OSCAR GUIDE: Best Film Editing

Posted by · 9:38 am · February 21st, 2011

I’m afraid you’ll find that I’m having trouble getting all that excited about this year’s race for Best Film Editing. How can I when the absolute best editing job of the year (from a true master, no less) was shunned altogether, while a cruel joke was played in the form of “Inception” editor Lee Smith getting the shaft, too.

The below is a decent set of contenders with an array of virtues. It’s just a shame that the editor’s branch is so slavishly devoted to Best Picture frontrunners, especially when truly exceptional work that doesn’t necessarily find itself dovetailing with Oscar bait is ignored each and every year. Nevertheless, the statistic remains: in 30 years, no film not nominated here has gone on to win Best Picture.

The nominees are:

“Black Swan” (Andrew Weisblum)
“The Fighter” (Pamela Martin)
“The King’s Speech” (Tariq Anwar)
“127 Hours” (Jon Harris)
“The Social Network” (Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter)

That stat isn’t much in play this year unless you thought “True Grit” was going to be a serious competitor. The three frontrunners are present and accounted for. Still, those two that are missing, that really stings.

But I’ll try to take solace in the fact that “Black Swan,” despite coming up lame in a few other below-the-line fields, managed to find some recognition for editor Andrew Weisblum. It is, in this viewer’s humble opinion, the best of the lot. This kaleidoscope of genre and atmosphere is most reliant upon its construction, diving deep into the furthest recesses of a frail feminine psyche. All of Darren Aronofsky’s efforts to date, even the more even-handed “The Wrestler,” have been notable for the style and power of their assemblage, and his latest fits perfectly into his repertoire in that regard. But given that there are three tough competitors that already have the Academy’s collective heart, it’s fair to say it’ll be a tough road to the proper Oscar recognition for this one.

The first of those films is David O. Russell’s “The Fighter,” the editing duties of which were handled by Pamela Martin. Martin comes from the world of comedy and goes all the way back to “Spanking the Monkey” with the director. This film probably pulled into the second-place position behind the period piece favorite for the Best Picture crown, so it’s fair to say it’s formidable here, too. And the work shouldn’t be underestimated, because so much of the film’s trademark rhythm and singular tone is a direct result of editorial choices made throughout. The assemblage of fight scenes is always a test for a film editor, but the choice to integrate cooked-up television broadcast footage and find a place for that, as well, in the overall structure of those scenes was a delicate balance and one that ultimately paid off.

If you want to go out on a limb, it wouldn’t be crazy to expect “The King’s Speech” to triumph here, especially if you’re anticipating quite the coming out for the film on Oscar night. Tariq Anwar is a tried and true veteran, his first nomination coming for “American Beauty” over a decade ago. Scoff at the work receiving recognition all you want (it’s becoming posh to underestimate the various commendable artistic aspects of the film), but there is a trick to balancing comedy and drama on the page, in the director’s chair, on the sound stage and, most certainly, at the editing bay. And sometimes, great work in this field really is attributable to an invisible quality, which is the virtue of Anwar’s work here. It’s entirely possible, indeed, highly probably that a flashier job wins, but I’m just saying this wouldn’t be a shocking winner.

Speaking of flashy jobs, the flashiest is probably “127 Hours,” which was a bit of a surprise for those expecting a certain guild-dominating sure thing to show up here. Danny Boyle wanted to film the story of Aron Ralston’s defining moment in brash, bold, visionary strokes, and he wanted to give the film a tangible energy, not least of all because the events it depicts aren’t the most visually dramatic in and of themselves. So he and co-writer Simon Beaufoy set about constructing a screenplay that had no safety net and reached far for visual and thematic flavor. The resulting footage was no doubt a field day for editor Jon Harris, who was already coming from a Guy Ritchie/Matthew Vaughn school of frenetic filmmaking. It could be an attractive pick for voters, but I’m thinking it’s bringing up the rear.

