Tech Support: Best Pic hopefuls from 'War Horse' to 'Ides of March' highlight Best Film Editing

Posted by · 9:19 am · October 27th, 2011

Film editing is often difficult to judge because we never know what was left out of a feature. That said, the editors play an absolutely pivotal role in filmmaking: setting the pace and length of a film, giving it structure and flow, juxtaposition of imagery, the essence of what makes filmmaking a unique art form.

Last week I commented on how the costume designers are known for their willingness to look beyond a film”s quality, and how it is received in other categories, in choosing their nominees. I cannot grant the same compliment to the editors.

More than any other crafts category, the Best Film Editing nominees are overwhelmingly drawn from the Best Picture contenders. Prior to the expansion of that category to 10 nominees, usually three-to-five of the editing nods came out of the big race (2005 through 2007 being notable exceptions). In the last two years, all of the nominees were Best Picture nominees as well, given the widened field.

Otherwise, this category tends to like action films, war films and musicals as all grant the editor a chance to highlight his or her work. (This is in spite of the fact that I usually admire the sort of editing you don”t notice.)  The branch appears not to be as insular as many other branches, frequently welcoming new nominees to the club.

That said, I”m going to begin my analysis with a contender who is most certainly not new to the game: Michael Kahn, Steven Spielberg”s longtime editing collaborator. This year, the duo are working together on “War Horse.” Assuming the film is the Best Picture contender we all suspect it will be, I”d be shocked if it missed here – Best Picture contender + war + horse + Kahn = favorite.

“War Horse,” I should add, is not Kahn”s only “horse” in this year”s race. He is also responsible for cutting Spielberg”s “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.” This film too will feature action and suspense and may very well be a major December blockbuster. It”s not impossible that Kahn could end up a double nominee this year, regardless of this one being considered part of the animated pack.

“The Ides of March””s Stephen Mirrione won this category 11 years ago for Steven Soderbergh”s “Traffic,” another political ensemble. George Clooney”s latest effort has been praised as an effective political thriller. While Mirrione was not nominated for Clooney”s “Good Night, and Good Luck.,” he was likely extremely close. So will he return this year? I”d say that depends upon whether “The Ides of March” ends up in the upper echelon of Best Picture contenders. If it does, I certainly expect Mirrione to be among the top contenders in this category. If not, however, I see other films in the suspense and action genres likely taking precedence.

Like Kahn, Mirrione has two films in competition this year as he also pieced together the latest Soderbergh ensemble, “Contagion.” The film did well at the box office but I don”t expect it to make much of an awards run. Even so, it”s worth noting that this is the sort of film that if it were to score anywhere it could garner an editing nomination and, in any event, could help Mirrione receive a nomination for “The Ides of March.”

Claire Simpson won this category a quarter century ago for “Platoon” and managed her second nomination six years ago for “The Constant Gardener.” She”ll likely have an opportunity to prominently display her skills again this year on Stephen Daldry”s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” where the pacing and changes of venue will be important to the film”s success (and reportedly “plays with colorful editing”). Should this become a major Best Picture contender, I expect Simpson to be firmly in the race.

Another Best Picture hopeful clearly in the thick of this race is Michel Hazanavicius”s “The Artist.” Anne-Sophie Bion will have to keep people transfixed on a fairly simple plot told through an extremely old style of filmmaking. While the editing is not necessarily going to be the most attention-drawing, I”m predicting this film for a lot of nominations and it seems a very strong possibility that this will come along.

“J. Edgar” remains low on the buzz front despite getting closer and closer to release. That concerns me. That said, it will take us through several decades in its title character”s life, not an easy feat for an editor. Joel Cox has been nominated for both of Clint Eastwood”s Best Picture winners, taking the gold for “Unforgiven.” Gary Roach, his co-editor on this project, has never been nominated. The mixed bag of signals leads me to believe this film”s potential here is ultimately tied to whether it will be in the upper tier of Best Picture contenders.

“Moneyball””s fans and reviews might keep it in the Best Picture hunt until the bitter end. It cannot be denied that the pace set by Christopher Tellefsen”s editing was key to making the film interesting and reasonably suspenseful. It could well lead to a nomination depending on the extent to which AMPAS embraces the film.

Kevin Tent likely came close to a nomination seven years ago with “Sideways.” This year, he is once again working with Alexander Payne, on “The Descendants.” This doesn”t naturally seem like an editing showcase. Indeed, comedies can see trouble finding room in this race. Even so, I expect the film to get at least three, perhaps four or five, nominations in the big categories. In that event, it would be foolish not to consider it here.

Another film with vocal fans is Terrence Malick”s “The Tree of Life.” Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende (nominated for “City of God”), Billy Weber (nominated for “The Thin Red Line” and “Top Gun”) and Mark Yoshikawa all shared duty on this title. The editing was absolutely crucial to the film, given the massive amounts of footage to draw from, and the way shots were contrasted with each other was often brilliant. But is it the sort of work that the branch would like? And how much will the film catch fire this awards season? These are questions to which I genuinely do not know the answer, so I”ll be keenly interested in seeing how it fares along the way.

In the realm of more traditional suspense, I wouldn”t rule out Dino Jonsäter for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” I strongly suspect Gary Oldman will earn his long overdue first nomination for this feature. I”m of the inclination that he will likely be a Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor”-style sole nominee for his film. But he could bring a few nominations with him. In the age of 10 potential Best Picture nominations, a nod in the big category is not out of the realm of possibility either. If that occurs, a nod for an effective, suspense-building and novel-cutting editing job is very possible.

Every so often, a summer blockbuster comes through in this category. While I doubt it will occur this year, if it did, I would look to Conrad Buff IV and Mark Goldblatt for “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” Buff won this category for “Titanic” and was nominated with Goldblatt for “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.” If this film is remembered in year-end top 10 lists and gets a push from its studio (both big ifs but still possible), a nomination may be in the cards.

Another fantasy title is “Hugo,” Martin Scorsese”s adaptation of Brian Selznick”s popular novel. It sounds like a ripe opportunity for editing. Toss in the great Thelma Schoonmaker and the odds must only increase. Its biggest downside is the uncertain extent of how it will play to the Academy and how well it will be received by critics and the public. We”ll be finding out shortly.

Albert Brooks may well make an Oscar run for Nicolas Winding Refn”s “Drive.” If the film scores at all beyond Brooks (and even that is not assured), Matthew Newman”s editing could find a home here. There are some riveting scenes with undeniably important pacing.

I”ll end with a film that I feel could buck the trend I cited at the beginning about Best Picture contenders reigning supreme in this category: David Fincher”s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” I have no idea if it will find a home in the major categories but even if it doesn”t it certainly has the potential to be a highly suspenseful and successful hit. If that is the case, I”d expect a nomination here. Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall won this category last year for Fincher”s “The Social Network” (having earned their first nomination two years prior for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”). A follow-up trip to the Kodak seems appropriate, no?

It may be surprising to know we”re now half-way through analyzing the crafts categories!  Next week, I turn to the unpredictable world of Best Makeup.

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

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