Zero Dark Thirty, Chastain
Jessica Chastain in 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Last night's BAFTA win for "Argo" editor William Goldenberg certainly bolsters his Oscar chances, especially given the way the movie is steamrolling its way through the awards season. Then again, Goldenberg, who's also nominated for the controversial best picture contender, "Zero Dark Thirty," with Dylan Tichenor, is in very good editorial company. All five contenders (which also include best picture nominees "Life of Pi," "Lincoln," and "Silver Linings Playbook") are about strong-willed people on improbable missions, whether it's to free American hostages in Iran or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan or unite the country during its darkest hour or save a marriage or survive a life-threatening ordeal.

However, "Argo" is definitely unique for combining a fact-based political thriller with a surreal kind of Hollywood absurdity. The gallows humor of Oscar-winning makeup artist John Chambers (John Goodman) sets the tone with his ability to be funny in every situation, epitomized by his "Argo fuck yourself" tag line during moments of high tension.

And Goldenberg is the first to admit it. "In the editing we just tried to make the jokes play as real as possible. For me, it was a matter of making sure it was grounded," he says. "But what makes it something new is that they really did come up with this idea to disguise them as a movie crew."

It was all about keeping the tones within "the same bandwidth." But for Goldenberg, it all comes together in a sequence that deftly plays with time in which Ben Affleck coaches the houseguests during the drive to the airport while the CIA frantically tries to reinstate the mission.

Yet talk about surreal: imagine taking an immediate left turn onto "Zero Dark Thirty." Fortunately, when Goldenberg joined Tichenor and the editorial team in post, he was hurled into the climactic mission. It was dark, intense, and nothing like "Argo." Hold up in a pitch black room, Goldenberg had no problem getting into the claustrophobic vibe.

For Tim Squyres, Ang Lee's long-time editor, "Life of Pi" was unconventional in the sense that there was no assembling of coverage to construct a scene. Here, the elaborate previs by Halon dictated how most of the spiritual adventure was shot between Pi (Suraj Sharma) and Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger, except for the India scenes and framing device. Even so, there was editorial wiggle room to change things around, despite the technical difficulties.

For example, there's a crucial moment when Pi's losing his grip in the power struggle with the tiger, and they try to figure out how Richard Parker should respond when the boy attempts to communicate with it. The director suggested a quiet puffing sound tigers make to express friendliness.