Not the score, not the sound effects or foley, but the sound design, what is it? We hear it when we watch a film and if done to par excellence, we don’t even notice it, it just adds to the cinematic experience. When it comes to sound design, we are talking about the overall mixing and editing of all the sounds in the film, from the dialogue, ambient sound, soundtrack, effect and so forth. Therefore, here are 10 recent films with a great sound design.
1. Good Time (2017) – Josh and Benny Safdie
Before this year’s “Uncut Gems,” the Safdies really took control of their craft in this adrenaline-filled, panic attack low-level criminality of a film. From the beginning of the film where Robert Pattinson’s crazed Connie takes his brother Nick out of a therapist’s office, we are almost assaulted with sound and imagery.
From the realistic sounds of the streets of Queens in New York to the overlapping dialogue to Oneohtrix Point Never’s unparalleled soundtrack and music, it’s a unique approach to the design. At some points, some levels are higher or lower than a commercial type of film, which only adds to the uniqueness of this film. More importantly, it allows us to enter the world and the mind of Connie that the Safdies created.
Again, the Safdies began their mastering of sound design in this film and with its independent approach, they prove that design is an integral part of the filmmaking process.
2. A Quiet Place (2018) – John Krasinski
An unexpected hit where, aside from the bonding of the family portrayed by real-life couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt, sound is the true principle character here. With a horror premise where making any sounds will ultimately led to your death by attack, the film must be as silent as it can be.
Of course, American Sign Language is the means of communication, but what about the footsteps of sand, a young boy’s toy, monsters’ creaking around, and even a foot stepping on a nail, it all adds the layering of sounds in this film. When watching it, an audience member is almost compelled to remain silent to hear and experience the design of this film, literally placing you into this world.
In the end, the sound is so precise, it can’t be missed. You must truly listen with the highest level of detail to experience this film, not because the volume is low but because the world is so exact and visionary.
3. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – George Miller
Where to even begin on this film? From Junkie XL’s score to the insane amount of realistic and futuristic anomaly of sounds on machinery and humanity. Miller used his entire filmography of work, obviously the Mad Max series, to perfect his vision of sound design in this film.
What is truly flawless in this film is the combination of sound foley, such as roaring engines, metal clanks and gun shots without the compromise of the killer soundtrack or even the Flame Throwing Guitar Dude. It layers onto one another where we hear and feel all these sounds in this post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Showered with well-deserved awards, this is an action film looking to capitalize on the essence of sound design or any film in general, particularly blockbusters coming out of Hollywood. Please take note of this film.
4. Whiplash (2014) – Damien Chazelle
From Buddy Rich, Charlie Parker, and all the jazz sessions in between, this film hit a new high for all films. Not only because the film is based around music, and obviously in our case, jazz, Chazelle was able to include and overlap some sounds, much like a jazz piece itself.
Whether listening to music, performing it in a classroom or solo, or even the sounds of the real world or non-jazz scenes, we get a sense of the design that fuels the film. Take the final scene, for example; from “Caravan” to the almost muted tappings on the drum or silent gestures between Teller’s Andrew and Simmons’ Fletcher, all aspects are explored. With the music, silence, ambient sound in the rooms, and of course, Hurwitz’s score, nothing is left off the table.
We saw the brilliance of design under Chazelle’s direction; the final scene in this film will be hard to beat for himself but watching any scene from this film, one can learn, and more importantly feel, how the subjects and content of a film are actually played out in the sound design from start to finish.
5. Krisha (2015) – Trey Edward Shults
A truly original score, which adds layers to the setting, context, and emotion of the film, is the first aspect of the sound design that sticks out. Shults manages to incorporate yelling verbosity, some of which was improved along with household sounds for a unique design.
The film in and of itself is an experimentation in style, shifting aspect ratios or keeping the narrative in one location. Therefore, why wouldn’t the sound design have a unique approach and not necessarily stand out but enhance our viewing experience? Shults continues to explore how sounds can add to the mental mind state of the character and environment, but with his debut feature, he set a high bar for himself in the future.