Are we underestimating ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ for Oscars sound awards sweep?

When predicting the Oscars it’s generally a good rule that more is better. In the audio categories typically the loudest film wins. There’s one film that would fit this typical rule: Mel Gibson’s WWII drama “Hacksaw Ridge,” whose second half takes place during a battle.

For the past 13 years the two audio categories have been classified as Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. And during those 13 years seven films have swept the audio categories: “King Kong” (2005), “The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007), “The Hurt Locker” (2009), “Inception” (2010), “Hugo” (2011), “Gravity” (2013) and “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015). So with a loud war drama nominated for both, are we underestimating “Hacksaw Ridge” chances of winning both categories?

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No two categories at the Oscars have gone through more of a transformation over the years than Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing. The Oscars first started handing out one award for a film’s audio, Best Sound Recording, in 1929 with “The Big House” taking the inaugural award. Then the category evolved into Best Sound in 1958 with the musical “South Pacific” prevailing. And finally it was Best Sound Mixing in 2003 with “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” taking home the prize.

The academy added an additional audio category, Best Sound Effects, in 1963 with “Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” winning the inaugural trophy. The category evolved into Best Sound Effects Editing in 1982, when “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” won. Finally it became Best Sound Editing in 2003 with “U-571” prevailing.

According to Gold Derby’s exclusive odds in the Best Sound Editing race “Hacksaw Ridge” is currently the frontrunner with odds of 4/7 to win. Right on its heels in second place is the modern-day musical “La La Land” with odds of 4/1. And in third place is the only other film nominated for both sound awards, “Arrival,” with odds of 6/1.

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The race for Best Sound Mixing also appears to be between the same three films. But in this category “La La Land” is expected to win with odds of 1/ 4. Nipping at its heels is “Hacksaw Ridge” with odds of 15/2, and in third place looking to pull off an upset is “Arrival” with odds of 18/1.

So why is “Hacksaw Ridge,” the loudest film by far, not the frontrunner in both audio categories? The answer is easy: Best Sound Mixing has a weakness for musicals. They don’t even have to be musicals in the traditional form; a film that features music heavily also tends to take this category. Five musicals won in the past 13 years, and on four of those occasions stopped the Best Sound Editing winner from sweeping: in 2004 “Ray” stopped “The Incredibles”; in 2008 “Slumdog Millionaire” and its closing dance number tripped up the louder “The Dark Knight”; in 2012 “Les Miserables” denied “Skyfall” (which tied for Best Sound Editing with “Zero Dark Thirty,” which was snubbed for Best Sound Mixing); and in 2014 another Damien Chazelle film, “Whiplash,” full of the world’s most intense jazz music, stopped another war film, “American Sniper,” from sweeping.

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But both “Hacksaw Ridge” and “La La Land” need to be worried about the current dark horse in both races, “Arrival.” While the film appears to be an underdog it’s worth remembering that “Arrival” is a film about communication, with unique sounds created for alien language. If the vote should split between the two frontrunners for any reason or voters are looking for something a little subtler, it could easily take one of the audio categories. On one such occasion, in 2003, two similar films split the audio categories with Best Sound Mixing going to “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and Best Sound Editing going to “Master and Commander.” So “Hacksaw Ridge” should be concerned that “Arrival” could sneak up and snatch the Oscar for Best Sound Editing.

Oscars: Musicals That Won Best Picture

“Hacksaw Ridge” scored six Oscar nominations and “Arrival” scored eight including Best Picture for both, and either could stop “La La Land” from making history. “La La Land” has to win 12 of its 14 nominations to solely be the most awarded film of all time, and since it’s only in 13 categories (it has two Best Song nominations) it can only afford to lose one award.

If the musical set in Los Angeles wins 11 it will tie the all-time record with “Ben-Hur” (1959), “Titanic” (1997) and “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King” (2003). Should “La La Land” win only 10 then it would nevertheless tie “West Side Story” (1961) for the most wins by a musical. Should the film fail to land even that many, Best Sound Editing might be one of those categories that costs it. Not that bad of a silver lining for “Hacksaw Ridge” or “Arrival.”

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