Thursday, February 23, 2017

Breaking Down Sound Mixer Kevin O’Connell’s 21 Oscar Nominations

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.)

1983 – Best Sound
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.

1984 – Best Sound
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.

1985 – Best Sound
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?

1986 – Best Sound
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.

1989 – Best Sound
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.

1990 – Best Sound
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.

1992 – Best Sound
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.

1995 – Best Sound
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.

1996 – Best Sound
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.

1997 – Best Sound
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.

1998 – Best Sound
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.

2000 – Best 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.

2001 – Best Sound
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.

2002 – Best Sound
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.

2004 – Best Sound Mixing
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.

2005 – Best Sound Mixing
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.

2006 – Best Sound Mixing
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.

2007 – Best Sound Mixing
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.

2016 – Best Sound Mixing
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!


  1. Wow...he mixed A LOT of Harris' movies. The Right Stuff was such a deserving win. I know absolutely nothing about sound mixing but I recently saw this film and it's what 34 years old and the technical side of it didn't age at all. I hope he wins this Sunday...21 nominations and no win is just sad and it's gonna be great if La La Land loses something because 1. come on 2. they would thank Gibson and that would result in some awkward clapping from the audience

    1. You're so right about The Right Stuff, that film is a goddamn technical marvel that still pops. Love it. I want O'Connell to win for all the reasons you mentioned. How strange it would be to publicly thank Mel at a time like that haha.

  2. Poor guy. Dude has done some insanely great work, especially on Hacksaw Ridge. I'm all for him. La La Land will get plenty.

  3. I do feel sorry for the guy. I hope he gets something although I would never award him for anything involving a no-talent hack like Michael Bay. Yet, I do agree with you on the fact that he should've won a few for Apocalypto and Twister. I didn't know he did Dune. I'm afraid he'll lose again for La La Land.

    1. I'm afraid he'll lose again too. The bitch of it is, I think Hacksaw will actually win for Sound Editing but not Sound Mixing.

  4. I think he actually has a very good chance with Hacksaw. I hope he doesn't lose to La La Land. (Which IMO, shouldn't even be nominated for Sound Editing, Hopefully Arrival takes that. )

    I didn't realize he mixed Transformers, from a sound perspective (to me at least) That movie is so confusing. Did the Sound editors make up those machine sounds, or did the mixers just mix two random machines together, who is responsible for what?

    1. All of the sound editors made up the sounds in Transformers. Now, they may have made them buy clanking and throwing shit together, but they were all created specifically for the movie. I agree the movie sounds a bit much, but I do think it changed the sound landscape of blockbuster films, for better or worse.

      In another year, I would love for Arrival to win the sound Oscars (I often prefer atmospheric sound to bombast). But I really want Hacksaw to take Sound Mixing!

  5. Very good idea for a post. People like sound mixer just don't get enough attention. I'll be rooting for Kevin during the Oscars. I loved Hacksaw Ridge and the sound was a big part of it.

    1. Thanks man! So happy you agree with O'Connell deserving to win here.

  6. Awesome and thorough analysis. I have a friend who works as a sound mixer, though in the music industry, so I knew a bit about it. I feel like many of these people working on the technical aspects of the film industry do not get the recognition they deserve, so it’s great you’ve made this post. From the films I’ve seen I agree in almost every choice you’ve made. Can’t believe I haven’t seen or even heard about the The Right Stuff! I love Shepard (and Harris and Glenn are terrific) so I’d have to watch that one. From the O'Connell films I do remember quite well Twister and Apocalypto because I did watch them both at the cinema and I remember they had a big impact on me, and I think the sound was a big part of that. Especially Twister, as I was quite little (my parents took me to the cinema) and I remember I was very impressed by all the disaster scenes.

    By the way, I’ve just watched the series The OA and I've loved it. I remember you did a post on Sound of My Voice so you might enjoy this new collaboration between Marling and Batmanglij. It has a similar vibe and it has some pretty great moments and stellar performances.

    1. Talking about Twister, I've just read Bill Paxton has died... can't believe it, so sad about that. He was (feel weird to write that) an underrated actor. I've always loved what he did with Frialty as director too.

    2. I'm so glad you liked the post!! The Right Stuff is a fine film but very long. I prefer Apollo 13 (if we were to compare), but it's still damn good.

      Twister was so cool in the theater. I remember that too!

      Definitely been wanting to check out The OA. I love the work those two do together.

      And Paxton... so so sad. I still can't believe it.

  7. How funny that you post this, and then a few days later he wins.

    1. I mean... I practically won the award for him, right? ;-)

    2. And he didn't even thank you in his acceptance speech. What a jerk!

    3. Haha! I'm still so glad he won!

  8. Was lovely to see this guy walk up there and take home this award after so long- Watched it live with some friends at 2am

    I couldn't quite comprehend that BP upset at first. Didn't like either film but holy shit did that make for entertaining television.

    1. O'Connell winning was my favorite moment of the night. He was so, so happy. If you listen to him on that Awards Chatter podcast, he gets choked up talking about his mom, so it was really touching to see him dedicate his Oscar to her.

      And yep, people will be talking about that BP snafu for the rest of our lives.