Critical Confabulations

a theatre, film & pop culture review

Oscars Predictions 2014: Film Editing

Note: This is my personal ranking, listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite. Prediction for the actual winner is in orange.

2014 ACADEMY AWARDS PREDICTION:
BEST FILM EDITING

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1. CAPTAIN PHILLIPS
Christopher Rouse

2. GRAVITY
Alfonso Cuarón & Mark Sanger

3. 12 YEARS A SLAVE
Joe Walker

4. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB
John Mac McMurphy & Martin Pensa

5. AMERICAN HUSTLE
Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers & Alan Baumgarten

Should’ve been here: Her

This is a vital category because it’s so closely correlated to Best Picture. Since 1981, every BP winner has been nominated for Best Editing, and of those 32, 16 editing winners have snagged the top prize as well. But this is a bizarre year, when it doesn’t matter that all five of the editing nominees are contending for Best Picture (though they are, of course), because we actually don’t know what will win best picture — which makes this category all the more fun.

The problem with American Hustle is the same problem with Silver Linings Playbook, though to a lesser (if also less satisfying) degree. The tone waffles between drama and comedy, and while director David O. Russell seemed to be aiming for a kind farce, it never really works. This could be because Russell films with editing in mind: He shoots each scene several times, with different levels of intensity and varied line readings, sometimes even rewriting scenes as he goes. With such myriad choices to sort through in the editing room, no wonder tone is never consistent in his films. When tone isn’t certain, neither is character, which is especially rough for a film like American Hustle which is so centered on artifice. The result is a scattered emotional tone that never really pays off —  and shouldn’t pay of on March 2 either (though it did win the ACE Eddie Award for best edited comedy, which does give one pause).

Dallas Buyers Club is higher on this list if only because it’s consistent in its use of melodrama and cliches from its opening frame. It’s a serious film with serious, good intentions, and it’s successful in developing character (such as they are) and forcefully moving audiences to both anger and compassion. But this type of cookie-cutter drama (no matter how well done) doesn’t typically garner an editing prize, and frankly, its nomination was a surprise.

While 12 Years a Slave, on the other hand, could easily lean toward melodrama, it does the opposite, capturing both the beauty and cruelty of the mid-19th century South. The best example of this is the lynching scene, when we, and Solomon, know exactly what’s coming, yet we don’t witness the details of it: We hear the horses arrive, but don’t really see them. We see the men approach, but don’t witness the full effort of the hanging. Moments are omitted, time is compressed, but then suddenly it expands, infinitely. In a long shot, we watch Soloman hanging, desperately trying to maintain ground, even as his toes slip into the muddy soil. Minutes and minutes go by, as other slaves go about their chores in the background: This beautiful land with its sunshine speckled spanish moss, this horrifying image in the foreground. We are kept at a physical distance, but the horror is unrelenting, if of a unexpectedly quiet kind, just as the horror of Solomon’s existence was unrelenting. It’s a beautifully calibrated film, with kudos to Joe Walker’s editing.

What Oscar really loves in this category are the frenetic, suspenseful flicks such as recent winners Argo, The Hurt Locker and The Bourne Ultimatum, and the action-driven Captain Phillips and Gravity both fit this bill. Gravity seems to have the edge on all the technical categories this year, and Cuarón and Sanger’s tension-building techniques and character crafting — even within the constraints the simplest of conceits — is nothing short of edge-of-your-seat masterful. But folks really seem to like Captain Phillips, and though they won’t reward it with Best Picture, they’ll want to reward it somehow, and this category seems a safe bet, as it’d actually be deserved. The film smartly juggles multiple points of view — Captain Phillips and his crew, the Somali Pirates, the U.S. Navy — while also skillfully building suspense from the first few frames (a frequent Paul Greengrass collaborator, editor Christopher Rouse was in fact the winner for The Bourne Ultimatum). The biggest  feather in its cap, though, is the ACE Eddie Award, which it won in the dramatic category, suggesting that it does indeed have a very good chance of spoiling Gravity‘s chances. And wouldn’t that be a fun surprise?

 

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