The contest for Best Film Editing is always closely associated with Best Picture. Since editors and directors work pretty much hand in hand, the editors branch of AMPAS tends to nominate based on quality of the films as much as quality of just the editing. On top of that, the film to win Best Film Editing is often well liked enough that it almost always wins multiple categories (last year's victory for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo being among the rare exceptions). And since editing can be such an invisible art at times, the winning film is usually required to have the “most” editing, rather than the “best”, to earn the Academy's attention.
But sometimes, a film can have both the "most" and the "best" editing, and that's the case with this year's frontrunner Argo. William Goldenberg's artful tension building really stands out, especially in the riveting opening sequence and the heart-pounding final act. Add into the equation that Argo is clearly the most beloved nominee on the ballot, and it seems like a very likely winner indeed. The win would be a hard earned one. With wins from BAFTA and ACE already in his back pocket, the smart money is clearly on Goldenberg.
If there's a spoiler lurking to ruin Goldenberg's night, it may be Life of Pi, whose presumed reputation as this year's craft giant may become a self-fulfilling prophecy if voters are feeling particularly lazy. Tim Squyres did as good a job as he could have given the intrinsic challenges of assembling the hundreds of striking images for this odd narrative, and he deserves a great deal of credit for making the majority of the film work.
With Lincoln representing his eighth trip to the big show, Michael Kahn is the most nominated editor in Oscar history, seven of those nominations coming for his legendary collaborations with Steven Spielberg. His work on Lincoln truly exemplifies the “invisibility” of the craft. The cutting is not showy, not dazzling, but is incredibly effective. For a two-and-a-half hour movie of guys talking to be so perpetually engaging is as much due to him as it is to Tony Kushner's excellent script. Lincoln would actually make a very handsome winner, but is probably bringing up the rear in this race.
The nods for Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers for Silver Linings Playbook is extremely important for the film's Best Picture chances. When it looked like the rom-com's biggest roadblock would be a lack of craft nominations, the editors came through and validated it with this key citation. It's not a bad choice either. The film's skillful shifts in tone owe a lot to Cassidy and Struthers' carefully chosen rhythms. That said, a win would be surprising. Comedy's rarely get nominated, let alone triumph, in this category.
Finally, the film that looked from the outset of awards season to be the one to beat here is Zero Dark Thirty, edited by Dylan Tichenor and – hey, look who it is – William Goldenberg. Piecing together reams of footage into a dense, suspenseful thriller was a mammoth feat; one that even the Academy may be hard pressed to overlook. While the movie itself is obviously not as well liked as its competition, it does have the advantage of boasting the “most” editing. Remember how The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo surprised last year: It was the only Editing nominee not also up for Best Picture, but it's flashy splicing was enough for the Academy to make an uncharacteristically free-thinking choice.
Will win: Argo
Runner-up: Zero Dark Thirty
Should win: Argo
Should have been nominated: Looper