TECH SUPPORT: Best Film Editing — Volume II

Posted by · 11:33 am · October 28th, 2010

So important but so hard to notice. That’s how I would describe the work of our best film editors – those cutting artists who blend and juxtapose frames together to make films coherent, establish a flow and also set the mood in a manner that suits the screenwriter’s words and the director’s vision.

The Academy Award for Best Film Editing is, more than any other category, very much tied to the Best Picture race. Despite a blip from 2005-2007, this category always has at least three – usually four, sometimes all five – of its nominees also nominated in the big category. Now that there are 10 nominees, however, one cannot help but wonder if we are ever going to again see a nominee here also not cited in Best Picture.

Apart from Best Picture contention, being a war film, action film or musical never hurts here. I must say, however, that since I last previewed this category in August, I continue to believe that the three titles I had leading the way then are still out in front.

Much has been made of David Fincher’s “The Social Network.” The film is a Best Picture frontrunner in the eyes of many and I’m not sure I’d disagree. There can be no doubt that its quick pacing and jumping between characters and, well, lawsuits was essential to its success. Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall have frequently worked with Fincher in the past. They earned their first nomination two years ago for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and could very well return with a win this time around.

Fincher’s last film lost in many categories two years ago, including this field, to Danny Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire.” Boyle is back in the hunt this year — this time along with editor Jon Harris — with “127 Hours.” Coming out of Toronto, much praise was heaped upon James Franco’s performance, obviously necessary to carrying the film. But much praise was also bestowed, unsurprisingly, on the pace – because the editing is so important in building a film concentrated on a character’s lone struggle, to say nothing of the showy nature of some of the work on display here.

Another nominee from 2008 was Lee Smith for “The Dark Knight.” He again collaborated with Christopher Nolan this year, in spectacular fashion, on “Inception.” In August, I said he was leading the way. I still to a large extent believe that, and expect Harris, Smith and Baxter/Wall to end up battling for this award.

Smith is also in the running for Peter Weir’s “The Way Back.”He  received his first nomination for Weir’s “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” in 2003 and Weir’s films always capture the Academy’s attention in some way.  If it catches on, Smith could very well end up a double nominee.

Returning to where I began discussing this category, leading Best Picture contenders always must be considered. In this regard, we cannot forget Tom Hooper’s “The King’s Speech.” While this does not immediately jump to mind as an “editor’s film,” Tariq Anwar was nominated 11 years ago for “American Beauty” and could very well return if the film sweeps nominations like many are expecting.

One of the few “people” to have been nominated twice for an Oscar despite not existing is Roderick Jaynes, the pseudonym used by the Coen brothers when they edit their own films. This year, with “True Grit,” they could very well find themselves in the Best Picture race again. Moreover, it is a western with action, and that certainly helps. Could Jaynes grab a third nomination? I’d say it’s very possible.

I should note that boxing movies – from “Raging Bull” through “Cinderella Man” — tend to do better in this category than their editors or films do as a whole. Given the potential of David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” in several major categories, Pamela Martin is a serious contender here. Russell has never been an Academy favorite but if any film of his could catch on, this seems to be it.

So far, I have mentioned leading Best Picture contenders, the ones I see as most likely to find a home here. Other leading contenders – such as “The Kids Are All Right” and “Toy Story 3” – seem to have editing that is too subtle to score a nomination. But now I’ll turn to some films I feel are quite unlikely to find a home in Best Picture, but could nonetheless score here.

First is Andrew Weisblum for “Black Swan.” The more I hear about this film, the more I think it will be such a strange event. But suspense – as well as dance sequences – will be pivotal in the film’s success. This combination of musical scenes and type of mood is the sort this branch tends to embrace. So if people like the film, and the branch looks outside Best Picture frontrunners, Weisblum might just show up among the nominees.

On the pure action/fantasy front, “TRON Legacy” poses a fantastic opportunity for James Haygood. I haven’t the foggiest about what to make of this film’s Oscar potential. But I firmly believe it is a likely nominee for, at the very least, Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects (likely Best Sound Mixing as well). In light of that, it would be foolish not to also consider the potential of an exciting action film here.

I’ll end by mentioning one of the greats in the history of editing.  Thelma Schoonmaker has become a legend by editing the films of Martin Scorsese, winning the Oscar for “Raging Bull,” “The Aviator” and “The Departed.” “Shutter Island” was hardly their most memorable effort. But I have an inclination it’ll get a good push in the crafts categories and for all its faults, its primary virtue was its ability to build suspense. Plus…it’s Thelma Schoonmaker we’re talking about here.

At the end of the day, I continue to believe that Harris, Smith and Baxter/Wall will all be nominated, likely being joined by two of Jaynes, Smith (again), Martin and Anwar. We’ll, of course, have to wait and see.  Speaking of which, next week I’ll once again try to handicap the ultimate “wait and see” category: Best Makeup.

[Photos: Warner Bros. Pictures, Paramount Pictures]

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25 responses so far

  • 1 10-28-2010 at 12:11 pm

    The Dude said...

    I full-heartedly believe that “Inception” will take the win here (even if it misses out on everything else). The movie had a confusing narrative and a lot of FX shots, and Smith compiled everything into a movie that was not only watchable, but also made sense. I would vote “The Social Network” in another year, but for me “Inception” is the one to beat.

  • 2 10-28-2010 at 12:21 pm

    red_wine said...

    The Social Network easily takes this I believe. I too thought that Inception would win but that was before I saw The Social Network.

  • 3 10-28-2010 at 12:43 pm

    RyanT said...

    Hoping 127 Hours puts up a fight against Social Network and Inception come awards time.

  • 4 10-28-2010 at 12:56 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I’ve been on the Inception train for this award since day one. Still am. Nothing comes close.

