It used to be you could always count in the ACE winner to guide your prediction for Best Film Editing, but in the four years since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo stunned on Oscar night, this has become the hardest craft category to gauge. Sometimes they go with the Best Picture winner, sometimes the presumed Best Picture runner-up, sometimes something whose editing is just more conspicuous.
But if you're going to win Best Picture and have conspicuous editing, that's a hard combination to beat. And the manic energy Hank Corwin brings to The Big Short is about as conspicuous as it gets for talking-head movies. With the ACE (Comedy) Eddie in the bag and a legit shot at the BAFTA forthcoming, this is now the natural place for voters to reward the Best Picture winner below the line.
On the bright side, comedy editing is an underrated art that never wins Oscars. (Too bad it's happening for a film that fails to be funny.)
At the opposite end of the stylistic spectrum is another talking-head picture which takes a more subtle approach. Tom McCardle's carefully selected assemblage of the many fine performances in Spotlight is the type of editing that rarely wins awards, and thus has little chance of taking this despite being the arguable Best Picture challenger. But the nomination itself is plenty satisfying if you ask me.
Stephen Mirrione was being primed by many a critic to be in the thick of last year's Oscar race for his seamless stitching of Birdman's numerous takes into a single shot, but the editors branch clearly weren't keen on an achievement in which their contribution is deliberately invisible. They've atoned this time around by citing him for his extensive piecing together of The Revenant's delirious mise en scene. The film is poised to be a crafts dominator, so it should not be counted out entirely, but it seems like it'll strike most as a photographic achievement first, an editorial achievement second.
The real force to be reckoned with in this contest is fellow crafts giant Mad Max: Fury Road, for which Margaret Sixel (George Miller's wife) has won more critics prizes than any editor this year, plus the ACE Eddie for Drama to boot. The enormity of the task she had in paring down over 400 hours of footage into a lean, mean 2-hour chase should be enough for her to win this on merit, to say nothing of the precision and continuity of her action construction. Consider her a legit challenger here.
The odd one out -- based on nothing more than the caveat of not being a Best Picture nominee -- is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. While it may not make my top five, I'm pleasantly surprised by its inclusion. Maryann Bradon and Mary Jo Markey are, in my opinion, J.J. Abrams' most valuable collaborators, blessing all his movies with an efficient pace and well engineered set pieces. I'd have supported a nomination for them on Abrams' Star Trek in 2009, but better late than never. Plus, I do believe their nod makes this the first time (need a fact checker on this) that half the nominees in this category have been women.
Will win: The Big Short
Runner-up: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Should be nominated: The Martian