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Oscars: In A Field Of Epics Who Has The Best Chance To Win Best Editing?

Awards
by Oliver Lyttelton
November 30, 2012 12:29 PM
2 Comments
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This week's "Killing Them Softly" is something of an outlier this season, in that it runs at a brisk 97 minutes. As has been noted by many -- not least a seemingly ADD-afflicted senior Variety staffer -- many of the big movies in awards contention have come with epic running times.

"Anna Karenina," "Argo," "Life of Pi" and "Silver Linings Playbook" all clock in just over the two-hour mark. "The Master," "Skyfall" and "Flight" were all over two hours and fifteen minutes long. "Lincoln" and "Zero Dark Thirty" both weigh in about two and a half. And "Les Misérables," "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Cloud Atlas" all take over two hours and 45 minutes to sit through. Indeed, the only serious Oscar contenders clocking in under two hours are "The Impossible" (114 minutes) and "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (a mere 93 mins). But is brevity likely to be rewarded when it comes to the Best Editing Oscar this year?

Probably not. Generally speaking, the Academy tend to reward micro editing (impressively cut scenes) rather than macro editing, and as impressive as the work by Brian A. Kates and John Paul Horstmann on "Killing Them Softly" is on both levels, the film's barely a blip on the awards radar. Indeed, unless "The Impossible" gets a big boost closer to release or "Beasts of the Southern Wild" truly surprises, we're looking like we've got a two-hour-plus field of nominees in the category this year.

So who are they likely to be? Topping the list this year is William Goldenberg, a Michael Mann veteran with previous nods for "The Insider" and for "Seabiscuit." His work on "Argo," where he pared down a million feet of film to a relatively lean two hour running time, and whose cutting is instrumental to that breathlessly tense third act, is pretty much the front-runner in the category, but Goldenberg could well see himself pick up a second nomination for teaming up with Dylan Tichenor (a previous nominee for "There Will Be Blood") on "Zero Dark Thirty." Their task was even trickier; Kathryn Bigelow shot (digitally) the equivalent of 1.8 million feet of film, an extraordinary amount of footage, that makes the film's 150 minute running time seem positively tiny.

The question is whether two noms might hurt each other. One has to go back to 1990 to find an editor with two nods in the same year (Walter Murch for "Ghost" and as part of the "Godfather Part III' editing team), and even then, he didn't win. And if "Zero Dark Thirty" gets in, it could end up taking the wind out of the sails of "Argo." That said, both feel deserving of a nod.

Traditionally, the winner of Best Picture goes hand in hand with Best Editing, and the category often goes five-for-five in terms of matching up between the two. As such, films like "Lincoln," "Life of Pi" and "Les Misérables" will certainly be in the hunt. Michael Kahn, Steven Spielberg's regular cutter, would become the most nominated editor in history if he gets one for "Lincoln" (he's tied with Thelma Schoonmaker with seven at present), and if he wins, would pick up his fourth Oscar for collaborations with Spielberg, having won in the past for "Saving Private Ryan," "Schindler's List" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Surprisingly, Ang Lee's favorite editor Tim Squyres only has one previous nod (for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), but may not get a second here -- the film's a little less showy in its cutting than some of the competition. With some impressive transitions, and the technical difficulties of musical numbers to work around, Chris Dickens could well be on for his second Oscar for "Les Misérables." The editor, who got his start with Edgar Wright, previously won for "Slumdog Millionaire" (Dickens also did stunning work on "Berberian Sound Studio," but it's ineligible, and wouldn't get a nomination even if it was a 2012 U.S. release).

"Silver Linings Playbook" is likely a longer shot. Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers do fine work on the film, but comedy rarely fares well in the category, especially with such tough competition. An interesting one to watch is "Django Unchained," which no one's officially seen yet. It marks Quentin Tarantino's first film since the passing of his regular editor Sally Menke, with Fred Raskin ("Fast Five") taking over in her place. They've had a famously tough post-production process, but given that Menke was nominated for "Inglourious Basterds" three years back, it might well make the cut if the film has the goods. Leslie Jones and Peter McNulty's work on "The Master" certainly is deserving -- its absorbing, hypnotic rhythms were one of the most impressive bits of editing of 2012. But with the film having lost some of its awards heat, it's going to be touch and go.

Of course, while Picture and Editing traditionally go hand in hand, that's not always been the case. Twice in the last five years, films not even nominated for Best Picture took the top prize in the shape of "The Bourne Ultimatum" in 2008 and "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" earlier this year. As such, there's always the possibility that something otherwise overlooked -- action fare always does particularly well -- might make the cut, and while "The Bourne Legacy" seems unlikely to match its predecessor, the best candidate would seem to be Stuart Baird's work on "Skyfall," given the general critical adulation for it. Lee Smith could also figure in for "The Dark Knight Rises," as he did for his work on forerunner "The Dark Knight" (though, stunningly, "Inception" missed out), but it's a longer shot. "Lord of the Rings" got three nods in the category and one win, so "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is worth keeping an eye on, but as with the other categories, it'll have to be really sublime to make much of a dent.

Arguably one of the most deserving nominees, on merit alone, would be "Cloud Atlas." Whether you like the film or not, the way Alexander Berner and Claus Wehlisch crosscut between the multilple storylines feels like next-level stuff. But like many films that genuinely push the craft of editing forward (see "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World"), it's unlikely to get an enormous amount of support, particularly with the film having died at the box office and with Berner and Wehlisch not really being in the club (they're best known for their work with Paul W.S. Anderson). Melanie Oliver ("Jane Eyre") does some head-turning work on "Anna Karenina," which would certainly be on our ballot, but again, it may be too far out to make it in to the final five in the end.

So, if we had to pick five right now...

William Goldenberg - "Argo"
Chris Dickens - "Les Misérables"
Michael Kahn - "Lincoln"
Leslie Jones, Peter McNulty - "The Master"
William Goldenberg, Dylan Tichenor - "Zero Dark Thirty"

- Elsewhere in the Oscar world, the effects branch, which we looked at last week, has narrowed down to a ten-strong longlist, shutting out one of the films we predicted for a nod, "The Impossible." The contenders are made up of "The Avengers," "LIfe of Pi," "Prometheus," "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," (which we think are all still on track for nods), along with "The Amazing Spider-Man," "The Dark Knight Rises," "Cloud Atlas," "Snow White and the Huntsman," "Skyfall" and "John Carter." It's difficult to tell what might hit that final nod, but we'd wager that "Cloud Atlas," 'TDKR' and "John Carter" have decent chances. [LA Times]

- In further shortlist news, the live-action short longlist was also announced, the biggest news coming from the presence of a film directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, and executive produced by her father, Ron. Check out the full list here.

- Finally, for the populists among you, voting for the Empire Awards has opened, enabling you to have your say. Nominations are announced in early March, with the ceremony taking place on March 24th. Cast your vote here.

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2 Comments

  • cirkusfolk | November 30, 2012 2:05 PMReply

    I was amazed this week to find out 4 films being released in December have a runtime of 160 minutes: The Hobbit, Les Miserable, Zero Dark Thirty, and Django Unchained. Then both Jack Reacher and This is 40 run 130 minutes. And like u mentioned Dark Knight, Lincoln, Skyfall and Cloud Atlas were all long too!

  • Nick | November 30, 2012 12:44 PMReply

    Cloud Atlas so deserves this.

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