OSCAR GUIDE: Best Film Editing

Posted by · 12:22 pm · February 12th, 2010

Gabourey Sidibe in PreciousThe Best Film Editing category tends to be a shadow of the Best Picture category in some ways. With there being 10 Best Picture nominees this year, however, the field was bound to nail down five of the contenders. So considering the old stand-by stat (no film has won Best Picture without an editing nomination since “Ordinary People”), this is a race to keep an eye on.

In fact, it might be a bellwether for the rest of the show when the envelope is opened. Which means the competition has been boiled down to the same to films the media is keeping an eye on for Best Picture. In this instance, however, that reduction isn’t as ill-considered.

The nominees are:

“Avatar” (Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron)
“District 9”
(Julian Clarke)
“The Hurt Locker” (Bob Murawski and Chris Innis)
“Inglourious Basterds” (Sally Menke)
“Precious” (Joe Klotz)

The field is a typical balance of category tropes: blockbuster entertainment, sci-fi spectacle, war films and dramatic stylings with an artistic flair. But three of these contenders are, quite frankly, just happy to be here.

The tech-heavy safe bet in the field this year is probably James Cameron’s “Avatar,” with the filmmaker and veterans Stephen Rivkin and John Refoua behind the cuts. This was a major post-production undertaking for obvious reasons, but considering the wealth of footage the editors had to work with, the film’s rather streamlined yet still epic scope begins to look like quite the feat. But science-fiction and even blockbuster entertainment doesn’t fare as well here as you might think, no matter how popular the film. And the Academy at large hasn’t gone “big” here since the “Lord of the Rings” sweep of 2003. This might be a category that causes members to stop and consider whether they want to blindly cast their votes for Cameron’s “game changer” throughout the techs or perhaps look elsewhere.

One of the unexpected triumphs of the precursor guild circuit was Neill Blomkamp’s “District 9,” which was shortlisted by both the American Cinema Editors and, of course, the Academy, for Julian Clarke’s film editing. Clarke is working with a number of elements here that make the piece stand out as a true feat in this field. There are the elements of documentary filmmaking woven into the early stages, before giving way to the effects-heavy action of the second and third acts. And then there is the process of cutting scenes between a tangible leading man and his green-screen-suited co-star who will become a prawn-like alien being in post. There was plenty to chew on, and Clarke handled every element with grace, yielding a modern classic of science-fiction cinema.

If anyone here poses a threat to the tech giant of the season in this category, it’s husband and wife team Bob Murawski and Chris Innis, whose work on “The Hurt Locker” exemplified a number of fetching elements in the category. There are, of course, the war film elements, combining the drama of a character study with the high octane push of an action film. But the film isn’t really an action piece so much as a thriller, a gripping, in some ways genre-twisting yarn about a high tension profession. That kind of narrative offers plenty of unique opportunities at the Avid. Being the Best Picture frontrunner is also not to be taken lightly. After all, 12 of the last 20 statuettes for Best Film Editing have gone to the Best Picture winner. In the end, I have a feeling the winner here is indeed your Best Picture victor.

Something of a surprise nominee this year was Sally Menke, who returns to the game for the first time in 15 years with “Inglourious Basterds.” I say surprise because the guild unexpectedly snubbed Menke, a highly respected talent in the field. And she’s working on a number of levels here, from action, to tense drama to comedic timing. Still, there are those who would say the editing may be the film’s downfall, not necessarily due to Menke’s handling of the material but more due to the bloated structure employed by writer/director Quentin Tarantino. Regardless, the film was shortlisted here and in numerous other arenas, showing plenty of widespread support. Perhaps voters will feel like being a bit creative with their choices in a number of categories, including this one. Or maybe not.

Perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the tech categories was Joe Klotz being shortlisted for his brilliant work in “Precious,” a well-deserved designation for one of the more powerful dramatic editing jobs of the year. After all, he managed to slip in without a guild or BAFTA notice. The nomination also speaks to wider spread support for the film than one might have expected. Klotz, obviously working right off of Lee Daniels’s direction and the cues inherent in Geoffrey Fletcher’s adaptation, cuts the film in such a way that it sucks the viewer into the main character’s world, or perhaps more specifically, her hell. Excursions to fantasy sequences and dicing in images that speak to theme and culture make the film a living, breathing piece of filmmaking, and that’s largely due to Klotz’s navigation of the material.

Will win: “The Hurt Locker”
Could win: “Avatar”
Should win: “Avatar”

Should have been here: “The Cove”

Guy Pearce in The Hurt Locker

What do you think deserves to win this year’s Oscar for Best Film Editing? Have your say in the sidebar poll!

→ 35 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

35 responses so far

  • 1 2-12-2010 at 12:54 pm

    Fitz said...

    Avatar & Inglourious Basterds are my picks.

