Oscar Guide 2011: Best Film Editing

Posted by · 9:25 am · February 20th, 2012

The Oscar Guide will be your chaperone through the Academy”s 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 26, with the Best Picture finale on Saturday, February 25.

Of all the crafts categories, Best Film Editing always tends to parallel the Best Picture race the most, both in the nominations stage and again during the race for the win. This year”s final five fit squarely into that paradigm, with the top three Best Picture contenders being joined by another film that was almost certainly in the top six and one semi-prestigious genre film that likely wasn”t far from the Best Picture lineup. Despite the surprising omission of one of the most nominated editors of all-time, Michael Kahn (who managed to score an ACE citation for “War Horse”), the nominees were utterly predictable.

But while I was quite confident in my predictions for the nominations (at least about the six from which the five would be chosen), that confidence does not extend to this final stage of the game. No title can be safely ruled out in my opinion.

The nominees are…

“The Artist” (Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius)

“The Descendants” (Kevin Tent)

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall)

“Hugo” (Thelma Schoonmaker)

“Moneyball” (Christopher Tellefsen)

Who I am sorry to see absent? Matthew Newman”s superb BFCA- and BAFTA-nominated cutting of “Drive” worked incredibly well, with suspense and action being integrated into what was first and foremost a character study. Also setting the mood and revealing enough story to keep us interested was Dino Jonsäter for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” “The Tree of Life””s army of editors also navigated through the crazy world of Terrence Malick to produce his latest classic, while I do lament Michael Kahn”s absence, not for “War Horse,” but for his sharp, clever editing of “The Adventures of Tintin.”

Michel Hazanavicius has one of three chances to take home gold on Sunday evening with a win in this category. His editing, with Anne-Sophie Bion, of “The Artist” kept us engaged in the absence of dialogue. And even if it hardly stands out as an editor”s showcase, being the Best Picture frontrunner helps matters. While I would not place much weight on the ACE comedy victory (given the lack of competition from fellow Oscar nominees), “The Artist” is loved the way no other film is this year. In this extremely open category, I think that will be enough to make Oscar winners of Bion and Hazanavicius here.

After earning ACE nominations, but falling short at the Oscars, for “Election,” “About Schmidt” and “Sideways,” I assumed the same would happen again to Kevin Tent this year. I was wrong. I hardly think “The Descendants” exemplified the best editing of the year, but I am happy when the branch cites editing that doesn”t unnecessarily show off and I am pleased that Tent has finally made the final five. Not only that, but he has now won the ACE award to boot! But with the editing far from noticeable (since voters unfortunately tend to need to SEE the work in order to spring for it) and the film seemingly having peaked, I highly doubt he will win the Oscar.

Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall won this category last year for “The Social Network,” as the surge of “The King”s Speech” ended up being confined to four major categories. They return this year for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” the sole non-Best Picture nominee among the final five. When Best Picture nominees falter in this category, suspense/action films from Oscar-nominated directors rise to take their place (“The Bourne Ultimatum” and “Black Hawk Down” being the last two examples), so with the BFCA behind them, I would not rule out the possibility of Baxter and Wall becoming back-to-back winners.

With her seventh career nomination this year, Thelma Schoonmaker has tied Michael Kahn among working editors for the best career Oscar record. She is a legend, no doubt. Could that lead to a fourth win for Martin Scorsese”s “Hugo?” The film doesn”t have the showy editing of “Raging Bull,” “The Departed” or even “The Aviator” that gave her previous statuettes. That said, it is a visually arresting and loved movie, one that was nominated across the board and will surely grab a few statues. She could yet take this.

There”s no doubt who I”d be voting for if I had a ballot. Christopher Tellefesen“s piecing together of Bennett Miller”s “Moneyball” was energetic, combining drama and humor, different media and filming styles, and was also visually arresting, even abstract at times. Could he win? It”s possible. But given that most voters may think “Dragon Tattoo” for “showy editing,” Schnoomaker for “classic editor” or “The Artist” for “let”s vote for it everywhere,” I wouldn”t bet on it.

Will Win: “The Artist”

Could Win: “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”

Should Win: “Moneyball”

Should Have Been Here: “Drive”

The Artist

Keep track of our current rankings in the Best Film Editing category via its Contenders page here.

What do you think deserves the Oscar for Best Film Editing? Who got robbed? Have your say in the comments section below.

(Read previous installments of the Oscar Guide here.)

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