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Dear All,

What films are good examples of Sound Design to study and take note of?

I'm particularly looking for films which sound was used to forward the story with excellent results. Not just using sound for the sake of using sound. Ideally these films would be both of good technical quality as well as artistic in it's sound design. They could be of any genre, and preferably made within the last 3 years, however, I know there are definitely good classic films out there with superb sound design.

Please put at least some information about the film's sound and why you consider the sound well executed.

Thanks - Ryan

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50 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

The best film for sound in the last year that I've seen would be Jean Pierre Jeunets MIC MACS http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1149361/

FWIW a while back I did a survey to see what 5 films people would choose as their favourites for sound.... results are here: http://www.musicofsound.co.nz/blog/five-favourite-films-for-sound

Heres the top 20 or so from that list:

  • Wall-E – Votes:18
  • Star Wars IV – Votes:14
  • Apocalypse Now – Votes:11
  • The Matrix – Votes:10
  • Eraserhead – Votes:9
  • No Country For Old Men – Votes:9
  • Saving Private Ryan – Votes:9
  • Delicatessen – Votes:6
  • Lord of the Rings – Votes:6
  • The Conversation – Votes:6
  • Children of Men – Votes:5
  • Das Boot – Votes:5
  • Jurassic Park – Votes:5
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey – Votes:4
  • Barton Fink – Votes:4
  • Elephant – Votes:4
  • Fight Club – Votes:4
  • Lost Highway – Votes:4
  • Pi – Votes:4
  • Stalker – Votes:4
  • Star Trek – Votes:4
  • Touch the Sound – Votes:4
  • Bladerunner – Votes:3
  • Castaway – Votes:3
  • Cloverfield – Votes:3
  • Damnation – Votes:3
  • PlayTime – Votes:3
  • Ratatouille – Votes:3
  • Seven – Votes:3
  • The Black Stallion – Votes:3
  • The English Patient – Votes:3
  • There Will Be Blood – Votes:3
  • THX-1138 – Votes:3
  • Transformers 2 – Votes:3
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District 9 was very cool. The sound design was well matched to the gritty, pseudo doco style. And i have to say; the alien spacecraft at the end of the film had the most realistic sound i've ever heard.

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There are to many to list. I would recommend checking out the designingsound.org website, check out the featured sound designers page, http://designingsound.org/featured-sound-designers/, and research the movies they worked on using http://www.imdb.com. That is where I would start. Also check out http://www.filmsound.org, another great resource...

Here are a few of my favorites heavy-hitters off the top of my head:

The Matrix Trilogy - Dane Davis and his crew are masters of passive sound design; you know the sound is designed but the sound is so good you "know" its real.

Star Wars - The movie that started modern sound design.

Wall-e - The best movie ever made, in my mind, that tells an amazing story with sound, not dialogue.

Jurassic Park - A great movie. I love that the sound for this movie was so large and defining using the techniques that we use today, but where revolutionary at the time.

The Hulk - A friend of mine was on this project and shared some of the horror stories he and the team encountered while dealing with the acting talent and executives as they tried to "help" in the sound design. The fact that the movie turned out sounding so good is testament to the great leadership on the supervisors part.

Avatar - 3 years of sound design and it sounded amazing. I was able to get lost in the alien jungles. Loved it!

Das Boot - Great sound from a movie that is 30 years old.

Fracture - An amazing example of a talking heads movie. The sound was present but extremely passive; did not steal the spotlight from the story...

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The Original King Kong. The work stands to this day as great characterization 8 1/2 By Fellini. The First 30 minutes. It has everything you Need To Know about sound design. "Grand Prix" **"Citizen Kane" Robert Wise the director edited this picture and cut the sound. Modern pictures try to use the Wall of Sound to Impress. Loads of crashes, lots of volume. Action, Action Action. But think about it. True Sound Design has Dramatic import and meaning. A Shane Black script I read once called for "The Biggest Explosion Ever." and the following page, he asked for "An Even Bigger Explosion" so what. Unless there is a dramatic structure to the work, then it's just noise. Not Sound Design. Cannon's for "Wellington's Victory" have meaning. By themselves, they are like the Audubon Bird recordings. Of interest to the Aficionado only. You can anaylise them from a variety of standards. But good recordings aren't art. They can be rare, they can be poor or good recordings, but without a story structure, they have no meaning to the listener. Alan Splet said that it's the content of the recording, not the technical that makes it of use. Look at his work: "Eraserhead" "Elephant Man" "Black Stallion"...

