It’s too bad the guild award that most strongly corresponds with this category—the Motion Picture Sound Editors’ “Golden Reel”—doesn’t get handed out until Feb. 24. Granted, the award is sketchy enough as a prognosticator to not only nominate seemingly as many films as they damn well please (last year it was seven, this year eight—and that’s not even counting their extra set of nominations for what they consider “foreign films,” a group which this year includes such from-distant-lands candidates as The Black Dahlia and Lucky Number Slevin...but NOT Letters from Iwo Jima) but also give their award out fairly sensibly (choosing War of the Worlds instead of Oscar winner King Kong, Road to Perdition instead of Oscar-winner The Two Towers and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon instead of, um, Oscar-winning U-571). Still, it could’ve really helped out this year to know what they preferred, since the Academy’s sound editing branch got a little crazy this year and opened up their category to include five nominees for the first time. Apparently they just simply couldn’t choose between Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima. We can (those muffled flashbacks in Flags of Our Fathers are the aural equivalent of Babel’s smug, flatly associative shock cuts), but we’re pretty sure the Academy can’t. Apocalypto is the only nominee that didn’t manage to crack into the exclusive “Golden Reel” club of 16. Since voters at large seem to prefer rewarding sonic environments that emphasize the loudly synthetic over legitimately dynamic work (1999: The Matrix over Fight Club), we’ll say Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest has the edge over Blood Diamond...unless, like us, you think Leo’s accent is from another world.
Blood Diamond (#1–10 of 4)
Three days ago, Oscar sluts across the Internet let out a collective groan when the American Cinema Editors gave one of their Best Edited Feature prizes to Thelma Schoonmaker (The Departed) and Stephen Mirrione and Douglas Crise (Babel). Because Oscar history tells us that the winner of this award aligns often with the winner of the top prize, we were hoping for ACE to shed some light on what may be the tightest Best Picture race ever. Now we’re left to pick a name out of a hat just like everyone else. We were ready to predict this one for United 93, simply because it’s easy to see why people would confuse the heart-skipping unease Paul Greengrass’s dubious creation rouses through its exploitation of our collective consciousness for something that was made in the editing room, but ACE’s recent decision has made us want to turn elsewhere. We still think United 93 could win, but Oscar also has a history of honoring pictures that weave more intricate Altmanesque tapestries of human misery. This should be to the advantage of The Departed, the best edited film in this category, except Schoonmaker is not in the business of cutting between a child masturbating and a gun being fired into the air—the sort of gassy hackwork that more explicitly begs for (and often gets) this award. Given the monstrosity that won last year and the lengths Babel goes to in order to make something out of nothing, we’ll give the Mirrione-Crise team the edge.
Last year we sided with the musical candidate and crapped out when voters went for the big black ape instead of the man in black. Fool us once, shame on the Oscars; fool us twice, shame on the Oscars. And even though the IMDB is, for whatever reason, declaring Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest this year’s winner ahead of schedule, we’re still going to hedge our bets with the one nominee in this line-up that doesn’t rely on gunfire or sabre-rattling. Just as Diana Ross herself forced Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers to push their signature Chic sound well behind her vocals, it couldn’t have been easy for the audio technicians to crank up Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, and Jaime Foxx’s voices loud enough to cover the film’s anemic instrumental arrangements. Unless it turns out the IMDB accidentally reported a leak from within the offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the most likely alternate winner is probably Flags of Our Fathers, which is not only painfully obvious in its use of muffled audio cues to trigger flashbacks, but also has the benefit of not being up against Letters from Iwo Jima in this category.
Andrew Dignan: Pardon the interruption Sean, but I take back what I said a few weeks ago about The Fountain being the weirdest, most hallucinatory film of the holidays. I knew I never should have counted out Mel Gibson (aka “Crazy Christian”) who two years after making The Passion of the Christ, the rare film that could appeal equally to Evangelicals and the Fangoria set, returns with Apocalypto—another viscera-dripping exercise in onscreen violence, without any pesky ideology or Jew-baiting to get in the way of all the fun.
I, like most people I know, have spent the better part of the past year making jokes at poor Mel’s expense as his adventures in Malibu appeared to be several chickens finally coming home to roost, all in one glorious/horrifying public breakdown the likes of which I never thought I’d see again (until Michael Richards proved me completely wrong). As Mel’s spent the past three years as fodder for late night talk show monologues, it’s becoming distressingly easy to forget what a provocative and unique filmmaker he’s become, with a keen eye for visual, near-silent storytelling that sets him apart from nearly every other actor turned director in Hollywood. You might be repulsed by what he’s saying with his films, but my God, does he say it with aplomb. Of course your level of revulsion with Apocalypto will likely depend on your tolerance for watching someone other than the Son of God be brutalized for two hours. Playing like The Last of the Mohicans with way more human sacrifice, Apocalypto is a surprisingly conventional action movie, complete with all of the familiar beats one would come to expect from any given mid-’80s Stallone or Schwarzenegger film, the only difference here is it’s a bunch of guys running around in loincloths speaking a dead language (the film strangely reminded me of the Rae Dawn Chong camp-extravaganza Quest for Fire).