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Immersed in Movies: Assessing the Editing Oscar Race, from 'Argo' to 'Zero Dark Thirty'

Photo of Bill Desowitz By Bill Desowitz | Thompson on Hollywood February 11, 2013 at 4:05PM

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"...
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But Squyres disagreed: "I think the only thing Richard Parker is saying in this is, 'What are you saying?'" he explains in "The Making of Life of Pi" (Harper Design). The editor persuasively made his case in his attempt to help shape the most effective performance from the animated tiger (courtesy of VFX Oscar frontrunner Rhythm & Hues).

With "Lincoln," long-time Steven Spielberg editor and two-time Oscar winner Michael Kahn found himself assembling an actor and dialogue-centric movie with the celebrated director for the first time in their 36-year collaboration. He says it was liberating for both of them to delve into Lincoln's complex psychology and power of persuasion. Everything revolved around Daniel Day-Lewis' commanding performance, so there was a much simpler and theatrical approach to the narrative and use of visual space, and a much greater opportunity to linger on the solemn moments amid the battle to pass the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery.

"During war, it's hard to be a commander-in-chief," Kahn suggests. "But I learned things about Lincoln that I didn’t know from school. He kept the union together, he opposed slavery, but it's how he did it -- how he handled people. You have the opportunity to see how he felt, what was inside of him. He had a lot of doubts and fears, but he was able to handle it. It's well-known that he was a great storyteller, and he used that to his advantage. And you really like him."

Meanwhile, what's fascinating about "Silver Linings Playbook" is how brilliantly it juggles a rom-com with a bi-polar social issue drama. It's full of eccentric charm and refreshing unpredictability. But like "Argo," editors Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers had to ground it in a believable reality so the eccentricity didn't overwhelm the movie.

Nevertheless, director David O. Russell's free form shooting style of discovering and exploring the characters in the moment was editorially challenging. Cassidy was therefore given enough material and latitude to "fit the character" in the editing room through a continual process of calibration and recalibration. But the first act was the most challenging because Bradley Cooper (who also served as exec producer) needed to find the sweet spot for his quixotic protagonist.

"The best example of that is he's a ticking time bomb and how much of his manic behavior should come through in the first act?" Cassidy explains. "And if there's too much, then you've upstaged the climax of the act -- the scene with the parents in the attic. And you don't want the audience to see him behave in such a way that they say, 'Send him back…he deserves to be in the hospital.' So Bradley, who was very involved in all post-production issues, had the time to explore Pat so that we liked him and believed in this second chance to remake himself."

As Goldenberg says, "It's all about keeping the eye on the prize."

This article is related to: Immersed In Movies, Features, Awards, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.