This is another one of those categories that seems fairly transparent from afar. I suspect one film to be unanimously predicted by pundits, and then to win, naturally. But even though it looks to be an open and shut case, the other nominees sport excellent sound work, and very much deserve the recognition that their nominations imply.
Ever since its celebrated debut at Cannes, many prognosticators were anticipating a Best Sound Mixing nomination for Inside Llewyn Davis. It may owe as much to the quality of T-Bone Burnett's music as anything else, but that's not to undermine the challenge that Skip Lievsay, Gregg Orloff, and Peter F. Kurland had in capturing live performance and integrating it seamlessly into the soundtrack. Live music recording certainly helped secure a win here last year for Les Miserables, but that was due to an extensive publicity campaign that promoted its technique, while Inside Llewyn Davis has not worn its method on its sleeve. I'm of the opinion that these long-time Coen collaborators should have won six years ago for their work on No Country for Old Men, but they're likely sitting it out yet again...
Speaking of Munro, he is, like Lievsay, also a double nominee this year. His other nomination comes for the terrific sound job on Captain Phillips (shared with Chris Burdon, Mark Taylor, and Mike Prestwood Smith), and if there's a distant challenger to Gravity here, it may be this one. It's the sort of unflashy, meat-and-potatoes sound mix that was very difficult to accomplish but comes together so smoothly that you barely notice it, and mixers really respect that. In fact, I could even conceive of an upset at the CAS Awards later this month if the mixers are sick of seeing Gravity win everything (they're one of the last industry guilds to announce winners, just a week before the Oscars), but by then it'll too late for that hypothetical upset to shift this Oscar contest anyway. Although it may indicate a chink in Gravity's Best Picture armour. Hmm...
Lone Survivor timed its roll out just right, reaping two sound nominations before going into wide release. The work in the film is extensive to say the least, stunningly showcased in the film's intense firefight sequence that places the viewer right in the middle of the gunshots and the blood splatter. This is the first nomination for all of its mixing team: Beau Borders, Andy Koyama, and David Brownlow. Given their first-time status, they shouldn't be too disappointed when they lose. They'll have plenty of future chances, I'm sure.
Will win: Gravity
Runner-up: Captain Phillips
Should win: Gravity
Should've been nominated: All Is Lost