By Jeremy Martin

The nominees for the 82nd Annual Academy Awards were announced earlier this year and so the race is on. The blogosphere and celebrity gossip shows will all be abuzz about who will win, who should win, and on and on. But I’m willing to bet that none of them will be discussing any of the more technical awards such as, say, Sound Mixing. Many would argue that the Oscar telecast’s bloated length really starts to be felt around the time these awards start getting handed out. Somewhat ironic given that the winners often have the shortest speeches. These are techies, after all. People that have a very specific job to do, do it, and don’t need a whole lot of fanfare or attention – certainly not compared to, uh, actors.

It’s a shame, because the nominees and eventual recipients of these technical awards are the unsung heroes behind why we enjoy watching a movie. When people talk about getting the “theater experience,” that feeling is often the result of the hard work of people such as Sound Mixers. Sound Mixers is a good example here because the sound systems in modern theaters is so much better than what most of us have at home, making the Mixer’s work all the more felt. To use one of this year’s nominees – “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” (Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson) – as an example, it is the Sound Mixer’s job to ensure that Optimus Prime’s voice is significantly louder, more commanding and intimidating than the whiny voice of co-star Shia LeBouf. More importantly, it’s the Sound Mixer who makes Optimus Prime’s transformation from robot to truck sound so…real. Thanks to him, even though the transformation happens in a flash, you feel like you can hear every individual little click, squeak and turn in the process.

In addition to “Transformers,” this year’s nominees are: “Avatar” (Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson), “The Hurt Locker” (Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett), “Inglourious Basterds” (Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti and Mark Ulano), and “Star Trek” (Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter J. Devlin). Note that most of these are blockbusters, the movies fans flocked to see, and the types of films that were supposed to benefit from the expansion of the Best Picture category from five to ten. Indeed “Avatar,” “The Hurt Locker,” and “Inglourious Basterds” all got that coveted nomination as well.

As you can see, some of the same names pop up for different films. Many of these guys – Gary Summers, Andy Nelson, Mark Ulano – are past winners. Which makes predicting this category difficult to predict. Precedent is also of no help in predicting a winner here. Last year’s winner for Sound Mixing was the little engine that could, “Slumdog Millionaire” beating out the effects-heavy “The Dark Knight.” But the year before that, effects heavy “The Bourne Ultimatum” beat out the smaller “No Country for Old Men.”

Though “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” has some impressive moments of sheer sound, the original didn’t win when it was nominated and it’s not a movie that I think many older voters will have seen. “Inglourious Basterds” has a shot, as war movies such as “Saving Private Ryan” have won in this category in the past, but Tarantino’s movies are more about the dialogue than the nuances of Sound Mixing. An award for “Start Trek” would be very well deserved – there is a lot going on in that movie, and the mixers made effective use of a wide range of sound – including the absence of it – in a memorable opening sequence. But like some of the bigger awards, it is my prediction that this one comes down to a horse race between “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker.”

“Avatar,” of course, is a monumental achievement just in terms of the cinematic experience. So it may hold that such innovation in the visuals must also have included innovations in sound. On the other hand, much of the cinematic experience of “The Hurt Locker” comes directly from the sound and, in particular, the sound mixing. Take the opening sequence – all we can hear is the breathing of the soldier as he approaches a bomb to detonate it. It’s extremely tense. And then the deafening roar of the blast shatters the silence as the bomb explodes. The Sound Mixing team highlights every piece of shattered glass, every speck of metal shrapnel, and even the swish of the dirt as the earth itself is rocked. The audience actually feels blown away. This is one where the underdog deserves to beat Goliath.

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!