The film editing branch of the Academy used to offer up adventurous options like “Basic Instinct,” “Hoop Dreams,” “Speed,” “Crimson Tide,” “Seven,” “Air Force One” and “Out of Sight,” best picture prospects be damned. Not so much anymore. Every now and then we’ll get a “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” here, a “United 93” there, but mostly — and perhaps even understandably, given the expanded top field of the last six seasons — this race has shifted to a place of mirroring the best picture category.
With that in mind, this year’s top contenders are sure to figure in as always. At the top of the list of anticipations is Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “The Revenant,” cut by Oscar-winner Stephen Mirrione (“Traffic”). The film was shot in sequence, which is unique, particularly for a project of this scale and scope. The stitching technique employed on Iñárritu’s “Birdman” was brought into the equation as well. It could be part of an overall dazzling mixture that leaves branches across the board transfixed.
(Of note: Mirrione was passed over for “Birdman” last year after, presumably, the aforementioned stitching technique that led to the film appearing as one continuous take pushed editors to look elsewhere. But at least it led to the crumbling of an Oscar stat that obsessives have long clung to: “Birdman” became the first film since 1980’s “Ordinary People” to win best picture without a corresponding film editing nomination.)
Elsewhere, Elliot Graham certainly had his work cut out for him on “Steve Jobs.” Shaping Aaron Sorkin’s rat-tat-tat dialogue into scenes with drive, not to mention a three-act structure that plays up his work in molding the narrative, ought to be respected by branch members. The only question with this film as of late is how bad the box office bust hurts its image in voters’ minds.
One of the best examples in the fray this season is Tom McArdle’s handling of Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight.” This is material that could have been unbearably dry, but McArdle — no doubt thanks in large part to a wonderfully paced script — keeps it engaging and interesting throughout.
Steven Spielberg’s longtime editor Michael Kahn is back in the mix this year, with eight nominations and three Oscars already under his belt. “Bridge of Spies” is a movie in it for the long haul, one that has been very well-received and could bring a number of elements along for a coattail ride. And Kahn, as evidenced already, is clearly revered within the branch.
Oscar-winner Pietro Scalia hasn’t been to the dance since he last won for Ridley Scott’s “Black Hawk Down” (his second Academy Award after winning for Oliver Stone’s “JFK”). This time around he’s on another Scott project, one that has really taken off with voters eager to celebrate entertainment at the Oscars: “The Martian.”
Another entertainment in the mix, one that no doubt dips heavily into auteurist fantasia, is George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road.” The amount of footage Miller dumped into editor Margaret Sixel’s lap has already been a talking point on the Q&A circuit: all 480 hours of it.
“Room” was a particular challenge in a number of areas, from designing the confines of its first half, to shooting in those confines, to acting within them, to, indeed, shaping a narrative around them. Nathan Nugent’s work is quite effective in not only conveying an outer world of grim reality, but an inner one of the human spirit.
We’ll see what Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” adds to the mix soon enough, and what editor Fred Raskin has done to help shape the director’s big, bold, brash Ultra Panavision endeavor. “Django Unchained” was passed over, and this will be a story told with a lot of long takes, but perhaps it will catch hold and become a favorite throughout the branches.
Also on deck is J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey weren’t able to slide in for “Star Trek” in 2009, but maybe the excitement sure to accompany this return to a galaxy far, far away will rally branch members.
Finally, a lot of the tension of Denis Villeneuve’s “Sicario” is owed to Oscar nominee Joe Walker’s (“12 Years a Slave”) work in building it. The film is a bit of a question mark in a number of areas, flirting with genre but no doubt a film of importance in the race. Will it find its mark with editors? Again, they used to be adventurous in honoring work like this.
A few other possibilities in play include: David O. Russell’s “Joy,” which has taken on four valiant editors to help find whatever film it will end up being; Adam McKay’s “The Big Short,” a comedy/drama that could find a foothold late in the game; Peter Landesman’s “Concussion,” tightly assembled by Oscar-winner William Goldenberg (“Argo”); and “Black Mass,” a patient rendering courtesy of Oscar-nominee David Rosenbloom (“The Insider”). Other films, from “Brooklyn” to “The Danish Girl,” could certainly ride best picture coattails if they come to pass, while I would personally offer up “Carol” as a worthy consideration, a rather gorgeous tapestry pieced together by Affonso Gonçalves.
Keep track of the film editing Oscar race all season long at the category’s dedicated Contenders page.