6. Roma (2018) – Alfonso Cuaron
When creating this film from his childhood memory, Cuaron often talked about the look of the film, but when it comes to the sounds, he had to dig deep. Recreating Mexico City in the 1970s was critical from the urban and natural landscape.
A recurring motif is water, from steaming to dripping throughout the film. Also, the mixture of city sounds, protests, dancing, and mundane household chores add to the great ambience of this film. From the sound design with no original score, we truly hear what the characters hear in an observant, distant way. Cuaron manages us to transport to that time, but remaining distantly afloat.
On subsequent viewings, you can notice how particular each foley use was to each scene; it only adds to the mastery of detail in this film.
7. Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – Denis Villaneuve
Continuing from Ridley Scott’s roots, the sound design in this film has an outer-worldly, post-punk semi-1980s vibe to it. However with the addition of sounds for machines and futuristic technology, it makes a quite compelling design for an under-appreciated film.
With the addition of the natural environment, urban setting, and visual effects that we can’t quite figure out, Villaneuve created his own Blade Runner world. With the sounds of this film with Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch’s score, you can’t compare it to anything else. Even with the non-futuristic aspects, say a fistfight or the rain falling into the alleyways, we hear this without losing the mystery of the mood and atmosphere.
Villaneuve certainly composed a team to reach maximum heights on what this world could do, and it was certainly worth the wait for this sequel.
8. Upstream Color (2013) – Shane Carruth
From the opening moments of the quick cutting and overlapping sounds, you know this design is going to contain a lot. Not only did Carruth create sounds for the film, the design is an integral part of the storytelling due to the fragmented, elliptical narrative.
The design here, composed of the score by Carruth himself, whispering voices, and inexplicable sounds, create the environment of the film. Also, it adds to the confusion of the two leads leading the audience to truly figure out the story and plot. Since Carruth operates at such a low level of independence, it’s almost as if he knows how the design will work and how it must feed into the other aspects of the story.
With pure originality and fearless filmmaking, Carruth crafted one of the most original sound designs we’ve seen this century.
9. Berberian Sound Studio (2012) – Peter Strickland
A film that takes place in a sound studio that is making an Italian giallo film is guaranteed to gain an excellent design. Strickland surely delivers with this film. From the actual recording studio, the film within a film, and the location studio, these sounds create an environment that 1970s giallo films can applaud.
Since the film is an homage to the time period, it makes full use of its screams and anything the actual sound foley can capture. It is expertly crafted and almost a love letter to the sound that goes into the movies. Of course, reality and fiction begin to blur along the way, which only increases the technical aspects of the film.
In the end, Strickland is a filmmaker with the precision of framing, pace, and sound, and for the latter, he achieved his best with this film.
10. Dunkirk (2017) – Christopher Nolan
When it comes to accurate portrayal and in this case, the study of sound design, Nolan is the director to get it precisely and accurately. From sinking destroyers, gunshots in the sand, and Spitfire engines of the man-made world, to the panic of soldier’s breathing to Hans Zimmer’s score, it creates a trifecta of Nolan’s vision.
Since the narrative is split into the air, sea, and land, we hear these worlds very particularly and even during the overlap of moments. All the sounds are realistic since Nolan used actual aircraft and machinery from 1940, causing the sounds to be accurate. Since Nolan wanted a riveting cinematic experience that places you alongside the soldiers in Dunkirk, the sound design might have been the most integral part of the film. Sure, the visuals might tell us the story, but it’s the design that places us into what the filmmaker wanted to achieve, and he certainly did it here.