Tuesday, February 17, 2015

One Category at a Time: Film Editing

Well... I got nothin'.

I've been very hit-and-miss in this category as of late, failing to guess the retrospectively obvious win for Gravity last year and the forever unobvious win for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo two years before that. But I ain't never seen a Best Film Editing race as confusing as this year's, in which the Best Picture favourite isn't even in the running, and almost every nominee feels like a possible – heck, even a likely – winner.

Popular logic would suggest that, in the absence of the probable Best Picture champ Birdman, the Best Picture runner-up would be in poll position here. You could certainly debate who that runner-up truly is, but most pundits agree that Boyhood is the most formidable challenger, and therefore that Sandra Adair's committed work in the editing room is most likely to come out on top. There's something to be said for voters glomming onto the concept of Adair having to pare down twelve years' worth of footage into the fluent, organically assembled few hours we see in the final product, but that's a bit of an oversimplification:
It's really only about twelve weeks' worth of footage amassed over twelve years, but the achievement is still impressive and beautifully observed, capturing the best of the film's many great performances. It would be super encouraging to see this ilk of movie win for such an invisibly effective application of craft, but the cynic in me protests that prediction. The ACE may have noticed its elegance, but the Academy generally likes their editing to be conspicuously invigorating, which – for all its seamless flow – Boyhood's is not.

At the exact opposite end of the editorial style spectrum, Whiplash's Tom Cross splices together a multitude of camera angles and visual/musical beats with a flare and rapidity that can't help but call attention to itself. If Academy members are going to vote for "most" editing, as they often do, then this is the obvious option. Its BAFTA win (albeit one in the absence of fierce Oscar competitors Boyhood and American Sniper) is an encouraging sign, assuring us that the brilliant complexity of its dizzying montage certainly isn't lost on a large voting body.
That said, the winner of this prize is often one of the films in serious contention for Best Picture, while this modestly successful Sundance crowd-pleaser is probably bringing up the rear in that race. Can the Academy really look past their more preferred titles and focus purely on the craft here? There is precedent in recent years, with editing showcases The Bourne Ultimatum and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo winning this prize without even a Best Picture nomination!

With Best Picture heat pulling votes in the direction of Boyhood and technical sizzle pulling them in the direction of Whiplash, it might be possible for a happy medium that falls under both headings to slide up the middle. American Sniper, despite boasting no previous editing honours besides an ACE nomination for Joel Cox and Gary Roach, could be that happy medium. It's a movie with momentum, both on and off the screen. The tight winding of its many tense combat sequences juxtaposed with the subtler yet equally stressful construction of its scenes on the home front is just showy enough for the average viewer to recognize, while its mind-boggling box office popularity makes it a Best Pic dark horse not to be underestimated. For AMPAS voters, choosing to congratulate the film by lumping the film editing and sound categories together as a kind of package deal may make the most sense. Joel Cox won his first Oscar for Clint Eastwood's first big Academy hit, Unforgiven, in 1992. There's a very real possibility that after twenty-two years, he'll collect his second.

Also returning to the fray in the hunt for a second Oscar, although after a much shorter time since his first, is The Imitation Game's William Goldenberg.
No offense to Goldenberg – who has proven his talent in numerous projects across the years, culminating in the riveting one-two punch of Argo and Zero Dark Thirty in 2012 – but it's not hard to imagine any editor, whether a veteran or a rookie, getting nominated for his/her attachment to this soft lob of an Academy movie.
As competently pieced together as it is, this is as much a coattail nomination as that of Keira Knightley or Alexandre Desplat. Nevertheless, The Imitation Game remains a lurking spoiler possibility in the top race. Some members may even mistake the film's chronological time jumps (a device of screenwriter Graham Moore) an example of clever editing. Hey, any excuse to vote for their favourite movie will do. It would be a mild shock, but should we hear Goldenberg's name called Oscar night, then watch out in Best Picture!

Most likely finishing in fifth place (not that it should be) due to genre bias is
The Grand Budapest Hotel. I can't remember the last time a comedy won this award, unless it was of the musical variety, and in some ways it's quite perplexing. Comedy editors need to have just as strong a sense of comic timing as the actors, if not stronger, and Barney Pilling puts on a clinic of humouous precision in this madcap caper. Yet the Academy is often indifferent to this specific editing style, and despite swiping the ACE Comedy Award from the heavily favoured Birdman, a win from AMPAS seems decidedly improbable. Even so, this presumed also-ran may not be running too far behind the pack. With support being split so many different ways, anything can happen. Already set to be the night's most frequently called title, The Grand Budapest Hotel could see a few unexpected categories (like this one) get swept along in addition to the obvious design accolades it has coming. As it is for The Imitation Game, a surprise victory here could signal a huge Best Picture coup.

So there you have it. This category has been an endless game of musical chairs in my predictive mind ever since nominations, and I could be changing my pick right up until the day of the ceremony. But for now...

Will win: American Sniper
Runner-up: Whiplash

Should win: Whiplash
Should've been nominated: Wild


  1. This is literally becoming the hardest-to-predict Oscar race since I first got into predicting five years ago.

  2. I did not see you coming up with American Sniper as your pick after reading your analysis, that being said this is a tough one, maybe the marquee for if there were a competitor to Birdman (aside from Whiplash, but you never know...)

    1. Honestly, Whiplash makes the most sense, but I just can't bring myself to predict my preference in really tight races.

    2. it does seem like the most sense, but I agreed 120% agreed with you on Captain Phillips last year, this is my favorite category, yet also the most perplexing (possibly adding to my enjoyment with it!), fingers crossed on Whiplash, though brownie points to Grand Budapest for the exact reasons you stated!

  3. Im still not clear on how Gravity won, but i suppose it was because of invisible editing? My pick this year is Whiplash without a doubt.

    1. There were enough traditionally edited scenes in Gravity to get people's attention, plus its reputation as the most technically accomplished movie of the year.