Oscars Lowdown 2014: Best Film Editing – ‘Captain Phillips’ looks to sink ‘Gravity’

02.24.14 4 years ago 10 Comments

In the lead-up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2, HitFix will be bringing you the lowdown on all 24 Oscar categories with multiple entries each day. Take a few notes and bone up on the competition as we give you the edge in your office Oscar pool!

Of all craft categories, Best Film Editing is the one most closely tied to the Best Picture race: nominees from the latter category invariably dominate the former, and as pundits are so fond of reminding everyone, no film has won the top prize without a corresponding editing bid since 1980. That’s no quirk or accident, given how heavily editing interacts with script and performance, and though Best Picture no-shows occasionally triumph here (like surprise victor “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” two years ago), that won’t be happening this year. Five Best Picture nominees make up the field, and I strongly suspect they’d have been the five in a non-expanded race.

The nominees are…

“American Hustle” (Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers and Alan Baumgarten)
Cassidy and Struthers were nominated last year for “Silver Linings Playbook” (the former boasts an additional nod for “Into the Wild”), and they seem to be a happy match for David O. Russell’s jazzy, chaotic storytelling rhythm. As with the film’s screenplay, this work divides viewers: some find the film’s construction incoherent and overly mannered, others admire its balance of discursiveness and snappiness. A lot of craft goes into filmmaking this seemingly spontaneous, while the editors also deserve some credit for shaping the film’s high-energy ensemble, giving each performance room to breathe and pop. The American Cinema Editors think so: joined this year by Baumgarten, Cassidy and Struthers won their second consecutive award in the Comedy/Musical category.

“Captain Phillips” (Christopher Rouse)
Anyone who was surprised when Rouse (a former Oscar and ACE winner for “The Bourne Ultimatum,” and a nominee for “United 93”) triumphed at the American Cinema Editors awards were concentrating too heavily on the Best Picture race, and not hard enough on the work at hand. As demonstrated by recent wins for “Argo,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and the aforementioned “Ultimatum,” thrillers and tension exercises are frequently favored by voters in this category; if not necessarily the best work in field, Paul Greengrass’s nerve-wracking maritime hostage drama is the film where the editor’s hand is most evident, particularly laymen. The film may not be favored to win anything else, but this could be its one reward.

“Dallas Buyers Club” (Martin Pensa and John Mac McMurphy)
The biggest surprise in the category was the nomination for the modest indie AIDS drama, which is few people’s idea of a showcase for the craft – though it’s edited with efficiency and intelligence, with the rodeo sequences and later scenes involving Ron Woodroof’s global travels assembled with some fizz. Still, its appearance here, as in the Best Original Screenplay, says less about the discipline in question than it does about the overall level of regard for the film within the Academy; it must have placed rather comfortably in the initial Best Picture vote. The only film here not also nominated by the ACE, it’s presumably running fifth, but at least Vallée (under the McMurphy pseudonym) joins the short list of directors nominated for editing their own work, including David Lean, James Cameron, the Coen brothers, Michael Hazanavicius and…

“Gravity” (Alfonso Cuarón and Mark Sanger)
It’s interesting that, while “Gravity” has been dominating the technical races with multiple wins for cinematography, visual effects, music and sound, its impressive editing has gone largely unrewarded. Perhaps those much-ballyhooed long takes (however augmented) have made the editors’ work less visible to casual viewers; perhaps they’ve simply preferred other work. Either way, it’s still a heavyweight contender for the win: the space thriller is a formidable feat of pacing and economy, and if voters are checking it off in multiple other categories, they may just continue here. Fun fact: no filmmaker has won for both Best Director and Best Editing since the aforementioned Cameron in 1997. Can Cuarón (previously nominated here for “Children of Men”) manage what the Coens have not?

“12 Years a Slave” (Joe Walker)
If “12 Years a Slave” was going to miss out in some key craft areas – and it did – it always seemed likely to me that editing would be its point of vulnerability, particularly given that one of the more repeated critical complaints about the film concerns its portrayal of the passage of time. Happily, McQueen’s regular editor Joe Walker made the cut after all. It’s some of the subtlest work in the field, but perfectly sets the stately, weary rhythm for the film – its collapsing of chronology seems less careless than reflective of Solomon Northup’s psyche – while also cutting precisely at and around moments of great impact. Walker deserved more awards attention than he got for “Hunger” and “Shame”; he won’t win this year, but this is particular director-editor collaboration is a keeper.

Will win: “Captain Phillips”
Could win: “Gravity”
Should win: “American Hustle”
Should have been here: “The Bling Ring”

With due credit to this very respectable field, there’s a lot of work I wish could have been included: Eric Zumbrunnen and Eric Buchanan’s delicate shaping of “Her” made the film’s physically remote romance warm and plausible, Sandra Adair preserved the loose, semi-improvisatory feel of “Before Midnight” while applying some pressure, and Sarah Flack gave crisp, hard structure — and a sinuous sense of comedy — to “The Bling Ring.”

What do you think deserves to win Best Film Editing this year? Vote in the poll below.

How do you think this race will pan out, and what do you wish were nominated? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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