominated supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Julian Slater (“Baby Driver”). Which means his team bypassed modern sound design techniques in favor of methods from past years of horror sound tracks. As a result, they mixed the first 23 minutes in three-track, mono-like quality until Ellie travels back in time to the ’60s. The sonic landscape then completely opens up and becomes an immersive, dreamlike experience through a combination of vocal reverbs, filtered effects on applause in clubs, and soft focus treatments of everyday sounds. As Ellie’s dreams become stranger, they took inspiration from experimental records of the era and cranked up the sound design with the weirdest moments dissolving into an LSD-like trip.
Listed in alphabetical order. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.
“A Quiet Place Part II”
“Last Night in Soho”
“No Time to Die”
“The Matrix Resurrections”
“Spider-Man: No Way Home”
“Tick Tick Boom”
“West Side Story”
“The Power of the Dog”