The safe money is probably on ACE drama winner “The Social Network,” which is entirely dependent on a unique, layered structure. Given that the particulars of the film’s construction were apparent on the page, Aaron Sorkin probably deserves a piece of this recognition, too. But I don’t mean to shine a light away from Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall, who have been working with director David Fincher consistently as of late and brought a graceful flow to a film that bounced around from lawsuit to lawsuit on the rat-a-tat dialogue of its cast of characters. This award has gone to the Best Picture winner 12 of the last 20 years, but in five of the eight cases where it didn’t, it fell as consolation to a Best Picture bridesmaid with showcase editing. So will it go the way of “The Aviator,” “Traffic,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Apollo 13” and “JFK” or won’t it?  Given that ACE has predicted this category for nine-straight years, I’m comfortable saying “Yes, it will.”

Will win: “The Social Network”
Could win: “The King’s Speech”
Should win: “Black Swan”

Should have been here: “Shutter Island”

Check out my current rankings for this race at its dedicated Contenders page here.

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

[Photos: Fox Searchlight Pictures, The Weinstein Company]

→ 26 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Filed in: Oscar Guide

26 responses so far

  • 1 2-21-2011 at 9:54 am

    Joe C said...

    This race is actually fascinating to me. As you stated, when it doesn’t go to the Best Picture winner (especially when the BP winner doesn’t have “showy” editing, a la, TKS) it goes to a fellow BP nom (unless it’s Bourne or Black Hawk).

    That said, besides TKS, all four are nominated. So, they all have an outside shot.

    TSN: Obviously, the front-runner with the ACE.
    Black Swan: One of the two showiest, but likely the least liked overall.
    The Fighter: The most liked outside of TKS, and boxing is always popular in this category.
    127 Hours: The showiest of them all, and seems more liked than we all thought.

    So, overall, I think any could win. Not sure if it’s crazy to think even 127 Hours has a shot.

  • 2 2-21-2011 at 10:07 am

    Maxim said...

    I’ve said it before, but to me, the best editing job is done in Black Swan. Even if Inception was nominated I would still give it to Black Swan. I would even go as far as to say that the success of the film and the reason it is seen as suspensful as opposed to campy is largelly due to absolutely expert editing. There are sequences in this film that simply grabbed me and carried me through what could have been banal passages.

    I know it won’t win but credit where it’s due.

  • 3 2-21-2011 at 10:21 am

    Sam C. said...

    I’m still sort of shocked how the two greatest elements of Inception were snubbed.

  • 4 2-21-2011 at 10:23 am

    red_wine said...

    Will win: “The Social Network”
    Could win: “The King’s Speech”
    Should win: “The Social Network”

    Should have been here: “Enter The Void” – a film that has furthered the art of editing by practically dispensing away with it. You want to cut to a different scene in a different place? No! The camera will fly to that place!

    By editing in the protagonist’s blinks (the screen goes black for a couple of frames every few minutes), and by also melding in memory and dreams and the recollections from the vantage point of beyond life, the editor creates this really rich landscape in which the director can express his lead characters’ consciousness.

    What a great film and the technical achievement of the last 5 years or so.

  • 5 2-21-2011 at 10:25 am

    red_wine said...

    And while I do think Black Swan is awful, the editing was really good.

  • 6 2-21-2011 at 11:10 am

    Jonathan Spuij said...

    Should have been here: Inception. Nothinf else deserved to be here more.

  • 7 2-21-2011 at 11:20 am

    Marc R. said...

    I’m totally with you Kris. Shutter Island’s editing was appropriately jarring and thematically potent while Lee Smith’s work was absolutely essential to the success of the film (particularly in the last act) and w/o it, probably would have resulted in an almost incomprehensible, exposition filled mess (though for some, it already is). Taking into account the degree of difficulty of Smith’s work and the evocative virtuosity of Schoonmaker’s, I can’t really pick which editing job should’ve made it more. So I’ll just say, take out both TKS and the fighter and put SI and Inception in and then we have good field of nominees. I do like what you say about TKS’s editing though. I have always related film editing w/ writing quality ; You only really notice film editing when it’s bad. If it’s good then technically, it should be invisible to the viewer as you are fully involved w/ the film. And just like with writing. If it’s good, you don’t care why because you’re fully immersed in the story/article. But then of course sometimes the editor/ author will indulge in artistic flourishes that make their work stand out above others. So instead of what’s done in TKS, you get what’s done in Shutter Island

  • 8 2-21-2011 at 11:26 am

    JJ1 said...

    When I think of editing, I think of construction and choice of shot.

