What is the best-edited film of all time according to those who do the job?

Posted by · 7:43 pm · February 3rd, 2015

A random bit of researching on a Tuesday night led me to something I didn't know existed: The Motion Picture Editors Guild's list of the 75 best-edited films of all time. It was a feature in part celebrating the Guild's 75th anniversary in 2012. Is this news to anyone else? I confess to having missed it entirely. Naturally, I had to dig in.

What was immediately striking to me about the list – which was decided upon by the Guild membership and, per instruction, was considered in terms of picture and sound editorial as opposed to just the former – was the most popular decade ranking. Naturally, the 1970s led with 17 mentions, but right on its heels was the 1990s. I wouldn't have expected that but I happen to agree with the assessment.

Thelma Schoonmaker's work on “Raging Bull” came out on top, an objectively difficult choice to dispute, really. It was so transformative, what she and Martin Scorsese did with that film and how they just seemed to realign what juxtaposition can mean dramatically. Such a firework reunion after they were forced to spend professional time apart (due ironically enough to guild regulations).

For me, though – and knowing full well the inherent caveat of any “all-time” consideration – “JFK” adopted and in some instances shattered those conventions in its own time. Pietro Scalia and Joe Hutshing's assemblage feels like wizardry, and in an analog era it's all the more mind-boggling. Its precision finds ways to deliver emotion, atmosphere and narrative in inimitable ways. I was happy to see it place in the top 10, at a respectable #9.

Very little, I feel, has transcended in the form like that in quite a while, and the time feels right for something groundbreaking to catch hold in a medium-defining way again. Something like “Inception” might be a fair submission, and it placed rather high at #35. That's pretty interesting considering the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Editors Branch did not deem the 2010 film worthy of an Oscar nomination.

“Inception” isn't the most recent film on the list, however. That distinction goes to Terrence Malick's 2011 opus “The Tree of Life” (#65). There was an elegance to the Malick madness in that film that seems almost too attractive to resist, but I can only hope there was some consideration given to the gargantuan wrangling of “The Thin Red Line,” which, alas, didn't make the list at all.

By the way, the five credited editors on “The Tree of Life” and “Star Wars” (#16) aren't enough for them to claim honors as films with the most cutters on board. That designation goes to “The Fugitive” (#39) with a whopping six individuals.

Going through the line-up, I was particularly pleased to see shout-outs to “Apocalypse Now” (#3), “Memento” (#14), “The Matrix” (#25), “Fight Club” (#28), “8 1/2” (#41), “Apollo 13” (#48), “Out of Sight” (#52), “Black Hawk Down” (#55), “The Limey” (#57), “Speed” (#61) and “Midnight Cowboy” (#69). Some of those are ties, and I'm sure there are those of you who will be pleased to know that dead heats weren't used as a way of squeezing more films onto the list; there are 75 titles, period.

Interesting, though, that a director's hand still holds some sway over things, as the most-cited editor is George Tomasini with four, all of them Alfred Hitchcock films within a 6-year stretch: “Psycho” (#12), “Vertigo” (#47), “Rear Window” (#49) and “North by Northwest” (#75). Not only that, but a fifth Hitchcock film made the list, “Rope” (#36), edited by three-time Oscar nominee William H. Ziegler. Hitch is the most-cited filmmaker, while Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola aren't too far behind.

After Tomasini, Dede Allen, Michael Kahn and Schoonmaker had the most mentions, Kahn and Schoonmaker for their work with Spielberg and Martin Scorsese respectively, and Allen for collaborations with Warren Beatty and Sidney Lumet.

The only thing that was a little troubling to me was that, outside of the requisite spot for Dziga Vertov's “Man with a Movie Camera,” no consideration was apparently given to documentary work. I would make a strong case for something like “Hoop Dreams” myself (which was, incidentally, nominated by the Academy).

Check out the full list on the next page, and if something comes to mind, tell us what your pick would be for the best edited film of all time in the comments section.

The films nominated for the Best Film Editing this year are “American Sniper,” “Boyhood,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “The Imitation Game” and “Whiplash.”