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FIGHT CLUB!!!

sorry..I got a little carried away there. I just love that movie too much.

As far as other ideas, I would check out Walter Murch's re-edit of "Touch of Evil." It comes with Welles' notes to the studio on the disc. It makes for some fascinating study; as Welles was not only a genius, but really knew how to use audio to its fullest thanks to all of his work in radio.

People may laugh at me for this one, but I still say that one of the best sequences I've heard in years was the opening for Quantum of Solace (yes, a James Bond movie). The sound design of that car chase is beyond superb!

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i found one of walter murch's earlier works - THX 1138 - very inspiring and also ground-breaking to a certain extent (at least as far as it foreshadows his later oevres...)

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Lord of the rings! The bows, creatures and even the ambience. Everything was done well.

Transformer films, and inception. Great sound work.

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I'm still fascinated by No Country For Old Men.

Coen in general seem to have special attitude towards sound..

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I'd recommend

'Pi' (Darren Aronofsky)

'Paris, Texas' (Wim Wenders)

'Children of Men' (Alfonso Cuaron)

The BBC Series 'The Life Of Insects'

And my most boring recommendation ever, for sheer filmic 'naturalism', any of Woody Allen's films between 'Annie Hall' (1977) and 'Husbands and Wives' (1992). They're mixed in Mono. Yes, mono.

EDIT:

I also have to add

"Melancholia"

"Jagten"

Both sound designed byt Kristian Eidnes Andersson

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Well there is Antichrist by Lars Von trier wich is worth the hear. The film in itself is quite strange, so the sound is very emotional and dreamy. Actually it has more to do with nightmares because it's a movie about fear, anxiety, distress and sex. It's experimental and quite direct.

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The Conversation. Sorry to be brief but i'm on my phone just now ;)

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M (1931) - As an early "talkie", it had very minimal sound, but every bit of it is key to the story.

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Saving Private Ryan - a behemoth of sound in film. An amazing piece of work by Gary Rydstrom. I did my MA thesis on the film and totally ripped the beach landing sequence apart, truly inspired and interesting stuff in there. Much more than the simple ear ringing thing people always mention.

Here's a link to my dissertation on Scribd...

http://www.scribd.com/doc/35433777

Ian

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Ian, did you listen to Gallipoli? It predates SPR... –  Stephen Hunter Flick Aug 12 '10 at 3:13
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This one's a classic: Fantastic Planet. Excellent demonstrations of synchresis. It occurs to me now to compare the sound decisions with that Ben Burtt made with Wall-E. I don't know if there's a direct inspiration, but there are certainly a lot of parallels in using a simple and elegant musical effect for invented technology.

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I absolutely cannot believe noone has mentioned this yet.....

ALIEN

The sound alone is reason enough to see this film. The steam, the oozing and goozing of liquids, all the sounds, to me, parallel the feeling of the Nostromo; dark, destitute, devoid, hopeless. Pure genius.

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Watch Tetro for beautiful foley and sound design. And Sound of Noise for really nice musical approach on sound! :)

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  1. once upon a time in the west (first half hour is amazing!)
  2. fargo (the cardoor beeps in the snowy landscape at the first crimescene, incredibly funny)
  3. ofrret/sacrifice (just beautiful and appropriate sound design)
  4. we own the night (epic carchase!)
  5. magnolia (music and sound in perfect harmony)
  6. solaris (both tarkovsky and soderbergh's are great, atmospheres are wonderful)
  7. trois couleurs Rouge/Red (openingscene telephone soundscape)

i'd like to go on forever, but this is enough for now

(first post on SSD, by the way)

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Gus Van Sant's films are normally bang on in terms of sound design. Leslie Shatz did the sound design for both Elephant and Paranoid Park which were both top notch. I also really enjoyed the sound design on Waltz With Bashir (being feature length animation meant everything was created from a blank slate).

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My answer would be "irreversible" by gaspar noe. The first half hour has got to be one of the most intense, visceral experiences in the history of movie sound. Definite headphone viewing/listening.

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These movies are some of my favorites that I like to watch and use for inspiration

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Micheal Semanick and Ethan Van der Ryn, I've always been inspired by their attitude toward sound. In extended edition appendicies you can tell they love what they do.)