    Completely unrelated but do you make money off your fyc ads, or is it just because you’re an Oscar site?

  • 2 2-12-2010 at 1:16 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Yes, we are paid for advertising.

  • 3 2-12-2010 at 1:22 pm

    Jeff S. said...

    This is one of the few categories where I think the frontrunner deserves to win. The way the Hurt Locker built tension and suspense was unlike anything I have ever seen.

  • 4 2-12-2010 at 1:35 pm

    Edmond Dantes said...

    tough category to pick, all of the noms did such a great job IMO. Hurt Locker stands out just a little more though.

  • 5 2-12-2010 at 1:43 pm

    Andrew said...


  • 6 2-12-2010 at 1:53 pm

    Megan said...

    It’ll probably go to Hurt Locker, primarily because I still believe that it’s taking Best Picture.

    I voted Basterds in the side poll, even if editing wasn’t its strongest point; because at this point, I’m pretty much the movie’s #1 sycophant.

  • 7 2-12-2010 at 1:54 pm

    JJ said...

    I think ‘Avatar’ deserves it; simply because it’s a long movie that didn’t feel too, too long.

    Whereas, ‘The Hurt Locker’ felt interminable by the end (after a very, very good opening hour of tension).

  • 8 2-12-2010 at 1:59 pm

    Al said...

    Hurt Locker will win, Basterds should.

  • 9 2-12-2010 at 2:15 pm

    Alex in Movieland said...

    I think The Hurt Locker will deservedly win.

  • 10 2-12-2010 at 2:53 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    District 9 gets my vote. And I think the editing is the only technical aspect of Basterds that didn’t cut the mustard (half-hearted pun intended).

  • 11 2-12-2010 at 3:08 pm

    Rick said...

    I agree, Avatar definitely deserve Editing (not Best Picture mind you). If what everyone has said is true–Avatar has more core supporters, but divisive–that could put Avatar at the top for Editing, but given the preferential system for Best Picture, The Hurt Locker, the less divisive of the 10 nominees will win giving us a split in the two awards for the first time in a long time. Frankly talking about the Oscars like a popularity contest greatly saddens me. What ever happened to awarding the film that deserves the award.

  • 12 2-12-2010 at 3:17 pm

    Tom said...

    Will Win: Hurt Locker
    Should Win: District 9
    Should be Nominated: Antichrist

  • 13 2-12-2010 at 4:19 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    I want Sally to win

  • 14 2-12-2010 at 4:19 pm

    Sarah El said...

    Bright Star should’ve been there.

  • 15 2-12-2010 at 6:14 pm

    Edward said...

    I think when it comes to editing — Avatar is nothing special, is it? Inglorious Basterds is the standout here — having to go from one story to another and creating the suspense that it has. One of the great things about Tarantino’s films is the editing — Basterds should win this, best picture and hopefully best director. No other film has made me love it more and more as each day passes.

  • 16 2-12-2010 at 6:53 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “Avatar” all the way.

  • 17 2-12-2010 at 7:46 pm

    Glenn said...

    If anyone other that “Avatar” or “Hurt Locker” win then Best Picture is surely much more of a competition. I’d love to see Sally Menke take it, although I think “Avatar” will win.

    I keep saying that the nomination for “Precious” was one of my favourites of the nominations. So glad it got it on “Up in the Air”. Despite being incredibly tough that movie flies by and never feels like it’s getting bogged down in miserabalism.

  • 18 2-12-2010 at 8:37 pm

    SJG said...

    I finally watched Precious tonight. I’m gonna have to confess to being thoroughly underwhelmed in almost every way. And while there were a few moments where I actually did take notice of some really cool editing choices, I felt overall that the editing was pretty pedestrian. Some good editorial decisions thrown in with a bunch of pretty typical ones… even a few spots I thought were glaringly bad. Maybe those moments are more the fault of Lee Daniels, though.

    And maybe I’m just biased, since the whole movie just rubbed me the wrong way.

    I’d like to see Avatar win, myself.

  • 19 2-12-2010 at 8:44 pm

    Leone said...

    Basterds should win. Have no idea what will win.

  • 20 2-12-2010 at 9:45 pm

    cory said...

    When I think of best editing, I think of JFK — Avatar and Precious, just don’t fit that bill.

    Basterds should win this. Multiple storylines brought together to bring pure bliss.

  • 21 2-12-2010 at 9:47 pm

    Adam said...

    Inglorious Basterds all the way, are people that blinded by Avatar?

  • 22 2-12-2010 at 10:18 pm

    Mr. 9 said...

    @ Fitz:

    You expecting a tie? Grow a pair and pick ONE film to win.

    “The Hurt Locker” all the way.

  • 23 2-12-2010 at 10:21 pm

    Mr. 9 said...

