Not sure how Best Sound Editing will go this year (or any year, to be honest). While the Academy usually gives both Sound awards to the same film out of sheer ignorance and apathy, it's certainly looking like this is going to be one of those rare split years. With Les Miserables primed and ready to collect a well deserved win for Sound Mixing (not a sure thing, mind you), voters will have to exercise some critical thinking for once and decide which of five films that aren't Les Mis had the best sound editing.
Argo's nomination here is even more of a surprise than its inclusion in the Mixing race. Sound designers Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn – nominated previously for much more noticeable work on Michael Bay's Transformers films – bring a high degree of polish to the film's aural palette. However, even though Argo is the likely Best Picture winner, the work is just too subtle to pull out a win.
A nominee who I'm pleased to see here is Wylie Stateman for his invigorating work on Django Unchained. Not only are the many Western sound effects well realized, but Stateman knows when certain sounds need special embellishment, and the whole thing sounds great. I wouldn't count him out for the win, but I doubt the average Academy member comes out of a Tarantino movie thinking about the sound.
The film I'm betting will be the natural choice for many a voter is Life of Pi. The numerous animal vocalizations and oceanic noises have a high profile during the film's lengthy, nearly dialogue-free second act. There's a good chance it could win both Sound awards, actually, but with Les Mis the seeming frontrunner for Mixing, I think lots will toss Pi their consolation vote here. It would make Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty back-to-back Oscar winners, having stolen this award a year ago for Hugo.
If members are feeling a bit more adventurous, however, they might stray outside the cozy parameters of only voting for Best Picture nominees, and toss a bone to Skyfall. Karen Baker and Per Hallberg won in similar fashion for The Bourne Ultimatum five years ago, and Skyfall is the same sort of respected action film that the Academy won't feel silly for awarding on Oscar. Interesting note: This is one of only two categories that any James Bond movie has ever won (Goldfinger in 1965).
Finally, if any scattered Zero Dark Thirty fans out there in the Academy really want to send the CIA procedural home with something, they may rally behind Paul Ottosson's propulsive sound design. The climactic raid sequence in particular really showcases his contribution to the film, but as is usually the case, movies in which the sound isn't ubiquitous have a hard time winning.
Will win: Life of Pi
Should win: Django Unchained
Should have been nominated: The Impossible