Ratatouille (when Remy is running scared through the kitchen, I've always enjoyed Randy Thom's work)

Minority Report

Master and Commander: Far Side of the World

Hero (Nameless' fight against Sky in the rain, great detail of hits and rain, haunting with the way the sound design plays with the solitary instrument)

Surf's Up (When Cody crashes and is underwater, and then when he's being carried through the forest)

Ong Bak 2 (The final fight scene, certain hits are accentuated like percussion accentuate orchestration)

The open car chase in Quantum of Solace is well done too, it gets me very pumped up and excited.

U-571

Predator and Apocalypse Now have great ambient textures.

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No country for old men is one of the best examples. I love that film I agree with georgi.m with the coens' approach to film. Another film maker who has an adrimable attitude is George Lucas I mean the fact that his sound company is named after his first feature film speaks for itself.

Also the 90's psycho remake was actually pretty good in terms of the sound. Lost Highway was very good as well. Fantastic plaent or la planette savage was great if you take the same attitude as I do in term of the music BEING the sound in a film as well.On that topic, a short film called "copy shop" is a very good example of that synchresis that was mentioned http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaLvuAvazDI.

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There's a little known Belgian movie that has one or two very interesting sound design moments. Perhaps the movie as a whole will not present itself as a case study for sound design, but definitely one particular moment in there is really great - I don't want to spoil it here. Basically it comes down to the movie being a 'mockumentary', and the sound is all from what is recorded on location. This one particular moment uses a very imaginative but simple trick to create discrepancy between what is taped on film and recorded on the audio track, and subtly plays a nicely confusing game with the aural/visual perception of the audience.

Apart from this great audio moment, the movie is definitely worth watching - it's a kind of Reservoir Dogs, but perhaps more 'out there'. Title & imdb link - C'est arrive pres de chez vous (Man Bites Dog)

Another good sound design study would be comparing the sound of American remakes of Japanese movies. You will encounter a lot of curious and interesting differences in approach, which are of course largely culturally motivated - and inspiring because of that. Two examples of case studies:

Seven Samurai vs The Magnificent Seven

Ringu vs The Ring

It's also a good and revealing exercise to compare the differences in sound design (and foley) approach between American, European (French for instance) and Japanese animated movies.

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+1 for Alien and I would like to add Sunshine. Just started to watch it again and I like the musical approach they did there. One of my favourite sound effects is the sound when one of the characters floats into space and gets burned by the sunlight.

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I agree with almost al the others answers, but I want to tell to everybody to take a look to BARAKA. I've seen it three days ago and I think it's unbelievably emotional for the use of sounds and musics!

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This may sound odd, but "Crazy, Stupid, Love" offers a unique perspective on sound, primarily a less-is-more, deceptively complex minimalism. All about the use of negative space and how the soundscape evolves with the story.

It's also a good indicator as to what to be careful of as well because some sound effects were out of sync (out enough that I'm curious how it passed QC).

Here's a link to a writeup I did on it: http://www.stavrosound.com/blog/wordpress/2011/08/in-review-the-sound-of-crazy-stupid-love/link text

A Good Warning Though: The story can become so gravitating that it may take a second-viewing - the film unglued my analytical mind on the first viewing so I had to go back and see it again.

Good film to check out though for totally different reasons than some its bigger blockbuster brothers and sisters.

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All Ingmar Bergman movies if u wanna see the best use of silence. The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries etc etc.

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+1 for District 9

I was also fascinated by sound and music texture of Once Upon a Time in the West

Percussive textures without music and excellent sound from my point of hear is in The Hurt Locker

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Wild Strawberries The Seventh Seal Cries and Whispers by Ingmar Bergman are the best ones to study the excellent use of silence in a film. Besides these a few of my personal favourites include Peeping Tom, The Conversation, Once Upon A Time In The West and OFCOURSE Apocalypse Now! A lotta films are going through my head right now, these are a few.

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In my opinion Transformers 2 is was a successfull one, with all the conversion sounds and metal parts working, scratching against each other.

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I recently watched "Sleep Furiously" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1235072/ - and was absolutely blown away by the sound design. The foley and sfx are crafted so tastefully and enhance the beautiful imagery. This is a must watch for anyone interested in sound design.

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