By Jeremy Martin

Earlier, I discussed the Oscar nominees for Best Sound Mixing and today it’s time to talk about the Best Sound Editing nominees. Before we get started, I know what you’re thinking: Sound Editing, Sound Mixing…what’s the difference? Who cares? The confusion is fair, especially given that the nominees in both categories are nearly identical. This year’s nominees in Sound Editing are: “Avatar” (Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle); “The Hurt Locker” (Paul N.J. Ottosson); “Inglourious Basterds” (Wylie Stateman); “Star Trek” (Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin) and “Up” (Michael Silvers and Tom Myers). Not only are four of these films also nominated for Mixing, but in a couple of cases, the same people are nominated.

Admittedly, to us laymen the two seem very similar. And though the difference may be subtle, it’s key. Let’s take one of this year’s nominees in both categories, “Avatar.” The Sound Mixer’s job is to make sure that your ears bleed during those epic battle scenes. But it is the job of the Sound Editor to make sure that – for every arrow thrown, every shot fired, every flap of the flying creature’s wings – the instant you see it, you also hear it. Now imagine how many times those little events happen throughout the course of the nearly three-hour film, and you can see why the Academy chooses to recognize their efforts.

My description above applies to action-oriented films, which explains the other nominees. And if that’s the case, one of these nominees is not like the others. The odd man out here is clearly “Up.” Yet there is a good example in that film that helps illustrate the range and importance of the Sound Editor’s job. One of the more memorable and hilarious scenes in the film involves the loveable dog, Dug, who has a collar that allows him to talk human. Upon discovering this, the boy Russell starts changing the dial on Dug’s collar, changing his voice like he was scrolling through a radio dial. The voices change randomly and abruptly – sometimes mid-word – and it’s due to the Sound Editor’s careful work that we don’t miss a beat. The whole thing feels natural and not like the feat of movie magic that it is.

If there is a dark horse in this category, “Up” is it, though I think its chances are slim. Which means virtually zero chance for poor “Inglourious Basterds” and “Star Trek.” As I mentioned in the Sound Mixing discussion, “Star Trek” is a more than worthy contender here as well. In another, less crowded, year I think this would be the favorite, but I just don’t see it happening here. “Inglourious Basterds” is a bit of a dark horse in general, given its eight nominations overall. With dialogue as rapid-fire as its guns, it was surely a challenge for the Sound Editor. War films tend to do well in this category, but unfortunately this war film is up against another war film whose momentum has been snowballing over the last couple of months.

And so there were two. Once again it comes down to “Avatar” and that other little war movie, “The Hurt Locker.” And I don’t put “The Hurt Locker” as a front-runner simply because of momentum. It may not have the broader appeal or the box office (and certainly not the budget) of the others. But like “Avatar,” it is, in its own way, a technical masterpiece. Aside from being a war movie, it’s just as much a suspense movie. Sound is one of the unsung heroes of any suspense movie. That bump in the night, the creak of the stairs, or, in this case, the clip of a bomb wire, has to happen at just the right moment to either keep us on the edge of our seat or jumping completely out of it. The achievement of “Avatar” is obvious, the question is whether voters will be able to see the forest beyond the giant tree.

Road to the Oscars series:

Podcasts – Kit Bowen, Nate Freiberg, Adam Spunberg, and Phil Wallace

February 4: Live Action Short – Kit Bowen

February 5: Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 8: Documentary Short Subject – Christa Youngpeter

February 9: Documentary Feature – Nate Freiberg

February 10: Foreign Language Film – Paul Popiel

February 12: Animated Film – Nate Freiberg

February 15: Sound Mixing – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Sound Editing – Jeremy Martin

February 17: Original Song – Adam Spunberg and Savanna New

February 18: Visual Effects – Mallory Pickard

February 19: Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 22: Makeup – Christa Youngpeter

February 23: Costume – Steve Neumann

February 24: Art Direction – Christa Youngpeter

February 25: Film Editing – Steve Neumann

February 26: Cinematography – Paul Popiel

February 27: Original Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 28: Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

March 1: Supporting Actress – Marla Seidell

March 2: Supporting Actor – Phil Wallace

March 3: Actress – Marla Seidell

March 4: Actor – Kit Bowen

March 5: Director – Adam Spunberg

March 5: Picture – Kit Bowen

March 7: The 82nd Annual Academy Awards!