1. Best Sound Editing
For the category previously called Best Sound Effects and Best Sound Effects Editing, one of these days the Academy will hit upon a name that makes plain what it’s meant to celebrate: all the various sounds that you hear over the course of the film, whether they were recorded during the shoot itself, recorded later by a series of Foley artists, or created whole cloth in a studio.
Argo, Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn
Django Unchained, Wylie Stateman
Life of Pi, Eugene Gearty and Philip Stockton
Skyfall, Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers
Zero Dark Thirty, Paul N. J. Ottosson
Should win: The soundscape of a movie is often just as important, and sophisticated, as what you see on screen, and no film made a bigger impact on our ears than Life of Pi. Just listen to the scene above knowing that almost everything you hear, save for actor Suraj Sharma’s voice, had to be recorded and/or created later.
Will win: Some years, this category goes to the biggest (or loudest) blockbuster, in which case Skyfall’s various gun blasts and martini swizzles win the big prize. Other years, the Best Picture winner takes home the prize in a general sweep, which would likely mean Argo’s revolutionary tumult would take home the Oscar. But with 11 nominations, Life of Pi clearly has won over a broad swath of Academy voters already, and, as we mentioned before, the film is a feast of evocative sounds. We like its chances the most.
3. Best Sound Mixing
As the name for this category suggests, these nominees are responsible for taking all of the sounds assembled by the sound editors — along with the film’s score — and blending them together into a cohesive whole. As a practical matter, that means these guys can look at those ginormous mixing consoles and somehow not run screaming.
Argo, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, and Jose Antonio Garcia
Les Misérables, Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, and Simon Hayes
Life of Pi, Ron Bartlett, D. M. Hemphill, and Drew Kunin
Lincoln, Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, and Ronald Judkins
Skyfall, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, and Stuart Wilson
Should win: No disrespect to any of the other nominees, but the folks who managed to integrate the near-constant live singing in Les Misérables (see above) with all the ambient noise and the post-production sound design — and make it all sound seamless — deserve all the accolades they can get.
Will win: Yup, it’s Les Miz.
5. Best Original Screenplay
Forgetting for the moment that Looper was robbed of a nomination in this category, who wins here really comes down to how much the Academy values old people.
Amour, Michael Haneke
Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino
Flight, John Gatins
Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal
Should win: All five of these films benefit from their respective screenplay’s strong dialogue and smart twists on their separate subject matter: aging and dying, American slavery, addiction and guilt, young love and adult regret, and the modern war on extreme Islamic terrorism. Who you want to win here comes down to which script you think best exemplifies fresh and distinctive storytelling, and for us, that is Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola’s delightful and surprisingly emotional script for Moonrise Kingdom.
Will win: The controversy surrounding the alleged accuracy of Mark Boal’s fact-based script for Zero Dark Thirty has greatly slowed that film’s momentum in this category, and in its place, several pundits have pointed to Michael Haneke’s spare and unsparing writing for Amour as the nominee to beat. But that movie is all but guaranteed a win for Best Foreign Language Film (and a possible upset victory for Best Actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva). Django Unchained, on the other hand, has very few other options to take home a trophy, and there is an immense respect within Hollywood for Tarantino, who hasn’t won since 1994’s Pulp Fiction — which is why we expect to see him win this one.