    For me, I could understand TSN, TKS, or Black Swan winning. All 3 impressed me greatly for their flow/editing. And I also thought Inception should have been nominated and/or possibly won.

    The Fighter. For as spectacularly acted as this is, I thought there could have been better choices/takes/flow. I understand that that’s part of the O’Russell way. But, yeah.

    127 hours. I’m sorry. Good movie. I didn’t see Top 5 editing here.

  • 9 2-21-2011 at 11:26 am

    m1 said...

    Should’ve been here: Inception (because it was flawless), Easy A (because the fake sex scene was one of my fave movie moments of 2010), Let Me In (because the climax was better done here than in the original).

  • 10 2-21-2011 at 11:28 am

    Andrej said...

    I’m sticking to the feeling that TKS’s 12 nominations are a bit too much for what it is. Way back last year we were contemplating that this movie wouldn’t even be here for editing, so probably the hyperbole will wear off by Oscar night.

    Will win: The Social Network.
    Could win: Black Swan.
    Should win: 127 Hours.

    Should have been here: Enter the Void, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

    … way to go, Academy: Inception. u_u

  • 11 2-21-2011 at 11:30 am

    americanrequeim said...

    while i cant agree that the fighter is the number 2 choice for best pic, i will agree black swan deserves the win, and also the social network will make a fantastic winner as well

  • 12 2-21-2011 at 11:31 am

    JJ1 said...

    And yes, Shutter Island deserved to be in this conversation, bigtime. The weirdness/jarring factor (as mentioned above) is so well-handled. imo.

  • 13 2-21-2011 at 11:38 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Still having trouble deciding between The Fighter and Black Swan for my “should win” pick.

    Should be here: Another Year. Mike Leigh’s editors never get enough credit (or much credit at all) for shaping the results of his tricky process.

  • 14 2-21-2011 at 11:38 am

    Andrej said...

    I also think that there are a few movies here and there that also deserved a more recognition, like The Town, Blue Valentine, and Toy Story 3.

    Shutter Island, it’s not bad but I have problems with that movie’s pacing.

  • 15 2-21-2011 at 11:46 am

    Rashad said...

    Should have been here and won – Inception. Easily.

    TSN will win, and should win out of this group

  • 16 2-21-2011 at 11:59 am

    Maxim said...

    Et tu, Rashad?

  • 17 2-21-2011 at 12:16 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “The Social Network,” pretty easily. No film last had such an electric, exciting rhythm (“The Fighter” might come close), nor the same kind of confident build. Sorkin’s words may have a lot to do with the structure of the film, but it’s the editing that ultimately sells those points.

  • 18 2-21-2011 at 12:17 pm

    Speaking English said...

    No film last *year*…

  • 19 2-21-2011 at 1:23 pm

    SJG said...

    I almost voted for the Fighter in the side poll and now I wish I had, because it only has three votes. I couldn’t decide whether I liked it or The Social Network better.

  • 20 2-21-2011 at 2:07 pm

    Someone said...

    Will win: “The Social Network”
    Could win: “The King’s Speech”
    Should win: “127 hours”
    Should be here: “Inception”

  • 21 2-22-2011 at 12:21 am

    Chris said...

    I KNEW you were talking about Thelma Schoonmaker in your first paragraph.
    It was a treat to read confirmation after the article with the last few words :)

  • 22 2-22-2011 at 7:38 am

    DylanS said...

    God is it close for me between “127 Hours” and “The Social Network”. On some twisted level, I’m almost glad that “Inception” didn’t make it, because it’d be right up there with them. Both 127 and TSN have a kinetic flow to them that is the signature of their directors.

    The first thing that immediately stood out about TSN, to me, was Wall & Baxter’s editing. The face-mash sequence in particular is a stunning showcase of their craft, and I still can’t imagine how tedious that must have been to assemble out of all of those takes.

    With “127 Hours”, you get another showcase that enables the film to maintain motion (and quite a bit, I might add) with an immobile protagonist. The task at hand is strikingly similar to another recent nominee in this category, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”. The editing so often breaks cinematic conventions, and inventiveness always scores points w/ me.