  • 5 10-28-2010 at 1:03 pm

    deeks said...

    This might be a stupid question but just something I’ve always wondered. Where film editing is concerned, how much is generally down to the Director and how much to the Editor. Do they work in tandem during the editing process. I can’t imagine David Fincher, for example, handing all the stuff over to an editor to piece together as they see fit.

    Just wondering.

    For what it’s worth, I thought the editing in The Social Network was brilliant. Lots of jumps between different times and places and you never once lost track of exactly when or where you were.

  • 6 10-28-2010 at 1:20 pm

    JJ1 said...

    I’ll predict, for now:

    The Social Network
    127 Hours
    The Way Back
    Shutter Island

    Maybe True Grit instead of one of the last 2.

  • 7 10-28-2010 at 1:38 pm

    Drew said...

    Some of those cuts in Inception were kind of sloppy, and even though parts of the film were suppose to be a dream, some of the edits felt too random and jumpy. Not my pick.

    I’m going with Social Network for now. It seemlessy moved between the early founding of facebook between friends and then the bitter litigation that followed. Allowing for a more coherent and abundantly clear narrative. Edits that were especially effective in one of the films later scenes.

  • 8 10-28-2010 at 2:07 pm

    Rashad said...

    1. Social Network
    2. Inception

  • 9 10-28-2010 at 2:32 pm

    Robert Hamer said...

    @ Kris: “Been on the Inception train” as in, predicting the award or personally feeling Smith deserves to win?

  • 10 10-28-2010 at 2:39 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Robert: Both, actually.

  • 11 10-28-2010 at 2:40 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    deeks: That really just depends on the director. Some are very hands on, others trust editors to find rhythms they wouldn’t have seen, etc. Varies.

  • 12 10-28-2010 at 2:41 pm

    Chris138 said...

    I’ll be stunned if Inception doesn’t win this award.

  • 13 10-28-2010 at 2:55 pm

    Ivan said...

    Tariq Anwar/The King´s Speech
    Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall/The Social Network
    Jon Harris/127 Hours
    Lee Smith/Inception*WIN
    Andrew Weisblum/Black Swan

  • 14 10-28-2010 at 3:25 pm

    James said...

    I was thinking Inception had it in the bag, but after seeing The Social Network, I’m not so sure. Still surprised they managed to condense such a large screenplay into 2 hours. Inception’s editing though is easily one of the most important aspects of how the film is structured.

    Good year for editing. Excited to Smith also has to offer in The Way Back and especially John Harris(127 Hours). Also True Grit should be a strong contender.

  • 15 10-28-2010 at 4:13 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    The Social Network’s editing is one of the film’s strongest technical aspects and it has many technical aspects simply being a David Fincher film – like James Cameron there’s a very clinical way in which their films are put together and presented in their final form.

  • 16 10-28-2010 at 5:40 pm

    SJG said...

    When I saw The Social Network, I immediately felt it was the frontrunner in this category, and it may very well end up winning (deservedly), but the more I reflect, the more I continue to find myself in the Inception camp.

    And I think it would probably be a shame if anything else won. The only film I can even imagine upsetting those films’ chances would be 127 Hours, but I can also see its editing being more “flashy” and less story-driven, which is part of the strength of the other two. The editing for TSN and Inception is absolutely key to the success of those productions.

  • 17 10-28-2010 at 5:58 pm

    kel said...

    Best Makeup

    Shutter Island
    The King’s Speech
    Alice in Wonderland

  • 18 10-28-2010 at 6:07 pm

    Graysmith said...

    The Social Network and Inception are both editing tour de forces. Hard to say which one will win, but I have a hard time thinking any other film can threaten them.

    As for the other three, I’d say The King’s Speech just by sheer virtue of being a top contender across the board, and then True Grit and 127 Hours.

    It’d be interesting to see if Lee Smith could score a double nomination for Inception and The Way Back (like Kris is currently predicting) but I wouldn’t hold my breath unless The Way Back really explodes as a major contender across the board.

  • 19 10-28-2010 at 6:19 pm

    MovieMan said...

    “Inception” will win, but it doesn’t deserve it. “The Social Network” or “127 Hours” at this point.

  • 20 10-28-2010 at 7:24 pm

    Pete said...

    Dreams within dreams within dreams. Inception should win hands down for this.

  • 21 10-28-2010 at 7:57 pm

    Glenn said...

    My favourite editing of the year so far is “I Am Love” then “Inception”.

    That’s all.

  • 22 10-28-2010 at 8:58 pm

    Angry Shark said...

    This is the award Inception most deserves. And it will probably get it. That film was basically made in editing, something rooted uniquely in cinema.

  • 23 10-28-2010 at 10:33 pm

    Speaking English said...

    Every film is MADE in editing.

    “The Social Network” deserves this, for that boating scene alone.

  • 24 10-29-2010 at 7:45 am

    Frank Lee said...

    I disliked the editing of “Inception” intensely. It’s true, as people are pointing out, that the complicated plot is legible throughout. But I’m not sure how much the editing contributes to that. (I felt it very much did in “JFK,” to cite an obvious example of a movie saved–or nearly saved–by great editing.) But I found the pacing of “Inception” repellent. While watching it I thought, This must be what it feels like to be a woman with an inept but enthusiastic lover. BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM (Who’s your daddy?) BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM and so on.

  • 25 10-29-2010 at 7:53 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Good rundown — after watching the preview footage of “TRON: Legacy” last night, I found myself wondering if it could be a beast in the technical categories. (Art Direction and Costume Design look possible too. The first film was nominated in the latter category, after all.)

    Personally, I haven’t seen anything that tops “Black Swan” in this field so far this year.