It brings me no pride to confess that this is the category with my poorest prediction record (roughly 38%), and even the corresponding industry guild -- the CAS, which announces its winners tomorrow -- hasn't matched up all that often: Only 6 of the last 13 CAS champs repeated with the Academy.
But there is one constant that can usually be counted on to pad your Oscar stats: Best Sound Mixing loves musicals.
But I wouldn't call that team's victory a done deal just yet. There is reasonably stiff competition in the form of Mel Gibson's war epic Hacksaw Ridge, which features all the typical combat cacophony that you'd expect to grab voters' ears. And yet, as it turns out, war films haven't ultimately been that successful in this category for a long time. Since 2002, only one war film, The Hurt Locker, has won for its sound mix. They fare much better in Sound Editing, where 6 of the last 15 winners have been of the genre. But you can bet I'll be rooting for this one, because Kevin O'Connell is the living definition of "grossly overdue". As in, I feel physically grossed out -- nauseous -- every time he loses, because 21 nominations without a win is simply inhumane.
On merit alone (which is super subjective, because all five nominees are really good), I also have to root for this year's Star Wars event Rogue One. There's a lot happening on this soundtrack which isn't obvious or consciously noticeable on first viewing. That's actually the highest compliment you can pay to Christopher Scarabosio and the mixing crew, in that really good sound mixing is the sort of thing you shouldn't actively notice when watching a movie. But a win for them would be surprising. If the more widely embraced The Force Awakens couldn't even salvage a Best Visual Effects trophy last year, I think it's safe to say the Academy feels no particular obligation to this franchise.
The most subtle mix in the mix (sorry) would be Arrival, which may get more attention for its distinctive sound elements than for how they're put together, which is kind of a shame. The work done here by Bernard Gariepy Strobl and Claude La Haye is completely immersive and plays a huge role in letting the viewer sink into Denis Villeneuve's tense atmosphere. Being a Best Picture nominee (and one in danger of being blanked entirely on Oscar night) means we probably shouldn't write it off, but subtlety has a hard time winning this award.
Will win: La La Land
Could win: Hacksaw Ridge
Should win: Rogue One
Should be nominated: Lion