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Thursday, February 23, 2017
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Oscars: How Well Do the Motion Picture Sound Editors Predict the Best Sound Editing Winner?

'La La Land' and 'Hacksaw Ridge' (Courtesy: Lionsgate; Summit Entertainment)

‘La La Land’ and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ (Courtesy: Lionsgate; Summit Entertainment)

By: Carson Blackwelder
Managing Editor

The best sound editing category is going to be tough to call at this year’s Oscars, but the race is boiling down to Hacksaw Ridge versus La La Land. While we won’t know who won the Academy’s favor until Sunday, we already know the Motion Picture Sound Editors have honored these two films — among others — at their annual Golden Reel Awards. How often does this society of sound editors predict the corresponding category at the Academy Awards? Let’s take a look and find out.

Nominated alongside Hacksaw Ridge and La La Land in the best sound editing category at this year’s Oscars are Arrival, Sully, and Deepwater Horizon. The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg predicts that Damien Chazelle’s modern musical will take home the trophy by overtaking Mel Gibson’s big Hollywood return. Hacksaw Ridge is definitely the more conventional film that would typically garner the Academy’s votes — due to it having a lot of on-screen action and it being a war film — but, for La La Land being the first-ever musical nominated in this category, it certainly seems as though the Academy is itching to make history here.

The Motion Picture Sound Editors was founded in 1953 but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that they doled out their annual Golden Reel Awards. This year — in addition to Hacksaw Ridge and La La Land — the society honored Moana in the animated-specific category, The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble in the documentary-specific category, The King’s Choice in the foreign language film-specific category, and Warcraft in the music score-specific category. Hacksaw Ridge won two Golden Reel Awards but it’s the win in the sound effects and foley in a feature film category that means the most as that category tends to reflect the eventual Oscar winner. The Andrew Garfield-led film was up against fellow Oscar nominees Arrival and Deepwater Horizon with La La Land and Sully nominated elsewhere.

Let’s take a closer look at this all-important category — the organization’s best prediction of the eventual Academy Awards winner — throughout the almost three decades they’ve co-existed. Out of the 29 previous films that have garnered the Motion Picture Sound Editors prize over the years a grand total of 15 of them went on to win the Oscar, too. If you work out the math, that means that the two groups have agreed on a film just under 52% of the time, so a little more than half of the time. It’s neither great nor bad, just sort of in the middle and almost like flipping a coin.

The films that the Motion Picture Sound Editors and the Academy have agreed on include: Jurassic Park, Speed, Braveheart, Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, The Matrix, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Letters from Iwo Jima, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Dark Knight, Inception, Skyfall, Gravity, American Sniper, and Mad Max: Fury Road.

In the off years, the films that won Oscars — with the Golden Reel Award winner in parentheses — include: RoboCop (Predator), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Die Hard), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (The Abyss and Born on the Fourth of July), The Hunt for Red October (Total Recall), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Barton Fink), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Under Siege), The Ghost and the Darkness (Daylight), U-571 (Gladiator), Pearl Harbor (Black Hawk Down), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Road to Perdition), The Incredibles (The Aviator), King Kong (War of the Worlds), The Hurt Locker (Avatar), and Hugo (War Horse). The years Braveheart and Mad Max: Fury Road won both these accolades there was a tie at the Golden Reel Awards, with Crimson Tiger and The Revenant recognized by the precursor organization, too.

While these two groups have agreed on winners about half the time, films that won with the Motion Picture Sound Editors weren’t always even nominated for an Academy Award — something that makes it different than, say, the relationship between the Cinema Audio Society and the best sound mixing category at the Oscars. One thing that should be pointed out about the case of the Motion Picture Sound Editors and the best sound editing category at the Academy Awards is that, they have agreed on a mutual winner eight times within the last 10 years. That’s a pretty solid run — much better than the previous almost two decades, but possibly due to the category expanding from an average of two nominees to the standard five — they’ve been having as of late, but to add to it this year would mean Hacksaw Ridge would need to overcome La La Land.

Here’s a little breakdown on how the Oscars work, for those of you who don’t know. For the best sound editing category, the nominees are first chosen by the branch of the Academy attached to it. In this case it would be the sound branch which, between active and retired members, has 533 members. After this small group chooses the nominees, it’s up to the whole Academy — a whopping 7,373 members — who vote to determine the winners. What this means is that there’s a shift from those who would be considered experts in the category to a much larger mass to make the final decision. The sound branch is only a little over 7% of the Academy overall — per data from December 2016 — just to put that in perspective for you.

We’ll find out soon enough if Hacksaw Ridge will be the latest explosion-filled film to take home the Oscar for best sound editing or if La La Land will win in a groundbreaking twist. It’s still a tight race between these two in relation to the Motion Picture Sound Editors and how the Academy Awards work. Stay tuned to see which film’s name is read come February 26 when one of the glanced-over technical categories is in the spotlight.

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