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‘Sully,’ ‘Patriots Day,’ ‘Deepwater Horizon’ Could Crack Film Editing Oscar Race

Unlike in years past, when movies outside the best picture fray like “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” “Speed,” “Se7en” and “Out of Sight” could manage film editing nominations, the editors branch of the Academy has, of late, hued closer to the Oscars’ top category in its collective selections.

That’s increasingly been the case over the last seven years, the era of an expanded best picture field of more than five nominees; only twice during that span of time has a film that wasn’t nominated for best picture landed a film editing nomination, most recently last year for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” But there are a number of options at play this time around.

Lucasfilm is back in the mix again, with “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” BAFTA-nominated editor Jabez Olssen (“The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”) took on the gargantuan task this time, and given that this particular installment is a war film packed with action, he may well be on track for a notice.

There is a great story waiting to be written should both film editor Blu Murray and sound editor Alan Robert Murray pick up nominations for Clint Eastwood’s “Sully”: it’s a father/son team, and like many members of Eastwood’s crew, Blu came up through the ranks as an assistant on the director’s previous projects. The structure of “Sully” provided a unique opportunity to break down the 208-second flight that ended in a miracle water landing from multiples perspectives.

And Peter Berg’s two efforts on the year, “Deepwater Horizon” and “Patriots Day,” are massive editorial undertakings. Procedurals that plant the viewer in the middle of the action, whether a tragic event at sea or the minutiae-laden investigation of a terrorist attack, each film was impeccably assembled by editors Gabriel Fleming and Colby Parker Jr.

But again, the best picture category seems to dictate the direction here a lot. And there are plenty of contenders, beginning with Tom Cross, who won the Oscar for “Whiplash” three years ago. Working with director Damien Chazelle again on “La La Land,” he had his work cut out for him in the musical genre, piecing together the various numbers and keeping the energy of the enterprise up throughout. But sometimes musicals can be surprisingly looked over, as was the case for “Les Miserables” and “Dreamgirls” in recent years.

Moonlight” is one of the least showy jobs up for appraisal here, but Joi McMillon and Nat Sanders’ work is remarkable nevertheless. Refined and free of fuss, it maintains an organic quality across the three segments of Barry Jenkins’ triptych.

And we shouldn’t sleep on a legend like three-time Oscar winner Thelma Schoonmaker. She was passed over for Martin Scorsese’s “Wolf of Wall Street,” maybe because fellow editors held the film’s length against it. At two-and-a-half hours, however, the director’s latest, “Silence” certainly isn’t brief.

The crafts of Garth Davis’ “Lion” could go far with Oscar voters. In addition to already award-winning cinematography and an outstanding, emotional score, Alexandre de Franceschi’s editing brings Saroo Brierley’s epic real-life story together in evocative ways, particularly as Saroo begins to piece together the mysteries of his childhood.

Speaking of structure, a movie like “Arrival” is fully dependent on its editing. The script lays out a road map but Oscar nominee Joe Walker’s (“12 Years a Slave”) execution in the assemblage is crucial. To detail why might dip into spoiler territory, but his work is very much a steward of the narrative’s emotion.

Like “Arrival,” “Manchester by the Sea” plays with time somewhat, casually moving into flashbacks throughout to better establish the characters’ emotional head space. That quality of Jennifer Lame’s editing doesn’t quite work for everyone, though, and it’s just a question of whether her fellow editors buy into director Kenneth Lonergan’s intent or not.

Some movies could have coattails that extend to the editing, like “Hell or High Water” (Jake Roberts) or “Fences” (Hughes Winborne). Others could dazzle for spectacle, like “Hacksaw Ridge” (John Gilbert) or “The Jungle Book” (Mark Livolsi). And there are artful jobs like “Jackie” (Sebastian Sepulveda) to consider as well.

But what about an eight-hour documentary that draws together a massive amount of footage to tell the definitive story of an American icon and his place in the history of race relations in this country? Indeed, “O.J.: Made in America” may be one of the most accomplished contenders in the category, and there’s a precedent for a documentary grabbing the attention of this branch: “Hoop Dreams” did it in 1994.

The American Cinema Editors group announces nominees in drama, comedy, animated and documentary categories on Jan. 3. We’ll have an even better grasp on how they view the field then.

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