When Barry Alexander Brown received a film editing nomination for “BlackKklansman” (above, right) in January, he had to prepare a statement for the press. “I said, ‘Look, I wouldn’t be here without all this other talent in the movie,’” he recalls. “When you look at a film and it gets all of the best awards, that tells a story. This is what I’m given as an editor to work with. I can’t do my work if everyone doesn’t deliver.”
Strictly by nominations, two films delivered strongest this year: “Roma” and “The Favourite” (above, left) received 10 nods each. (“BlacKkKlansman” earned six.) But when any film accumulates a stack of potential wins, it’s hard not to wonder if this year could be a sweep year. Will there be a convergence of opinions? Will the record books need to be rewritten?
“Getting this many nominations means the audience is finding the whole film satisfying,” says Fiona Crombie, nominated in production design with Alice Felton for “The Favourite.” “But it also means that we were on the same page. We’re all making the same film, so there’s not one element that sticks out too far.”
“It is super gratifying to see the collective vision of everyone working on a movie in every department coalescing to create something that exemplifies unity,” says John Ottman, editor nominee for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which snagged five nominations total. “But I don’t know if that indicates there’ll be a sweep.”
Technically, there can’t be: No one film is up for a classic “big five” sweep of picture, director, lead actor and actress and screenplay. There hasn’t been one since 1991’s “Silence of the Lambs”; the biggest non-five sweep in memory is 2003’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which won all 11 categories for which it was nominated. These days, such gangbuster, all-around pictures seem few and far between.
“’Sweeps’ is a popular word, but there’s no way to control it,” says Mary Zophres, whose costume design is one of three nominations for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” “Since individual guilds are the ones who do the nominating, it has to be a convergence of popularity of the film and the guilds — and that happens less and less.”
Indeed, not every film that is beautiful to look at also has “best picture” stamped on it, or affects every potential voter the same way. “Films touch people differently,” says Crombie. “Some films are going to feel more like best picture, but not be strong in crafts.”
Adds three-time Oscar recipient Greg Cannom, who’s nominated for his makeup design (with Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney) on “Vice,” “There’s politics in all of this stuff. There’s been so many makeups I haven’t been nominated for that shocked me, but it’s what the Academy does.”
Still, if a film is to start amassing awards and excitement, the ball gets rolling — in most cases — during the below-the-line portion of the ceremony. A film that starts collecting costume, or sound editing, or production design early on builds an unmistakable buzz — though by that time, voting is long over. Yet do early awards actually indicate any film is likely to win best picture?
Not exactly. A raft of great below-the-line awards does not guarantee a best picture award is in the cards later on. (Think of 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which won six below-the-line awards, and no best picture.)
Yet there is one artisan exception: film editing. Editing became an Oscar category in 1934, and since then only 10 films have won best picture without also capturing at least a film editing nomination; the last was 2014’s “Birdman.” That’s not good news for “Black Panther,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born,” three of the most buzzed-about films of 2018, since none of their editors earned nominations.
Why editing, though? Brown has a theory: “It’s all interconnected. Even down to costumes. Sometimes the use of hair is something that will impact a scene — and I maybe will get credit for that [from voters]. People will say, ‘You did that so seamlessly,’ but it’ll be because the score helped. I may have done a good job, but so have all of these other people.”
Which brings everything back to the importance of collaboration. While it might seem like a cliché in nomination day statements, it’s something that rings true for artisans. “I don’t want to be on my own island making costumes and creating ideas,” says Ruth Carter, nominated for her costume design on “Black Panther.” “I want to collaborate.
“I wish I could say, ‘Oh, there’s some kind of formula as to how a sweep happens,’” she adds. “But I’m on the side of artistry. Artistry speaks for itself, and people are asking the experts to evaluate it.”