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In recent years, the awards media has caught on to the relationship between the categories of Best Film Editing and Best Picture. Even films like "Argo" and "Crash," which did not win the Best Director Oscar, picked up the trophy for Best Film Editing. Every year, the vast majority of nominees in this category (sometimes even five out of five) are also cited in the top category.
The didn't used to be the case. Long gone, it seems, are the days when films like "Speed" or "Se7en" or "Air Force One" could consistently make an appearance, though we do get a "Blood Diamond" or "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" surprise every now and then these days. With that in mind, it tends to be a fairly predictable "type of film" that manages to score here in the absence of a Best Picture nomination. Most obviously, films that have a significant amount of action and suspense tend to do quite well. "The Bourne Ultimatum" and the aforementioned "Dragon Tattoo" are two of only three films to win this category in the past eight years without winning Best Picture – and they were not even nominated for Best Picture. Musicals and films with atypical narrative styles ("Memento," "United 93," "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly") also tend to do well.
So who should we expect to see in the running this year?
I think it’s fair to say that "Gravity" is way out ahead here. Alfonso Cuarón already joined the likes of fellow directors David Lean, the Coen brothers and James Cameron with his nomination in this category for "Children of Men." With the suspenseful "Gravity," which is likely to be a leading contender in the Best Picture race, he could well join Cameron in the exclusive club of filmmakers who won an Oscar for editing their own film. Mark Sanger, Cuarón’s co-editor, would be a first-time nominee.
Christopher Rouse’s win in this category for "The Bourne Ultimatum" proved that the Academy clearly appreciated the visceral feel he creates on Paul Greengrass films. In my opinion, he should have won when nominated the year prior for Greengrass’s "United 93." This year, he is once again collaborating with the director, on "Captain Phillips." The duo’s skill in working together is key to the success of their films and I would be surprised if Rouse does not find himself among the final five, especially as this film is likely to score more nominations than "United 93" or "The Bourne Ultimatum."
Joe Walker’s cutting of Steve McQueen’s "12 Years a Slave" may not have been as energized as that of Rouse on "Captain Phillips," but I fully expect this film to score nominations across the board on the way to a possible Best Picture victory. His work in the film carries the momentum of Solomon Northup's nightmarish story forward but is just as patient when it needs to be.
Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill have worked with Ron Howard since 1982’s "Night Shift." Their fellow editors clearly like their work, nominating them for "A Beautiful Mind," "Cinderella Man" and "Frost/Nixon." They also won for "Apollo 13." The "Cinderella Man" nomination was particularly surprising considering it came without a guild nod and for a film that earned only two other Oscar nominations. Boxing and space movies naturally seem this branch’s cup of tea and car racing is exactly the same. So I think they have a fantastic chance of being recognized for "Rush." True, the film did not light up the box office the way the filmmakers and financiers were hoping, but it had very respectable reviews and overall reception.
Crispin Struthers managed to be this category’s sole first-time nominee last year with his bid shared with Jay Cassidy (also previously nominated for "Into the Wild") for "Silver Linings Playbook." The nod was somewhat surprising, indicating the pair are clearly respected by their peers. They are once again working with David O. Russell this year on "American Hustle." One of few truly unknown commodities in this race, it could catch on big and, if it does, watch out for it here.
If we’re merely talking about Best Picture contenders, Mark Livolski will have to be considered for John Lee Hancock’s "Saving Mr. Banks." An homage to Old Hollywood while simultaneously shifting between 1960s Los Angeles and early-20th Century Australia, I expect several nominations for this film. I'm not sure this is the most likely place, though; the work may prove too subtle. But if it becomes a nominations sweeper…
I feel oddly confident that "Lee Daniels’ The Butler" will find itself among the Best Picture nominees. This is not to say I’m confident about how many nominations it will receive overall. However, Joe Klotz’s editing did take us through many decades. His fellow editors, who nominated him for "Precious," may find that a feat worth recognizing.
For more than 90 minutes, the crafts artists on "All is Lost" have to keep an audience engaged. And film editor Pete Boudreau's work as part of that team can't go understated. I am not convinced the film is headed for an across-the-board sweep, but in the event that I am proven wrong, the editing would have to be considered a serious contender.
Denis Villeneuve’s "Prisoners" kept audiences engaged in a tough-to-watch suspenseful tale. Such a respected thriler could well score here. Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach are long-time collaborators of Clint Eastwood. Cox won this category for "Unforgiven" and was nominated for "Million Dollar Baby." Roach is waiting for his first nomination. This could be a sleeper.
Adding action to suspense is Peter Berg’s "Lone Survivor." I’m not convinced this will light the circuit on fire, but it does, however, have a prestigious story, a ton of (sustained) action and a prime end-of-year release. So I wouldn’t cross Colby Parker, Jr. off your list yet.
"Roderick Jaynes" is one of very few people who have earned multiple Oscar nominations despite…not existing. Under this pseudonym, Joel and Ethan Coen have managed to land nominations for both "Fargo" and "No Country for Old Men." "Inside Llewyn Davis" may be on its way to being one of the year’s most critically acclaimed films. Whether it becomes as big with the public and the Academy is another matter. It is, however, a musical (of sorts), so that cannot hurt its chances here. There was also a lot of difficulty here, cutting to the live performances rather than using audio dubs for the songs.
Finally, Michael Kahn earned his eighth career nomination last year (for "Lincoln"), breaking his tie with the great Thelma Schoonmaker for most nominated working film editor. This year, Schoonmaker has a chance to level the record with "The Wolf of Wall Street." It remains to be seen how Martin Scorsese’s tale, which will approach three hours in length, will be received. But if it finds itself a player in the Best Picture race, it would be surprising indeed if his editor of choice did not earn another Oscar nomination.
So there are the top dozen contenders as I see them. Who do you see making the cut? And do you think I missed a genuine contender?
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