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Oscars 2020: Best Sound Mixing

Mixing sound and music is integral to several period Oscar contenders, including "The Irishman," "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," "Rocketman," and "Ford v Ferrari."

the irishman

“The Irishman”

Niko Tavernise / Netflix


Sound mixing continues to get more complex and nuanced — often integrating the soundscape with the score — and emphasizing the immersive benefits of Dolby Atmos. This year’s contenders are led by the high-octane thrills of James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” racing biopic, Sam Mendes’ experimental real-time world War I drama, “1917,” and Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to 1969 Tinseltown, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

In “Ford v Ferrari,” car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) teams up with iconoclastic test driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) to build and race the revolutionary Ford GT40 Mark I in the hopes of winning the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966. Fully intact period sports cars are hard to come for the rigors of racing movies, of course, but sound editor Don Sylvester found a guy in Ohio who built a Ford GT from scratch using vintage parts. He let them trick it out with microphones and drive it around a track. That became the hero Ford GT. Then he found a ’59 Ferrari in Atlanta, whose owner let them run it through its paces (in Florida, though, because of noise limitations in Atlanta), and that became the hero Ferrari.

However, the mixing was just as challenging since the cars were extremely noisy so all the sound from cars to dialogue for the louder scenes had to be recreated in post since production sound was unusable. On top of that, the engine sounds needed to be suitably paced and contained within the subjective experience of Miles. Therefore, you had to follow where he was in the races at all times and you had to be aware of his state of mind as an emotional journey. Just being loud wouldn’t do, so sometimes silence became a sonic tool as well. Additionally, the mixing team integrated Marco Beltrami’s score by using the car motors as the low notes.

Christian Bale and Matt Damon in Twentieth Century Fox’s FORD V. FERRARI.

Christian Bale and Matt Damon in “Ford v Ferrari”

Merrick Morton

In “1917,” two young British soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) must deliver a message that warns of an impending ambush in northern France. This ticking clock narrative, putting audiences in the trenches of northern France with continuous cutting, offers an immersive mixing challenge very different from Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk.”

While sound and music are always integral to the movies of Tarantino, this most personal of projects contains a more complex soundscape involving the recreation of vintage TV shows and the iconic rock hits from AM radio station KHJ, the sounds of classic cars, a martial arts fight with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), and the violent clash with the Manson Family (including a flamethrower). It became quite the mixing balancing act.

A more epic mix was devised for Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” which zigzags rapidly through the second half of the 20th century, as mob hitman Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) recounts his career with the Philly crime family and friendship with Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). It was an epicenter of business and political upheaval. The sound mix instrumentally kept track of the flurry of activity throughout the decades in rapid succession, from the sounds of violence to the pulsating beat of rock’n’roll.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.


David Appleby/Paramount Pictures

Meanwhile, with “Rocketman,” Dexter Fletcher’s no holds barred, jukebox musical about Elton John’s rollercoaster ride to superstardom, the mixing team helped fuse reality and fantasy in a unique way. Taron Egerton’s singing as John was pre-recorded and custom reverbs were added and then layered on top of the music and the actual sound effects of a particular environment. Standouts included the floating “Crocodile Rock” Troubadour debut in West Hollywood and the fall and rise of the “Rocket Man” attempted suicide leading to the ’75 Dodger Stadium concert.

Other contenders include the creepy sounds of “Joker,” “Parasite,” and “The Lighthouse,” the musical soundscape for Tom Hooper’s screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats,” the action-packed sonic thrills of Marvel’s climactic “Avengers: Endgame,” and the final space battles conjured up for “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” the last chapter of the beloved Skywalker saga.

Contenders listed in alphabetical order. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.

“Avengers: Endgame”
“Ford v Ferrari”
“The Irishman”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

“The Lighthouse”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”


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