Wednesday, February 19, 2014

One Category at a Time: Film Editing

As I mentioned about a week ago in my ACE Eddies recap, this is one of those categories on which the jury is out. The BAFTAs failed to clarify the issue, and traditional logic tells us that we should predict one of the ACE winners to take the Oscar as well (only three times in the last 23 years did the Oscar go to a film that did not win the Eddie), but it would be foolish to ignore the potential sweep that could make an Oscar winner out of an Eddie loser.
The Eddie loser that most eyes are on as a likely winner is Gravity. The greatness of Alfonso Cuaron and co-editor Mark Sanger's achievement on this film cannot be understated; it was a post-production beast, forcing the duo to piece together the best bits of dozens of takes to give the illusion of long, continuous single takes. The film has the potential to be a sweeper in the craft categories, so a win here is certainly possible (and justified). But ironically, the artfulness of the accomplishment may well be the reason that it loses. The tracking shots are so convincing, that many voters may not think of them as having been edited! Call me jaded, but I can just imagine a bunch of Academy members thinking to themselves, "That Gravity was great, but it didn't have very many cuts at all!" Films that win this category are usually the ones with the most visible editing, and despite the mammoth editorial work done on this picture, it is editorial work that is intentionally invisible.

So which of the nominees has the most visible editing? To my mind, there's only one that fits the bill. As soon as I saw Captain Phillips back in October I said to myself, "Now that looks a movie that wins an Oscar for Editing." It's a belief that I maintained all season and continue to now. The construction of tension is meticulous to say the least, but it's also so riveting in its action assemblage (particularly the heart-stopping climax) that voters need no help to "spot" the editing. Christopher Rouse won a few years ago for similarly flashy work on Paul Greengrass' The Bourne Ultimatum, and with this year's ACE Eddie award in hand, it's easy to envision him winning his second.
It is possible, however, that these two presumed heavyweights end up splitting the vote of action-loving members, thus allowing American Hustle to sneak up the middle for its Sting-like splicing. Handling everything from dynamic character chemistry to twists and flashbacks, the variety of cutting tricks and styles is broad enough to cull more than its fair share votes, but will it be enough to win? Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, and Alan Baumgarten took home the Eddie in the Comedy/Musical category, but its path there was pretty clear, as all its stiffest competition was competing in the Drama category. But so long as it remains a dark horse for Best Picture, we would do well not to rule out the possibility of it winning Best Editing.

We could apply similar reasoning to the case of 12 Years a Slave, edited by Joe Walker. There's a chance that he rides the film's Best Picture coattails to a victory, but it just doesn't have the feel of movie that wins here. His work is likely too subtle and precise to register on its own merits with a group that historically leans towards films with lots of quick cuts. Still, there's a chance. This is where the Best Picture category might be cleared up on Oscar night: If Captain Phillips or American Hustle wins Editing, then Gravity is not really any worse off in the top category. But if 12 Years a Slave pulls off an upset here, then I think that indicates deep Best Picture support.
The least likely contender, but the one that I'm most happy to see included, is Dallas Buyers Club. The pacing and montage of this film is such a huge part of its efficient storytelling, but I never counted on it for a nomination. I'm glad that the editors branch had it on their radar. There's also a certain justice that Jean-Marc Vallee, whose terrific direction of the film has gone mostly unheralded, gets to be a nominee this year (albeit under his editing alias John Mac McMurphy) along with co-editor Martin Pensa. But with the film already primed to collect Oscars in three other categories(!), it seems decidedly improbable that voters are going to rush to reward it here.

Will win: Captain Phillips
Runner-up: Gravity

Should win: Captain Phillips
Should've been nominated: The Wolf of Wall Street


  1. Captain Phillips is actually my favourite work of editing in the whole year. I am crossing my fingers in hoping that it beats out Gravity, just because I don't want Gravity to win every award. I like a lot of variety with the wins.

  2. Captain Phillips should win for Editing because it had much more editorial cuts and suspense, Gravity is only 91 mins. long that to me is not enough for it to prevail along with the other technical categories.