    @ Rick:

    Are you talking about Best Picture and Editing? Is one year a long time for you?

    Those two didn’t match in:

    just to go back 20 years.

  • 24 2-12-2010 at 10:25 pm

    red_wine said...

    Avatar win=fail.

    I saw the film twice and in both cases the film stops right in its tracks in the middle of the movie when that ridiculous love story is going on. The pacing in the middle of the movie is way off. I was really bored from that point until the last half our when the final action sequence began.

    But I think the general attitude’s gonna be “omg what a technical achievement, lets give all the technical awards to Avatar” even if there is no bearing on its actual innovation. The FX were innovative, now the editing and sound are brilliant too?

    And I personally think the editing in Precious was awful. I would have much preferred Star Trek or Up In The Air.

    The Hurt Locker’s editing really defined the 360 degrees immersion that Bigelow has talked about, the editing constantly switching between various point of views to give a coherent, complete and panoramic view of the action. District 9 had brilliant editing too even though I don’t like that movie.

  • 25 2-12-2010 at 10:31 pm

    Speaking English said...

    ***Inglorious Basterds all the way, are people that blinded by Avatar?***

    Haha, so ironic. Are people that blinded by “Inglourious Basterds?” Oh yeah, I forgot. Tarantino made it, so it must be infallible.

  • 26 2-12-2010 at 11:30 pm

    Craig said...

    LOL at the person who said “Avatar deserves it because it didn’t feel too too long”. That piece of shit was interminable.

  • 27 2-13-2010 at 5:38 am

    JJ said...

    Kinda off-topic, but not really.

    My dad & stepmom saw ‘Up in the Air’ last night with about 10-15 other people in the theater.

    To put it bluntly, he & my stepmom hated it, and apparently the whole theater, as well; were all talking about it in the hallway afterwards.

    I relate it back to editing only because I specifically asked my dad what they didn’t like about it. He said ‘well, Clooney was Clooney, we were bored to death, and it moved slow’.

    I’m not one to speak on my dad’s behalf. He has some ‘out there’ opinions, at times.

    I also didn’t LOVE Up in the Air. But I did like it.

    And I just think it’s interesting how the 15 or so people in the one setting didn’t like it at all.

    I also think your opinion of a film CAN be affected by the mood of a room.

  • 28 2-13-2010 at 8:17 am

    Craig said...

    Sounds like Avatar: Cameron was Cameron, I was bored to death and it moved slow.

  • 29 2-13-2010 at 1:34 pm

    Jessica said...

    “But I think the general attitude’s gonna be “omg what a technical achievement, lets give all the technical awards to Avatar” even if there is no bearing on its actual innovation. The FX were innovative, now the editing and sound are brilliant too?”

    red_wine I totally concur. Without the visual effects, Avatar would be a very boring movie. It made the film what it is. It really has nothing else.

    I haven’t seen Precious or Basterds yet, so at this point I’d go withThe Hurt Locker. The editing in that film was crucial to maintaining the what was going on with the three main characters in a hostile setting with the anxiety increasing the longer they were on the ground.

  • 30 2-13-2010 at 8:13 pm

    The Dude said...

    District 9 should win. The movie changes from Documentary to Sci-Fi to Drama to Video Game mode (!) while still keeping a consistency and without anything looking out of pace.

  • 31 2-13-2010 at 8:14 pm

    The Dude said...

    “But I think the general attitude’s gonna be “omg what a technical achievement, lets give all the technical awards to Avatar” even if there is no bearing on its actual innovation. The FX were innovative, now the editing and sound are brilliant too?””

    It might as well happen. It was the same thing that happened to LOTR in 2003. It ended up winning editing when it clearly didn’t deserve, even if City of God wasn’t there.

  • 32 2-14-2010 at 2:53 am

    Glenn said...

    “Without the visual effects, Avatar would be a very boring movie.”

    Er, did someone REALLY just type that? LOL. Besides, the editing of “Avatar” is top notch because it has that rare ability to actually allow a viewer to know what’s going on all the time and knowing who is where and all of that. Something James Cameron movies do without fail each and every time and something that 99% of other action film directors should study.

  • 33 2-14-2010 at 7:51 am

    John said...

    Glenn, I thought it was bordering on dull as well and I SAW IT IN 3D — if it didn’t have the 3D I think i would have wanted to leave. I don’t think the editing is that special — use JFK as an example — i think it should be inglorious or hurt locker.

  • 34 2-14-2010 at 9:44 pm

    sosgemini said...

    Hurt Locker had some major boring spaces IMHO. That is all.

  • 35 2-17-2010 at 2:00 pm

    movieman said...

    Will win: “The Hurt Locker”
    Could win: “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
    Should win: “Inglourious Basterds”
    Should’ve been here: “Where the Wild Things Are”