Wednesday, October 28, 2015

OVP: Film Editing (2014)

OVP: Best Film Editing (2014)

The Nominees Were...

Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach, American Sniper
Sandra Adair, Boyhood
Barney Pilling, The Grand Budapest Hotel
William Goldenberg, The Imitation Game
Tom Cross, Whiplash

My Thoughts: Whew-as we continue to get back into a writing schedule that actually allows for my goal of twelve articles in a week, it seems about time to rejoin our OVP, n'est-ce pas?  Where last we left off I had given Dawn of the Planet of the Apes the Visual Effects Oscar and we were headed into the Film Editing race, that most silent of arts that is amongst the most difficult categories to judge at the Oscars (if you're saying "what the heck is this and why is it so wonderful?," click the OVP link up top or start perusing all of the past contests listed below and be vocal about your choices for the winners).  The editing races once again relied heavily on the Best Picture nominees, though weirdly not the winner (for the first time since 1980 the Best Picture winner wasn't nominated for Best Editing).  Since we don't have that option, let's go alphabetically for a change of pace, shall we?

American Sniper, like all but one of these films, is getting its first mention in this article, and we start my complicated journey with the film which relies a bit on the editing.  Clint Eastwood's film is a juxtaposition, as there's some interesting conversation happening here about the effects of war, and the actual battle scenes in the film are impressive.  I highlighted this in my review (all the full reviews of the nominees are above...and I promise that's my last shameless plug for myself), but the scene highlighted in the first trailer is riveting.  We get an extended sequence where Bradley Cooper has to decide if a woman and boy are a risk of carrying a bomb or whether he's about to kill an innocent civilian.  The entire sequence is a testament to the black-and-white nature of war that Eastwood is trying to get across, and like most of the film's action sequences it is highly-compelling.  The problem is the film goes so off-its-rails in the back half and the scenes start to feel like a commercial rather than a movie-a more sharply edited approach might have cleaned up this portion of the flick.

Boyhood had to be a titanic type of endeavor for any editor, splicing together a decade's worth of scenes and clips into something not only watchable, but also that makes sense with previous scenes.  You never get the impression in the movie that there wasn't a vision for what is happening onscreen, and indeed it feels like each scene flows perfectly to the next.  This is harder than it seems; after all, we spend so little time with Ellar Coltrane's Mason at each age and the editors manage to make the movie have the right pacing where we feel a pang of nostalgia even as the film goes, but still rushes us so we get the sense of how quickly life moves by.  It's a great trick, and also allows us a nice balance between Mason and the periphery of his life with his parents and sister slowly checking in but ebbing and flowing in importance based on his age.  This is one of those nominations you have to treasure, as it's impossible to look at it and not think that the Academy could have ignored these subtle touches and instead just gone with another quality action picture.

A film that I really enjoyed, even if I don't think editing was where its talents most thoroughly resided, was The Grand Budapest Hotel.  The film is a luxury for the eyes, but it's worth noting that it's story has some rough shifts and especially toward the end we get some sequences that feel hurried and sort of glossed over.  I think one of the biggest issues I had with the film, the Agatha story being too small compared to where it ends up in the larger scope of the ending, is a combination of editing and writing. The film feels like we left scenes between Agatha and Zero on the cutting room floor, which would be fine (Gustave and Zero are more interesting together anyway), but considering how significant she is to the film's final ten minutes I wonder if perhaps the editors should have either pushed for a change to the ending or shifted more focus to the love story rather than the story of friendship.  I think this would have made the film less interesting, but in its current state the editing comes across as messier than it should be.

The film is a joy, though, compared to the nightmare that is The Imitation Game, the major dud of this nominations field.  I have gone into great detail of why I had such a poor reaction to this movie before, but the editing (and, admittedly, the writing which goes hand-in-hand with this category) is a huge part of that.  The major problem I had with The Imitation Game is that the entire film is predicated on a relationship between Joan and Alan, that they are the most significant romantic relationship they'll ever have, particularly on the part of Alan for Joan.  The entire film we see Alan trying to show that he loved Christopher his Computer and Joan his friend, but the beginning and ending of the film needs him to have actually acted on his homosexuality rather than just reject it, and by cutting scenes (that may well have never existed-sorry editors, this isn't an exact science for giving out trophies) that show him as homosexual, we don't get a story that seems authentic.  The scenes therefore feel like they're from two different films, and adding on the weird random shots of the war interspersed with the movie, this is a pretty jumbled mess of an editing job.

Whiplash is a conundrum for me here, because the editing occasionally is excellent, approaching wonderful.  The back-and-forth arguments between Teller and Simmons, as well the the musical performances have the approach of an action movie, they are so sharply cut and drawn, and I can see why people went gaga over this film in this category last year.  However, the film doesn't really know what to do once it leaves the classroom.  The scenes between Teller and his father/girlfriend feel out of sync and choppy, like they're being rushed to get back to the good stuff, and when major characters (particularly Melissa Benoist's love interest) feel completely glossed over that's a problem.  This is a small quibble considering how strong the actual musical performances are, but if you're competing for an Oscar you have to get to that minutia.

Other Precursor Contenders: The Eddie Awards have nominees for both Drama and Comedy/Musical, so all of the Oscar nominees managed to make the ballot here.  In the drama categories we had Boyhood emerging victorious over not only Whiplash, The Imitation Game, and American Sniper, but also Nightcrawler and Gone Girl.  The Grand Budapest Hotel won Comedy/Musical against Into the Woods, Birdman, Inherent Vice, and Guardians of the Galaxy.  The BAFTA chose instead Whiplash (making this one of the more contentious battles at the Oscars earlier this year) with Nightcrawler, Birdman, The Imitation Game, Grand Budapest, and Theory of Everything all getting runner-up status.  As for sixth place, Birdman probably makes the most sense since it was the Best Picture nominee and scored both precursors, but considering its extended sequence gimmick it may not have landed at all with the Oscars who thought it "wasn't edited," and I would buy an argument for Nightcrawler (considering it landed both precursors) and Theory of Everything/Selma because this category crushes hard on Best Picture nominees.
Films I Would Have Nominated: Let's see here-I'd probably keep maybe one of these contenders and fill up the rest with my own list.  Birdman surely deserved inclusion, and considering AMPAS crushed harder on it than I did I am not 100% certain why it didn't manage to make the cut considering it had a tall order to create that extended shot trick.  Under the Skin was a marvelously interspersed movie, leaving just enough mystery to keep you guessing while still enough clues to make it pretty obvious at the end what you just watched.  Stranger by the Lake did pretty much the same thing, even if the film would be far too wild for Oscar's tastes.  And finally, I have to go with the precursors who credited Nightcrawler (and in particular the extended scene toward the end) rightfully for honoring one of the most gripping films of the year.
Oscar's Choice: Oscar likes a story of a young man overcoming the odds, and Whiplash's flashy editing was too hard to ignore.
My Choice: This easily goes to Boyhood, as the film that took on an almost impossible-seeming editorial feat and made it look easily.  Follow that with Whiplash, American Sniper, Grand Budapest, and finally Imitation Game.

Those are my thoughts-what are yours?  Are you with Oscar and Whiplash or are you on my side with Boyhood?  Anyone want to vouch for Imitation Game getting nominated here (or in most categories)?  Why do you think Birdman got skipped by Oscar?  And what film had the best editing overall of 2014?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

Past Best Film Editing Contests: 2008, 2009, 2010201120122013

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