Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Science of Best Picture: Best Film Editing

The science of Best Picture, more often than not, comes down to the Editing category. Even in these recent years of more than five Best picture nominees, you need not look any further than the Best Editing field to spot the eventual winner. Over the last twenty years, going all the way back to The Silence of the Lambs, the eventual Best Picture winner has been in the Editing category every year. Twelve times it has won. Editing is arguably the most important technical category, maybe this side of cinematography, and the way a film is pieced together can make or break the effectiveness of the picture. Great editing is harder to identify than poor editing, and understandably so. Only when a film’s editing choices want to be noticed should they be noticed; otherwise, editing flare is a poor distraction in a film that cannot stand on its own merit.

This year, there are nine nominees for Best Picture and the standard five nominees for Best Editing. Of those five editing nominees, only four are Best Picture contenders; The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the only outlier. Form will always hold in this theory – always – so right off the top you can eliminate five Best Picture hopefuls: The Help, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Tree of Life, War Horse, and Midnight in Paris. In some of the instances – The Tree of Life and Midnight in Paris specifically – this omission is a shame as they are both excellent films deserving of the top award. But the four nominees in the category have their own argument.

The four double nominees are The Artist, Hugo, Moneyball, and The Descendants. It is no coincidence these are already the four films with the best chance of winning. As far as editing is concerned, The Descendants does not deserve the nomination. While the editing was surely wonderful in the picture, nothing in the film relies on timing or energy or detail regarding cuts or movement. The Tree of Life deserved a nomination here. Moneyball had to contend with baseball, and any sports movie done well does not create distractions with their sports/action sequences. Hugo is edited, of course, by Thelma Schoonmaker, who has been Martin Scorsese’s editor since Raging Bull. Schoonmaker has been nominated an astounding seven times and has won three, and her seventh nomination for Hugo is well deserved.

But the editing in The Artist is a unique case. Michel Hazanavicius and Anne-Sophie Bion had to frame the picture like a silent film, so the editing process had to incorporate modern technology while still creating a film that looked and felt old in the framework. It is quite an achievement by the pair, as The Artist feels seamlessly and perfectly antiquated in all the right ways. I see no scenario where Havanavicius and Bion do not win Best Editing. This pushes The Artist head and shoulders above the other three hopefuls.

By the time Oscar night rolls around the Best Picture race usually feels like a foregone conclusion. Pay close attention to Best Editing once again, because here is where The Artist will announce itself as the winner. The only upset I can see here is the great Thelma Schoonmaker stealing the award for her work in Hugo. As I mentioned, twelve times out of twenty Best Picture has coincided with Best Editing, so if Schoonmaker manages the upset Hugo has only an outside chance at taking home the big award. In my opinion, it still wouldn’t be enough to pry the Oscar away from The Artist.