Want to know what's in contention for Best Picture? Look to Best Film Editing. No category except Best Director has as much overlap with the top category as of late. Is that how things will turn out this year? Let's take a look…
That aside, the branch is also fond of suspense films, action films and war films. Musicals (if they are big players overall) and films with non-linear narratives tend to have a leg up, too. We don't tend to see film editors racking up nods like we do other disciplines, though. Michael Kahn is the all-time nominations leader with eight. And don't get me wrong – that's a lot of nominations. But compared to “all time” figures in every other crafts category, it's on the low side.
So with that out of the way, what can we bank on this year?
William Goldenberg won this category two years ago for “Argo” (he was double-nominated that year with “Zero Dark Thirty,” his third and fourth career nominations). He is once again cutting an arguable Best Picture frontrunner this year in “The Imitation Game.” Though not a traditional war film or suspense film, both themes are present. Structure is a big note here, though, as the narrative cross-cuts between three different eras.
Lee Smith's snub in 2010 for “Inception” remains one of the most bizarre omissions in this category I have ever witnessed. “Interstellar,” hitting theaters to much fanfare this week, is a chance to make it up to him. A science fiction film, and an action film at times (that may be in the Best Picture race), it would seem logical to predict a third nomination for Smith (after “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World” and “The Dark Knight”). But the film doesn't seem to quite have the universal acclaim of many of Nolan's recent efforts. And what about that “Inception” snub again?
Kirk Baxter has earned three nominations in the past six years for David Fincher films – “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “The Social Network” and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” He won for the latter two, with “Dragon Tattoo” being the only non-Best Picture nominee to be nominated in this category since 2008, as well as the first such film to win since 1968! With “Gone Girl,” Baxter has assembled a wickedly suspenseful tale with a clever narrative. I think the film is headed to a Best Picture nomination but even if it's not, Baxter's chances strike me as solid, despite the fact that he didn't work with Angus Wall (with whom he has shared his three previous nominations) this time around.
“Birdman” seems clearly poised for some major nominations, and its neato cinematic trickery in respect can only help in this category. The work may seem invisible, but editors will get it. As such, I'm keen on the chances of Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione to return to the Dolby for Iñárritu's latest. They were nominated for “Babel” and Mirrione won for “Traffic.”
Tim Squyres, Ang Lee's longtime film editor, has earned nominations for both “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Life of Pi.” This year, he's been tapped by Angelina Jolie to cut “Unbroken.” A film set over a long period of time with war scenes and race scenes, I think Squyres is in good shape, assuming the film delivers from a quality perspective. It remains a mystery in that regard, however, so let's not take anything to the bank. William Goldenberg has also been brought in to do last minute work on the film, it should be noted.
Sandra Adair had a tremendously difficult task in fashioning a compelling narrative for Richard Linklater's “Boyhood.” I'm sure many editors will be impressed by her sheer perseverance and dedication to this project. But despite the impressive nature of the film, is it really an editor's showcase in a classical sense? I'm not so sure. She's very much in contention, but probably not assured a spot.
Musicals will do well here – if they're well-received and major Best Picture contenders. I'm not sure whether “Into the Woods” will be such a contender. Rob Marshall has had a rough run post-“Chicago” and Wyatt Smith didn't really get close to a nomination for “Nine.” If this effort does catch on and becomes a leader in the Best Picture race, expect Smith to be firmly in the running.
“Whiplash” may not be a “musical” per se. But was the cutting of the musical sequences not extraordinary? If it becomes this year's “little film that could” and chugs its way to a Best Picture nomination, I'd say Tom Cross has a very realistic shot at landing his first nomination. The climax alone will likely get the editors' attention.
“Foxcatcher” will soon be unleashed upon the North American public after months of festival build-up. Stuart Levy and Conor O'Neil will integrate elements of suspense, as well as wrestling scenes that tell are visual storytelling showcases. I ultimately think their chances will live or die on the film's Best Picture chances, though.
Consensus seems to be emerging that “Inherent Vice” is unlikely to be leading the charge in Best Picture. Leslie Jones has done fantastic work for Paul Thomas Anderson in the past, however, and is arguably overdue for a first nomination. And despite the film's weirdness, its narrative is very showy. So let's not rule her out just yet.
John MacMurphy (aka Jean-Marc Vallée) and Martin Pensa earned a surprising nomination last year for “Dallas Buyers Club,” proof that a film on a roll in the Best Picture category must always be considered seriously here. “Wild” is a film that is more typical (if not exactly “typical”) of a nominee here. So let's see if they can't do it back-to-back, though this seems more of a star piece than a major player all around.
If we're looking for this year's “Dallas Buyers Club,” “The Theory of Everything” is a possibility. I'd be surprised if Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones didn't propel the film, hitting theaters tomorrow, to a Best Picture nomination as well. Will that be enough for Jinx Godfrey to make the final five? Maybe not but as noted, if it really begins to rack up the awards it could sneak in à la “Dallas Buyers Club” last year.
Jay Cassidy also has been on a roll in recent years, with nominations for “Into the Wild,” “Silver Linings Playbook” and “American Hustle.” The first two were not particularly expected, so his colleagues clearly respect him. Cutting “Fury” with Dody Dorn (nominee for “Memento”) seemed to have all the makings of a contender: war, prestige, etc. And I don't want to rule them out, given those factors, but I ultimately suspect this film will struggle to be a major player in the race.
“Selma” remains one of the true open questions of this Oscar season. It doesn't seem like the sort of film that would be an editing showcase, even if it were to become a major Best Picture contender. But if it does become one, that may not matter. So I'd keep my eye on Spencer Averick.
I'll end with another of our few remaining mysteries in the race: “American Sniper,” cut by Clint Eastwood's editors of choice, Gary Roach and Joel Cox. Cox won this category for “Unforgiven” and was nominated for “Million Dollar Baby” but those are, somewhat surprisingly, his only nods. “American Sniper,” if it is well done and becomes a Best Picture contender, will presumably be praised for its intensity and suspense. So this duo may very well end up being major players if the film is a hit. It's hard to tell from this vantage point how big an “if” that is.
Those are the top 15 contenders as I see them. What say you? Offer up your predictions in the comments.