Thursday, February 16, 2017

One Category at a Time: Best Film Editing

Since the art of picture editing is so tricky to assess on face value, it can be equally tricky to predict how a large voting body like the Academy will assess it. The Oscar for Best Film Editing usually goes either to the Best Picture winner or probable runner-up, or occasionally something far from winning Best Picture but which obviously features the "most" editing. Over the last fifteen years, three precursor groups in particular have been informative: The BAFTA, the BFCA, and the ACE guild.
There was a stretch from 2003 to 2010 when the movie to win the ACE Eddie (Drama) almost always went on to win the Oscar (the exception being 2006's Babel, which lost to eventual Best Picture winner The Departed). That trend would have boded well for Joe Walker, who earned that prestigious honour just under three weeks ago for his outstanding work on Arrival. However, that guild prize has been less predictive of late, with only two of the last five going on to repeat at the Academy Awards.

The other top ACE Eddie award for Comedy/Musical has even less overlap with Oscar; The two haven't coincided since Chicago (2002). Then again, no musical has won Best Picture since Chicago, but with La La Land looking to end that streak, Tom Cross (Whiplash) is looking good to collect his second Oscar in three years. Having claimed prizes from the ACE and BFCA makes it clear that large groups can notice and are willing to laud its slick visual assembly.

War movies are frequent nominees in this category, especially if they're also up for Best Picture, but as winners they're few and far between. The only two this century have been Black Hawk Down and The Hurt Locker. I doubted that John Gilbert's extensive combat cutting in Hacksaw Ridge had enough firepower to topple La La Land in this battle, but its surprise BAFTA win should not be taken lightly. The only BAFTA winner in the last ten years that was also up for the Oscar but lose that Oscar was United 93. I'd keep an eye on this one.
A hard learned lesson for many pundits with a sharper eye for editing than the Academy at large is that subtlety just can't win here. Even movies with huge Best Picture heat like Boyhood or Spotlight won't win this craft category when the craft is so effective it's invisible. So Moonlight, despite feeling like the only distant challenger to La La Land, is not likely to pop up as a surprise winner here.
But honestly, the nomination is reward enough. Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon's astute pacing and construction drives this "small" movie in big ways, and the first ever nomination for an African American woman in this category has to be reason to celebrate.

If you're looking for a possible shocker, I might point to Jake Roberts for Hell or High Water. This is a terrific little movie with a passionate fan base, and I'm reluctant to write it off in any category. There's plenty of neo-Western action to grab voters' attention, but its quiet conversations are built just as expertly. I'm not saying you should predict it, but just be open to the slight possibility.

Will win: La La Land
Could win: Hacksaw Ridge

Should win: Arrival
Should be nominated: 20th Century Women

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