With more than 35 years in the business, Kevin O’Connell is one of cinema’s most revered sound mixers. Most notably, O’Connell is the person with the most Oscar nominations in history, who has yet to win. O’Connell has been to the show 20 times (21 this Sunday, for sound mixing Hacksaw Ridge), but hasn’t made it to the podium once.
Upon hearing O’Connell on The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast this week, I learned a great deal about him. He’s immensely grateful to do what he loves, deeply sad that his mother (who got him into the biz) died the night of the last Oscar telecast he attended (in 2008), and profoundly humbled by all of his Oscar nominations, even without winning one.
He’s a good guy, Kevin O’Connell. And he deserves a win. I’m seriously hoping he finally takes home the prize on Sunday, but for now, let’s look at his past nominations and determine if he should have an Oscar or two (or three, or four…) already.
(Note: Just a reminder: Sound Editing is the creation and assembly of sounds you hear on screen: dialogue, sounds effects, ADR, etc. Sound Mixing, what O’Connell does, is the balancing of all that audio so that the movie has an even sound landscape.)
O’Connell nominated for: Terms of Endearment
Lost to: The Right Stuff
Other nominees: Never Cry Wolf, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, WarGames
Should’ve won: Both previous Star Wars films had won Oscars for Best Sound, so the Academy made the right decision here with awarding The Right Stuff.
O’Connell nominated for: Dune
Lost to: Amadeus
Other nominees: A Passage to India, The River, 2010
Should’ve won: I have to agree with the Academy. Amadeus plays beautifully.
O’Connell nominated for: Silverado
Lost to: Out of Africa
Other nominees: Back to the Future, A Chorus Line, Ladyhawke
Should’ve won: Here is a fundamental problem with voting for technical categories. Most Oscar voters don’t know what “Best Sound” entails, so they vote for the only nominee that is also nominated for Best Picture. This isn’t always the case, but it happens a lot. Point being: Out of Africa over Back to the Future… really?
O’Connell nominated for: Top Gun
Lost to: Platoon
Other nominees: Aliens, Heartbreak Ridge, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Should’ve won: Damn tough. Platoon, Aliens and Top Gun all deserve it, but I think the real sonic groundbreaker here is Top Gun. Should have been O’Connell’s first win.
O’Connell nominated for: Black Rain
Lost to: Glory
Other nominees: The Abyss, Born of the Fourth of July, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Should’ve won: Honestly, Black Rain comes in fifth place here. I’d go with The Abyss.
O’Connell nominated for: Days of Thunder
Lost to: Dances with Wolves
Other nominees: Dick Tracy, The Hunt for Red October, Total Recall
Should’ve won: O’Connell was offered to mix Dances with Wolves but had to pass due to other commitments. Another tough call here. I may go for The Hunt for Red October.
O’Connell nominated for: A Few Good Men
Lost to: The Last of the Mohicans
Other nominees: Aladdin, Under Siege, Unforgiven
Should’ve won: Oscars made the right call here.
O’Connell nominated for: Crimson Tide
Lost to: Apollo 13
Other nominees: Batman Forever, Braveheart, Waterworld
Should’ve won: Neck in neck with Crimson Tide and Apollo 13. I still think Apollo 13 deserved this.
O’Connell nominated for: Twister and The Rock
Lost to: The English Patient
Other nominees: Evita, Independence Day
Should’ve won: It’s either Twister, The Rock or Independence Day, but certainly not The English Patient. I’d go with Twister. The sonic landscape of that film is what made it so believable. O’Connell, 2.
O’Connell nominated for: Con Air
Lost to: Titanic
Other nominees: Air Force One, Contact, L.A. Confidential
Should’ve won: Part of me wants to say Contact, because its sound design is so effective. But I have to agree with the Academy here. Titanic remains a technical marvel.
O’Connell nominated for: The Mask of Zorro and Armageddon
Lost to: Saving Private Ryan
Other nominees: Shakespeare in Love, The Thin Red Line
Should’ve won: Saving Private Ryan. So much of that film’s chaos is in its sound.
O’Connell nominated for: The Patriot
Lost to: Gladiator
Other nominees: Cast Away, The Perfect Storm, U-571
Should’ve won: I would vote for the still, vital sound of Cast Away over the bombast of the other nominees.
O’Connell nominated for: Pearl Harbor
Lost to: Black Hawk Down
Other nominees: Amélie, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge!
Should’ve won: Black Hawk Down, no question.
O’Connell nominated for: Spider-Man
Lost to: Chicago
Other nominees: Gangs of New York, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Road to Perdition
Should’ve won: The musical numbers in Chicago are impressive, Spider-Man was working in a new (now played-out) super hero landscape, but I’d vote for the muddiness of Gangs of New York.
O’Connell nominated for: Spider-Man 2
Lost to: Ray
Other nominees: The Aviator, The Incredibles, The Polar Express
Should’ve won: The Aviator would get my vote. For that crash scene alone.
O’Connell nominated for: Memoirs of a Geisha
Lost to: King Kong
Other nominees: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Walk the Line, War of the Worlds
Should’ve won: Yep, King Kong.
O’Connell nominated for: Apocalypto
Lost to: Dreamgirls
Other nominees: Blood Diamond, Flags of Our Fathers, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Should’ve won: Apocalypto, certainly. The sound of that movie is like another character. O’Connell, 3.
O’Connell nominated for: Transfomers
Lost to: The Bourne Ultimatum
Other nominees: 3:10 to Yuma, No Country for Old Man, Ratatouille
Should’ve won: Okay, normally I would never make the case for a Michael Bay film to win an Oscar, but O’Connell made a good point on the Awards Chatter podcast. Transformers was one of the first movies to create machines-turning-into-something sounds. Today, sounds like those are used in damn near ever movie made for more than $100 million. Transformers really did pave the way here. It’s still a tough call, but if we’re going action vs. action, I have to choose Transformers over The Bourne Ultimatum. O’Connell, 4.
O’Connell nominated for: Hacksaw Ridge
Lost to: ???
Other nominees: Arrival, La La Land, Rouge One, 13 Hours
Should win: Tough year. Most people agree that La La Land will take both sound categories, but I’m not sure it should. The singing was recorded live, which means La La Land had much more impressive Sound Editing than Sound Mixing. But Arrival’s mix is insanely good. If O’Connell already had an Oscar, I’d vote for Arrival. But since he doesn’t, I really hope he brings it home with Hacksaw Ridge.
So there we have it. I think Kevin O’Connell should have a least four Oscars by now, for mixing Top Gun, Twister, Apocalypto and Transformers. Sadly, he does not. Here’s to hoping Best Sound Mixing goes his way on Sunday!