Tuesday, July 15, 2014

OVP: Film Editing (2013)

OVP: Best Film Editing (2013)

The Nominees Were...

Jay Cassidy, Crispin Struthers, and Alan Baumgarten, American Hustle
Christopher Rouse, Captain Phillips
John Mac McMurphy and Martin Pensa, Dallas Buyers Club
Alfonso Cuaron and Mark Sanger, Gravity
Joe Walker, 12 Years a Slave

My Thoughts: Editing.  The silent art.  Choosing the best and worst of editing is always a tricky affair because you never know exactly what it is that you started with.  Bad Grandpa may have been 100-times worse and I'd never know it because I wasn't in the editing room to see how everything would have turned out.  As it is, though, I'm left merely to decide whether or not what I was left with was something I'd consider well-cut and paced.  And that's where we are with these five films.

The strangest nomination in this bunch would have to be Dallas Buyers Club.  Every year or so there seems to be one out-of-the-blue nomination amidst the films you'd expect here (the Best Picture frontrunners, the action-adventures, the visual effects spectaculars), but Dallas Buyers Club is an odd nomination, as there doesn't appear to be anything truly compelling about the film and the way that it is edited.  The reality is that the film feels very much like a television movie, and were it not for the giant central performance of Matthew McConaughey, that's what we'd consider it.  This is an average film, and one that probably could have used swifter and better pacing (more about the actual side characters, particularly Rayon who would have benefited from more backstory to really sell his tell-off scene with his father.  All-in-all, not only is this a surprising nomination, it's a disappointing surprise.

A far nicer surprise when I first watched it was the middle third of Captain Phillips.  The suspense in the central part of the film, when the pirates are attempting to board the ship and then moving through each deck-harrowing.  It's a great thrill ride, and this would have been a wonderful citation for a film that probably didn't need any of the others that it got.  That being said, the editing suffers dramatically in the first and final thirds of the film; the former because we are left with such grey aspects of the Captain's home life and the latter because the film doesn't have the guts to either have the captors be true villains or to show them as being products-of-circumstance.  Still, there are truly great editing decisions in this film, which puts it significantly above some of its competitors.

I'm already starting to feel like I'm going to be repeating myself when it comes to the many wonderful attributes to Gravity, but this is also a film that knows how to build suspense.  The movie lives and dies on its editing, since we are alone with almost no one other than Sandra Bullock to guide us.  The editors not only have to get the gargantuan nature of space and the infinite nature of it across, they also need to keep us interested when there is just one person on the screen.  That's difficult, even if you're working with a movie star as ace as Sandra Bullock.  I love the opening longshot, which has been much discussed for a reason.  It builds tension because you never get a break-almost any other filmmaker wouldn't have the guts to keep that relentlessness up, but Cuaron keeps throwing and hurling space at us.  It's a tour de force of editing-you wouldn't exhale so deeply during the moment when Bullock finally gets into the space station if you hadn't been holding your breath so long.

American Hustle one would assume would be in the same boat as Dallas Buyers Club, but you'd be wrong.  For starters, Oscar Best Picture frontrunners almost always make it here, and at the time this movie was in contention for that prize in a way that DBC couldn't begin to be.  And secondly, caper films require great editing.  I think there were moments in this film that totally worked-the comic bits with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in particular required a facial reaction camera work that is gold in an editing room.  However, that doesn't mean it's particularly Oscar-worthy.  The relationships in this film don't have the balance they should, and that might have been a script problem, but the editors get caught holding the short end as a result.  I also found that the film moved too quickly over certain aspects (the Robert de Niro cameo, for example), and spent too long on others (the crumbling relationship between Bale and Adams).  Overall this is okay, but not worthy of some of the competitors on display.

Finally we have 12 Years a Slave, a movie that has some faults that we'll get to, but thankfully the editing is rarely one of them.  The movie has occasional bouts where it probably should have been cut (the Benedict Cumberbatch/Paul Dano scenes seemed largely unnecessary), but the movie is so filled with little touches and great moments that could have been deleted by a less insightful editor that I have to give the movie credit.  Think of the scene with Alfre Woodard as Mistress Shaw or especially the scene with Solomon coming across a lynching in the woods.  The mood of this film is one of reality and desperation.  The editors don't just portray history-they portray a history as it actually, horribly happened.  That's something few films have been able to accomplish about the South prior to the Civil War, and definitely something that makes the editors of this film worthy of their nomination.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Eddie Awards have nominees for both Drama and Comedy/Musical, so we managed to get almost all of the Oscar nominees included.  In Drama, Captain Phillips picked up the prize with 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Her, and Saving Mr. Banks all falling behind.  For Comedy/Musical we saw American Hustle on top, beating out August: Osage County, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, and The Wolf of Wall Street (comedy is a pretty loose term).  The BAFTA Awards went completely outside of the box, giving the trophy to Rush (one of those extremely rare times where a film won the BAFTA without getting even an Oscar nod for the same category), with 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Captain Phillips, and The Wolf of Wall Street falling behind.  While numbers seem to indicate that The Wolf of Wall Street was probably in sixth, my gut says that Rush was actually just out of reach on a few nominations, including this one.
Films I Would Have Nominated: I frequently find myself advocating for some of my favorite films of the year in this particular category, considering good editing generally means good movie in most people's minds.  I'd say that The Bling Ring in particular deserved inclusion, with the way that it speeds and slows so well throughout the film, would probably be the movie I would most vouch for being included, though its disappearance from the critical scene almost immediately after premiering meant that would never happen.
Oscar's Choice: One of the absolutely tightest Oscar races of the night, Gravity ended up with one of the few trophies that wasn't guaranteed to it heading into the Dolby.  I'd wager that Captain Phillips was probably in second, but really anyone but Dallas Buyers Club could legitimately be considered for that position.
My Choice: Another vote for Gravity (it's a technical marvel), with 12 Years coming in closer behind than I initially expected.  Following that would be Captain Phillips, American Hustle, and then Dallas Buyers Club.

Those are my thoughts-what are yours?  Did you agree with Oscar and I with Gravity, or were you rooting for one of the other contenders?  Anyone want to take a stab as to why Dallas Buyers Club was a nominee?  Between Rush and The Wolf of Wall Street, who came the closest to being a nominee?  And what film was the best edited of 2013?  Share in the comments!

Past Best Film Editing Contests: 2009, 201020112012

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