    Kris, I agree with you that Anwar and TKS is getting unnecessary flack for what was certainly an editing job well done, but it’s still irksome to me that this category (like best director) seems to be a blind check-off to separate the top tier BP contenders from the lower-tier ones. Which is the only reason why TKS scored here, and Inception sadly didn’t.

  • 23 2-23-2011 at 10:21 pm

    Mike D. Meyers said...

    These should have been the 5 nominees:

    1. Inception
    2. The Social Network
    3. Shutter Island
    4. 127 Hours
    5. The King’s Speech

  • 24 2-23-2011 at 10:23 pm

    Mike D. Meyers said...

    These should have been the 5 nominees:

    1. Inception
    2. Black Swan
    3. Shutter Island
    4. The Social Network
    5. True Grit

  • 25 2-28-2011 at 2:56 am

    suckme said...

    Can this be a movie? no, it’s real life, I’m not in a dream or should I say nightmare, the kind where this atrocious waste-of-time-and-money movie receives any recognition. Why did it win anything in the first place?? In fact why was it even nominated?? *That’s a rhetorical question* It was NOT a great story, IMO, I am in amazement because to me, the story line was pretentious and asinine as was the revolting acting, the editing was non puke-worthy at its best, I’ve seen cheap documentaries with better skills than that. What is it about this movie? Was it because it had justin timberlake? Or because everyone in this God forsaken world has a religious-and-cult-like obsession with their beloved facebook account. This puts the oscars to shame, Who doesn’t have facebook? My grandma has it! An ingenious stragedy to get people to come to your movie I must say. Just find a ‘hunk’ all the teenagers drool over, and use a phenomenon platform that speaks to everyone, and I mean everyone on an intimate personal level. If anyone wants to sit there and tell me this movie is based on a great story, or that the editing was passable for decent just because facebook was groundbreaking does not even rationalize with it’s reasons for why it should be worshipped. People in a zombie-like state of mind, (who were already so desperate to feed their hungry unproductive empty souls and bored oxygen deprived brains generations of people who accustom to run around frantically to search for the latest trend to satisfy their endless thirst for self-righteousness), go ahead and lift up this social network called facebook to unnatural exaggerated trance-enducing proportions, to a degree which it does not constitute at all unless you’re a 15 year old emo kid. Get off your bended knees, and go get some real friends, or connect with the few you are lucky to have, you know? real? as in face to face? as in socially interact in the physical realm? (and that goes out to you as well, zuckerberg, you anti-social money-greedy scum bag sack of sh*t.) Granted, he was indeed a rain man, an idiot savant of sorts, to say the least, when it comes to his business and money making ideas. He was a smart*ss when he thought to ‘create it’ all thanks to an inspirational drunken stupor, I’ll give him that much, and also brilliant, when he thought to expand his millions by making a movie out of his spellbinding ‘creation’ although it could have been, SHOULD have been a complete and total failure, he got lucky he has so many hypontized zombies lifting their hands in the air in praise to his cheap innovations even if facebook ruined their lives. I’m so thrilled to get this off my chest, I can finally feel the blood boiling veins in my beating red throbbing forehead come down to a regular pulse. My brain wanted to burst with rage at the thought of this years academy awards even giving mention to this movies potential nominations, so of course naturally I become livid when I discover they actually won an award, and as the cherry topping it had to be not once, but thrice. Yes I can just imagine it now, the comments my post may influence, I am dramatic, but then again so are the oscars, this is just acting, and entertainment we’re talking about isn’t it? And yet this year they couldn’t even bother doing their job when they qualified tsn, and if you disagree that it is justified in any realm of any universe even by rationals or irationals that are not mentioned, that’s your call, and you have the right to your opinion, just as I’ve the right to mine. Arguing it with me would be like wasting more time than you already have waisted reading my redundant post by arguing with a child-like narcissist who now finds this conversation to be irrelevant, time-consuming, and just plain boring. So to be less civilized for a second, I end with: **** zuckerburg, **** this movie, **** facebook, and by extention, **** the academy awards, And Even If people do not agree with my inappropriate misplaced bottled-up passion, I can easily and confidently say I am not the only one who feels that this award was wrongfully delivered, This one, and the other two as well. I can see this clearly by reading up previous posts left on this site. Too bad there aren’t more like you. Ok I’m done, This was time well spent for me :) Even if no one reads it.