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‘Top Gun’ Still Flying Ahead of Best Sound Competition

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “The Batman,” “Elvis,” and “Top Gun: Maverick” are all Oscar nominees for Best Sound.

TOP GUN: MAVERICK, (aka TOP GUN 2), Tom Cruise, 2022. © Paramount Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

“Top Gun: Maverick”

©Paramount/Courtesy Everett Collection

This article contains IndieWire’s preliminary Best Sound predictions for the 2023 Oscars. We regularly update our predictions throughout awards season, and republish previous versions (like this one) for readers to track changes in how the Oscar race has changed. For the latest update on the frontrunners for the 95th Academy Awards, see our 2023 Oscars predictions hub. 

The State of the Race

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” “Avatar: The Way of Water,” “The Batman,” “Elvis,” and “Top Gun: Maverick” were nominated for the Best Sound Oscar last Tuesday. All five films were previously nominated by the MPSE sound editing and CAS sound mixing groups; the 70th MPSE Golden Reel Awards will be held February 26 at the Wilshire Ebell Theater, and the 59th CAS Awards will take place March 4 at the at the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown.

Among the shortlisted omissions were Best Picture favorite “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “Moonage Daydream,” Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” and “Babylon.” Totally snubbed was Jordan Peele’s “Nope,” which topped IndieWire’s Best Sound list of 2022.

Now it’s a race between the favorite, “Maverick,” and everything else (including the returning, Oscar-winning “Avatar” team), with the late-surging “All Quiet” as the wild card after tying Baz Luhrmann’s delirious “Elvis” musical biopic with the most craft noms at six apiece.

The hyper-real soundscape inside the cockpits of “Maverick” worked brilliantly in tandem with the innovative camera work built around the Sony Rialto Camera Extension System. With a collective résumé covering past Tom Cruise vehicles including the two most recent “Mission Impossible”s and “Edge of Tomorrow,” the sound team of Mark Weingarten (production sound mixer), James H. Mather (sound designer/supervising sound editor), Al Nelson (sound designer/supervising sound editor), Chris Burdon (re-recording mixer), and Mark Taylor (re-recording mixer) created a “synaptic” experience, emphasizing breathing and the manipulation of the control stick, while strategically layering in the jet noises, including the sound of air whooshing over the wings and the sonic reflection of the aerobatics.

For Edward Berger’s anti-war epic, “All Quiet,” the team of supervising sound editors Markus Stemler and Frank Kruse, sound editor Viktor Prášil, and re-recording mixers Lars Ginzel and Stefan Korte created a World War I battlefield soundscape that was immersive and harrowing. They emphasized the soldiers’ sonic relationship with the war, giving various agents of death nicknames (the machine gun was a sewing machine). This was utilized to great effect in the scene where the whir of the sewing machine segues into a burst of gunfire. Silence was important as well, and the variations of human breath or the smallest of gasps were as effective as the crash of bombs.

With “Elvis,” Luhrmann’s go-to sound guru Wayne Pashley (sound designer/supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer) embarked on a great American operatic tragedy distinguishing the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Pashley and his team of sound mixer David Lee, Oscar-winning re-recording mixer Andy Nelson (also nominated for “The Batman” this year), and re-recording mixer Michael Keller created a complex weave of music and sound effects as the main driving force of the sound design. With a combination of playback recording and live recording, fully restored vintage microphones from each era were used to capture the performance pieces, and to seamlessly integrate new Austin Butler recordings with original Elvis Presley vocals.

“The Batman” serves as a re-imagined noir set in a grungy, totally corrupted Gotham. The team of William Files (supervising sound editor), Douglas Murray (supervising sound editor), “Elvis” nominee Nelson (re-recording mixer), and Stuart Wilson (sound mixer) focused a lot of attention on the individual sounds of Gotham, and contrasted Robert Pattinson’s soft-spoken yet physically imposing Batman and his costume versus the distorted sound of Paul Dano’s Riddler. However, the Batmobile chase in the rain with Colin Farrell’s over the top Oz/Penguin was a great opportunity to exploit the sounds of the muscle car and the elements.

James Cameron’s “The Way of Water” created complex jungle and water soundscapes led by four-time Oscar-winning supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer Christopher Boyes, supervising sound editor Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, sound mixer Julian Howarth, re-recording mixer Gary Summers, and sound engineer Michael Hedges. In addition, Howarth developed a system where they surrounded the stage with speakers and did on-the-spot sound design during the performance capture sessions set in the forest or by the sea.

Below are the nominees ranked in order of likelihood to win:

“Top Gun: Maverick” (Paramount)
“All Quiet on the Western Front” (Netflix)
“Elvis” (Warner Bros.)
“The Batman” (Warner Bros.)
“Avatar: The Way of Water” (20th Century/Disney)

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