How ‘Sound of Metal’ could be the ‘Whiplash’ of the 2021 Oscars

Sound of Metal” is receiving heaps of praise for Riz Ahmed‘s performance as Ruben, a drummer who suffers sudden hearing loss — a role that could land him an Oscar nomination. But the love might not stop there. The Amazon film has some of the best reviews of the year for its sensitive portrayal of Ruben’s journey and for its careful sound design to help put viewers in the mind of the character. And if academy members are as impressed as critics, a Best Sound nomination (and more?) could be in “Sound of Metal’s” future.

Sound is a natural focal point of the Darius Marder-directed film — the sensitivity of it and the absence of it. Viewers experience everything alongside Ruben, including the cacophony of being onstage for a heavy metal performance, the muffled aftermath, the grating frequencies of cochlear implants and the emptiness of silence. With such intricate work produced by sound designer Nicolas Becker, one could imagine the sound branch being particularly impressed by what he was able to accomplish.

SEE ‘Sound of Metal’s’ Riz Ahmed on playing Ruben, a heavy metal drummer losing his hearing [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

While action films and comic book blockbusters tend to populate the sound categories year after year at the Oscars, the branch still makes room for smaller dramas when the work is showy enough. This was the case with Damien Chazelle‘s 2014 film “Whiplash,” which also centered on a drummer and won the Oscar for Best Sound Mixing. While J.K. Simmons‘ Oscar-winning performance dominated the conversation for “Whiplash” in the early going, the film ended up earning five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.

What gives “Sound of Metal” an advantage this year is that it isn’t competing against a slew of blockbusters to get into the newly merged Best Sound category. The pandemic has largely forced studios to push their tentpoles to 2021, opening real estate for indie dramas with showy craftwork to earn the recognition they may have missed out on in a normal year. This could also allow “Sound of Metal” to not just show up in Best Sound but other categories that “Whiplash” secured, including Best Film Editing (which it won), Best Supporting Actor (for Paul Raci) and even the big one, Best Picture.

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