1. “Raging Bull” (Thelma Schoonmaker, 1980)
2. “Citizen Kane” (Robert Wise, 1941)
3. “Apocalypse Now” (Lisa Fruchtman, Gerald B. Greenberg, Walter Murch, 1979)
4. “All That Jazz” (Alan Heim, 1979)
5. “Bonnie And Clyde” (Dede Allen, 1967)
6. “The Godfather” (William H. Reynolds, Peter Zinner, 1972)
7. “Lawrence of Arabia” (Anne V. Coates, 1962)
8. “Jaws” (Verna Fields, 1975)
9. “JFK” (Pietro Scalia, Joe Hutshing, 1991)
10. “The French Connection” (Gerald B. Greenberg, 1971)
11. “The Conversation” (Richard Chew, 1974)
12. “Psycho” (George Tomasini, 1960)
13. “Battleship Potemkin” (Grigori Aleksandrov, Sergei Eisenstein, 1925)
14. “Memento” (Dody Dorn, 2000)
15. “Goodfellas” (James Y. Kewi, Thelma Schoonmaker, 1990)
16. “Star Wars” (Richard Chew, T.M. Christopher, Marcia Lucas, George Lucas, Paul Hirsch, 1977)
17. “City of God (Cidade de Deus)” (Daniel Rezende, 2002)
18. “Pulp Fiction” (Sally Menke, 1994)
19. “2001: A Space Odyssey” (Ray Lovejoy, 1968)
20. “Dog Day Afternoon” (Dede Allen, 1975)
21. “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (Michael Kahn, 1981)
22. “The Godfather Part II” (Barry Malkin, Richard Marks, Peter Zinner, 1974)
23. “The Wild Bunch” (Lou Lombardo, 1969)
24. “Saving Private Ryan” (Michael Kahn, 1998)
25. “The Matrix” (Zach Staenberg, 1999)
26. “The Silence of the Lambs” (Craig McKay, 1991)
27. “Breathless” (À Bout De Soufflé)” (Cécile Decugis, 1960)
28. “Fight Club” (James Haygood, 1999)
29. “Requiem for a Dream” (Jay Rabinowitz, 2000)
30. “Cabaret” (David Bretherton, 1972)
31. “Chinatown” (Sam O'Steen, 1974)
32. “Moulin Rouge!” (Jill Bilcock, 2001)
33. “Seven Samurai” (Koichi Iwashita, Akira Kurosawa, 1954)
34. “Casablanca” (Owen Marks, 1942)
35. “Inception” (Lee Smith, 2010)
36. “Rope” (William H. Zeigler, 1948)
37. “Schindler”s List” (Michael Kahn, 1993)
38. “West Side Story” (Thomas Stanford, 1961)
39. “The Fugitive” (Dan Brochu, David Finfer, Dean Goodhil, Dov Hoenig, Richard Nord, Dennis Virkler, 1993)
40. “A Clockwork Orange” (Bill Butler, 1971)
41. “8 ½” (Leo Cattozzo, 1963)
42. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo”s Nest” (Sheldon Kahn, Lynzee Klingman, 1975)
43. “Reds” (Dede Allen, Craig McKay1981)
44. “The Shining” (Ray Lovejoy, 1980)
45. “Days of Heaven” (Billy Weber, 1978)
46. “Ben-Hur” (Margaret Booth, John Dunning, Ralph E. Winters, 1959)
47. “Vertigo” (George Tomasini, 1958)
48. “Apollo 13” (Daniel P. Hanley, Mike Hill, 1995)
49. “Rear Window” (George Tomasini, 1954)
50. “Touch of Evil” (Edward Curtiss, Walter Murch, Aaron Stell, Virgil W. Vogel, 1958)
51. “Living Russia” (“Man with a Camera)” (Dziga Vertov, 1929)
=52. “The Graduate” (Sam O'Steen, 1967)
=52. “Out of Sight” (Anne V. Coates, 1998)
54. “High Noon” (Elmo Williams, 1952)
55. “Black Hawk Down” (Pietro Scalia, 2001)
56. “Titanic” (Conrad Buff IV, James Cameron, Richard A. Harris, 1997)
57. “The Limey” (Sarah Flack, 1999)
58. “The Exorcist” (Norman Gay, Jordan Leondopoulos, Bud S. Smith, Evan A. Lottman, 1973)
59. “Annie Hall” (Wendy Greene Bricmont, Ralph Rosemblum, 1977)
60. “Rashomon” (Akira Kurosawa, 1950)
=61. “Sherlock, Jr.” (Buster Keaton, Roy B. Yokelson, 1924)
=61. “Speed” (John Wright, 1994)
63. “L.A. Confidential” (Peter Honess, 1997)
64. “The Sound of Music” (William H. Reynolds, 1965)
65. “The Tree of Life” (Hank Corwin, Jay Rabinowitz, Daniel Rezende, Billy Weber, Mark Yoshikawa, 2011)
66. “The Bourne Ultimatum” (Christopher Rouse, 2007)
67. “Z” (Françoise Bonnot, 1969)
=68. “A Hard Day”s Night” (John Jympson, 1964)
=69. “Hugo” (Thelma Schoonmaker, 2011)
=69. “Midnight Cowboy” (Hugh A. Robertson, 1969)
69. “Miller”s Crossing” (Michael R. Miller, 1990)
72. “Blade Runner” (Gillian L. Hutshing, Marsha Nakashima, Terry Rawlings, 1982)
73. “Mulholland Dr.” (Mary Sweeney, 2001)
74. “Rocky” (Scott Conrad, Richard Halsey, 1976)
75. “North by Northwest” (George Tomasini, 1959)

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