TECH SUPPORT: Best Film Editing — Volume I

Posted by · 10:02 am · August 13th, 2009

(from left) Leonardo DiCaprio and Michelle Williams in Shutter IslandBest Achievement in Film Editing.  It’s a difficult phrase to define.  To a large extent, excellence in film editing can be editing which blends into the film, allowing the director’s vision, screenwriter’s story and actors’ performances to shine without interference.  But equally, a film that stands out as a showcase for flashy but motivated construction deserves recognition as well.

What is certain, however, is that in the absence of editors, our films would all be more than three hours long, largely incoherent and/or tremendously boring.

This category has historically displayed a strong correlation to the Best Picture line-up.  Last year marked a return to a typical situation – four of the five films nominated for Best Film Editing were also nominated for Best Picture, with the fifth being an action film.

From 2005 through 2007, however, things were a bit shaken up with a two-to-five ratio.  At the end of the day, however, Best Picture contenders, thrillers and actions films always do quite well here.

The other genre that frequently finds a home in this category is musicals.  Cutting dance numbers coherently and blending between dialogue and songs consistently clearly impresses this branch.  In light of this, I’d call “Nine”’s Claire Simpson the early favorite.  A past winner for “Platoon,” she returned to the game after a 19 year absence two years ago with “The Constant Gardener.”  Barring the film flopping, I’d say Simpson is good to go.

Another two-time nominee and one-time winner is Joel Cox.  Along with Gary Roach, he will piece together Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus” this year.  While this may seem a sure thing, I’d nevertheless urge caution.  To date, Cox has only scored nominations for Eastwood’s two Best Picture winners: “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby.”

Totally reliant on his film’s performance in the Best Picture category would be Alexandre de Francesci, for “Bright Star.”  This Jane Campion effort was very well received at Cannes, leading many (including me) to think it’s in contention for a Best Picture berth.  If it succeeds there, this category could follow suit.

Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker

War films do very well in this category.  And in light of the fact that Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” is considered a contender in the big field, I’d be surprised if it failed to make Chris Innis and Bob Murawski contenders.  I would not call the spot assured, of course, but I cannot fathom what could keep them out of the race at this point.

While I’m still not sure what to make of “The Lovely Bones,” the film certainly has the potential to be a major player.  Moreover, moving from its narrator’s world to the “real” world, not to mention the passage of time, will test the editing skills of Jabez Ollson.  A nomination is certainly possible.

Returning to the action side of things, James Cameron’s “Avatar” could be a technical category behemoth.  Many of his past efforts certainly have been.  John Refoua and Stephen E. Rivkin will be in charge of the editing.  I’m not sure how this film will be paced, or the extent to which action will be crucial to its success, but I nevertheless feel confident in saying that, should Cameron deliver, this duo will be in the hunt.

“Public Enemies” has already come and gone and failed to make the impact many were hoping for.  Nevertheless, I remain of the opinion that the film could yet come into play in the crafts categories.  I think the blending of action, if perhaps not suspense, in this story, could bring Jeffrey Ford and Paul Rubell (who received an Oscar nomination for Mann’s “Collateral”) into contention.

Also from the realm of summer action movies is J. J. Abrams’s “Star Trek” reboot. Successful summer action movies show up in this category from time-to-time so I would hardly rule Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey out of contention.

(from left) Eric Bana, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto in Star TrekA small film I’m keeping my eye on is Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Biutiful.”  Iñárritu’s films always pose challenges for editors so if this film catches on, Oscar winner Stephen Mirrione could find himself back in the race.

Also on many people’s Best Picture radars is Mira Nair’s “Amelia.” I’ll confess to being skeptical about this film.  But if I’m wrong, AMPAS could easily eat it up.  And an aviation film telling the story of Amelia Earhart certainly sounds like it could make an Oscar nominee out of Allyson C. Johnson.

Lastly, I’ll turn to the living legend Thelma Schoonmaker.  She will be cutting Martin Scorsese’s thriller “Shutter Island” this year.  The film will have to be tense and suspenseful and it’s hard to overstate Schoonmaker’s respect amongst her peers. So regardless of whether the film is a Best Picture contender or not, I see her as a likely factor in this year’s race.

But who knows?  It’s only August.  We’ll see how this race develops over the next four months.  I would not be surprised to see titles we’re not considering end up in contention.

What are your thoughts on the film editing race?  Have your say in the comments section below!

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9 responses so far

  • 1 8-13-2009 at 10:35 am

    red_wine said...

    Schoonmaker is in. She’s won the Eddie for her last 3 films for Scorsese. The editors worship her. Nine’s gonna be in for sure too. Chicago had spectacular editing.

    Star Trek had 1 thing that a lot of this year’s blockbuster lacked and that was speed. The film truly hurtled along and the editing was superb. And I don’t know but Tarantino’s movies have great editing coz he has so many things going on at the same time. So maybe IB will have a chance.

  • 2 8-13-2009 at 11:33 am

    Ben M. said...

    No film is assured a nom until is has been widely seen, certainly Nine and Shutter Island could make it in the race but I won’t declare them in just yet (there are even some rumors that Nine is in trouble). Hurt Locker does feel pretty likely and I actually think if it can maintain its reviews that District 9 may be a contender (apparently it switches between different film styles as well which could make its editing look really impressive).

  • 3 8-13-2009 at 11:38 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Schoonmaker has never been nominated for a Scorsese film that didn’t make the Best Picture cut — so I still think her chances largely depend on how “Shutter Island” goes down with the Academy, though the film’s story structure should demand a lot of the editor. (I’m sticking with my inkling that they’re going to pass on Scorsese this time, having cleared their conscience with “The Departed.”)

    Also, if the good advance word on “Up in the Air” pans out, it might help Dana Glauberman, who has done really strong work for Reitman’s previous (and received ACE nods for both). Again, the snappy story material (much back-and-forthing across multiple locations) bodes well for sharp editing.

  • 4 8-13-2009 at 11:41 am

    j said...

    Hmm, I looked up past winners, and it seems ~once a decade the winner will be not a player in the major categories. Bourne, Matrix, Roger Rabbit. Bullitt. Grand Prix. Air Force. North West Mounted Police. Eskimo. Body & Soul.

  • 5 8-13-2009 at 2:21 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    Where the Wild Things are guy, and district 9?(far out chance)

  • 6 8-13-2009 at 4:38 pm

    Speaking English said...

    My vote is with “Star Trek.” Like red_wine said, this film just flew along at breakneck speed, literally never letting up. The pacing is flawless, the action is all perfectly cut, the film tight, concise, and compelling with every second.

  • 7 8-13-2009 at 6:32 pm

    Adrianna said...

    Although it wasn’t particularly well-received and didn’t make much money, I thought “The International” with Clive Owen had great editing. That shootout in the Guggenheim Museum! Do technical nominations ever go to movies that are such low-key entrants?

  • 8 8-14-2009 at 12:59 am

    Ali E. said...

    As someone who does editing, The Hurt Locker and Public Enemies seem as safe bets for nomination to me… Nine will also definitely make the cut… The rest may depend on the films’ Best Picture potential. Right now, I’m predicting The Lovely Bones and the potential favorite to win the Best Picture Oscar, Precious (a film without an editing nom almost never wins the top award)… But Biutiful and Shutter Island are also potential spoilers, and even The Tree of Life, if released this year… I really don’t see Invictus to make it, since Eastwood’s films rarely have flashy editing…

  • 9 8-14-2009 at 9:28 pm

    Joe W said...

    After seeing District 9 today I would say it is definitely in the running for an editing oscar