Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Countdown to the Oscars: Best Editing

Ellar Coltrane stars in Richard Linklater's Boyhood.

Each day as we make our way to the Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 22, Last Cinema Standing will take an in-depth look at each of the categories, sorting out the highs, the lows, and everything in between. Check back right here for analysis, predictions, and gripes as we inch toward the Dolby Theater and that world-famous red carpet.

Best Editing

The nominees are:

The Grand Budapest Hotel

I will not have been the first person to say this, but in many ways, the final storyteller of a film is the editor. The writer creates the story, and the director, cast, and crew go out and film it, but after all that, the last person standing is the editor. Whether it comes in as thousands of feet of film or hard drives full of data, the editor is the person left with mountains of information to construct into a coherent, engaging film.

They pull pieces from here, there, and everywhere, cutting together performances, emotions, ideas, and finally, a film. On every feature, a Herculean effort is required to put together something from virtually nothing. All the little individual acts that go into making a film mean nothing unless the editor can bring it all home. Most remarkable, if they have done their job correctly, their work is nearly invisible. One moment transitions into the next, scene into scene, years upon years, and it should all be seamless, never intruding on the audience’s ability to engage with the story.

Great nominated work was turned in across the board by the old guard and the new this year. Some of the work is innovative and unprecedented, and some intentionally calls attention to itself, while some is beautiful in its subtlety and simplicity. Best of all, four of the six editors nominated this year are first-time nominees, a couple with only a handful of feature films under their belts. What that means is that we hopefully have many years of great work ahead from these talented artists.

Boyhood – It would be hard to point to a precedent for what editor Sandra Adair did on Richard Linklater’s coming-of-age opus. Piles and piles of footage trickling in over 12 years of shooting a loosely plotted film that is more about how people experience life than any specific experiences. Linklater and his cast and crew have been rightly lauded for their dozen years or so of dedication, but after most of them packed it in and headed home or moved on to other projects, Adair was left with the task of crafting that work into a film.

The closest approximations I can think of both come from the world of documentary filmmaking, Steve James’ Hoop Dreams, which follows two kids growing up over the course of five years, and Michael Apted’s Up series, which checks in with a group of people every seven years from the age of 7 to 56, so far. Those are great films, but still, nothing quite matches Adair’s (and Linklater’s) feat of turning something as nebulous as growing up into a compelling, relatable feature film.

What is more, it is not simply the unprecedented nature of the work that impresses. The film is paced at the speed of life, meaning that it feels slow, but by the end, you realize it has all gone by so fast. We have watched all of these actors grow and change and live, and we feel that growth in ourselves along with them. Adair’s work is integral to recreating the feeling of what it is like to want to rush to the end, only to realize we wish we had enjoyed it more. Well, we may not be able to live more than one life, but thanks to Linklater, Adair, and everyone else involved, we can relive Boyhood over and over.

Whiplash – Though he has worked in the editorial department on a number of major films, Tom Cross has just five feature films to his credit as lead editor. As such, Whiplash is one hell of a coming-out party. Matching the energy and improvisational nature of a film about jazz with the propulsion and precision of a movie about drumming is no easy feat, but Cross handles the job with aplomb. Fast paced but never out of control – except when Cross wants it to be – the film barrels relentlessly forward, leaving little opportunity to catch your breath.

Without getting into spoiler territory, the climactic scene alone deserves to be studied in classes. Lectures could be given on how to craft a scene, and the final sequence of Whiplash would be the perfect visual aid. Credit to director Damien Chazelle for getting all the necessary shots, but for Cross to find the individual pieces that add up to the whole, it is almost impossible even to imagine. Cross won the award for best editing from the British Academy of Film and Television. If he manages to pull the same trick with the Oscar voters, it would be a surprising but richly deserved honor.

American Sniper – Editors Joel Cox and Gary Roach have worked on 19 films together, almost all of them for director Clint Eastwood. For the first decade of their partnership, Roach served as Cox’s assistant, but since Letters from Iwo Jima in 2006, they have shared equal credit on all of their collaborations. The biggest surprise to me was that while Cox is a three-time nominee and winner for Eastwood’s Best Picture-winning Unforgiven, this is Roach’s first nomination. The recognition is long overdue.

American Sniper is probably the most traditional of the films in this lineup and would be most in line with previous winners in the category. It is a war film and an action thriller with the kind of quick cuts and suspense sequences that cry out for an editing award. Cox and Roach are old hands at this by now. They know their way around a battlefield – Exhibit A: the aforementioned Letters from Iwo Jima – and they build tension like few others. This is a definite threat for the win.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – We are only a few categories into our rundown of the Academy Awards nominations, and I feel like I have already said this a lot – and I know I said it back in October when the Independent Spirit nominations came out – but this is the most Wes Anderson-like film Wes Anderson has ever made. As I said then, this may be the apex of Anderson’s peculiar stylistic obsessions.

For whatever reason, this one caught on with the Academy where all others failed to do so, save a couple writing nominations. I cannot explain why, and I have a hard time getting too excited about all the below-the-line love for this film. However, editor Barney Pilling, a first-time nominee and one of the few head craftsmen new to Anderson’s filmmaking, does a fine job reining in the whimsy, ratcheting up the tension, and hitting the precision beats Anderson’s comedy relies on.

The Imitation Game – William Goldenberg is a five-time nominee and won this award in 2012, when he was nominated against himself, winning for Argo and losing for Zero Dark Thirty. He also edited Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken this year. Suffice it to say, the man knows how to edit a war picture. That said, I felt The Imitation Game was lacking in a number of key areas, both above and below the line. It may be more of a function of the writing, but for a World War II film about cracking an unbreakable code, there is surprisingly little tension.

Goldenberg is an obviously talented editor who has been in this game a long time. One wants to give him the benefit of the doubt and place the blame for the movie’s lack of excitement and snail pacing on a relatively untested director and a first-time screenwriter, but Goldenberg is better than this. He had the chance and has the ability to elevate this film, but he did not.

The final analysis

In most years, American Sniper would be the obvious frontrunner in this category. Even in years where there has been a likely Best Picture winner in the mix – which is most every year – it was vulnerable to a more action-laden film. The time The Bourne Ultimatum won Best Editing over No Country for Old Men springs immediately to mind. Still, this does not feel like most years, and it would be hard to believe Adair’s work on the beloved Boyhood will go unrewarded. In addition, voters looking for flashier candidates than Boyhood may ended up splitting their vote between American Sniper and Whiplash.

Will win: Boyhood
Should win: Boyhood
Wish it had been here: Calvary

No comments: