Those Oscar Missed: Best Film Editing

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CONTRIBUTED BY JAKE THOMPSON

Best Film Editing is one of the more creative Oscar categories.  Film editing itself is an art form that is unique to cinema, although there is a similarity to the editing process when it comes to poetry and fiction writing.  The film editor takes raw footage, selects shots, and combines them into coherent sequences, then makes any alterations to enhance or improve the final version of the film.  A lot of great editing has been nominated (and won) over the years, but there are times when the Academy doesn’t quite get it right.  It’s hard to believe, but I managed to find some major film editing snubs.

One major snub is 1967’s Point Blank.  Film editor Henry Berman, inspired by director John Boorman and the films of the French New Wave, used jump cuts, slow-motion, repeated scenes for emphasis and amplified sound effects to create a fragmented sense of time.  He also used disconcerting narrative rhythms like long, slow passages, which contrasted with the sudden outbursts of violence.  It’s such a shame that Berman wasn’t nominated for his work here.  Berman is a one-time nominee (1 win for 1966’s Grand Prix).

The actual nominees at the 40th Academy Awards were:
In the Heat of the Night –Hal Ashby (*Winner)
Beach Red – Frank P. Keller
The Dirty Dozen – Michael Luciano
Doctor Dolittle – Samuel E. Beetly & Marjorie Fowler
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner – Robert C. Jones

Another major snub is 1974’s The Godfather Part II.  Film editors Barry Malkin, Richard Marks, and Peter Zinner use parallel action to alternate between two separate storylines: the rise of Vito Andolini as the Godfather, and the fall of his son Michael Corleone, his successor.  The parallel editing defines the structure of the film, establishing that it is both a sequel and a prequel.  It’s too bad they weren’t nominated for their work here.  Malkin is a two-time nominee (2 nods for 1984’s The Cotton Club and 1990’s The Godfather Part III), Marks is a four-time nominee (4 nods for 1979’s Apocalypse Now, 1983’s Terms of Endearment, 1987’s Broadcast News, and 1997’s As Good As It Gets), and Zinner is a three-time nominee (2 nods for 1972’s The Godfather and 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman, 1 win for 1978’s The Deer Hunter).

The actual nominees at the 47th Academy Awards were:
The Towering Inferno – Harold F. Kress & Carl Kress (*Winner)
Blazing Saddles – John C. Howard & Danford Greene
Chinatown – Sam O’Steen
Earthquake – Dorothy Spencer
The Longest Yard – Michael Luciano

One major snub that definitely comes to mind is 1976’s Taxi Driver.  Film editors Tom Rolf and Marvin Shapiro slowly reveal Travis Bickle’s disjointed state through their editing.  In the “You talkin’ to me” sequence, Travis obsessively repeats himself, but not for practice.  He acts as if each previous attempt never happened.  Rolf and Shapiro give us a glimpse into Travis’ declining mental state using the editing technique of repetition and replacement.  They also use a lot of POV shots from several characters to further enhance the fragmentation feeling to suggest paranoia.  It’s too bad Rolf and Shapiro weren’t nominated for their work here.  Rolf is a one-time nominee (1 win for 1983’s The Right Stuff).  Shapiro has never been nominated.

The actual nominees at the 49th Academy Awards were:
Rocky – Richard Halsey & Scott Conrad (*Winner)
All the President’s Men – Robert L. Wolfe
Bound For Glory – Robert C. Jones & Pembroke J. Herring
Network – Alan Heim
Two-Minute Warning – Eve Newman & Walter Hannemann

Another major snub would be 1984’s Once Upon A Time In America.  Film editor Nino Baragli seamlessly weaves the large narrative among three different time periods.  The transitions between time periods feel as though the film was drifting through memories.  The editing is used to breathe life and tension into a complex story, reinforcing the connections between the past and the present.  It also suggests that maybe the 1968 sequences were all part of an opium-induced dream.  Right before its release, Warner Bros. drastically cut the running time from 229 minutes to 139 and re-arranged the film chronologically, destroying director Sergio Leone’s intentions and Baragli’s excellent work.  It’s a shame Baragli wasn’t nominated for his work on the original version of the film since he never received a single Oscar nod.

The actual nominees at the 57th Academy Awards were:
The Killing Fields – Jim Clark (*Winner)
Amadeus – Nena Danevic & Michael Chandler
The Cotton Club – Barry Malkin & Robert O. Lovett
A Passage To India – David Lean
Romancing the Stone – Donn Cambern & Frank Morriss

One final major snub would be 2010’s Inception.  Film editor Lee Smith used parallel editing to distinguish and connect the five layers of dream planes that the main characters had to journey through, especially since they’re all in different places at the same time (this could be described as a sort of Russian nesting doll of dreams within dreams).  To further differentiate the dream planes, careful shot selection and the use of slow-motion was employed, establishing the different speed of time for each dream plane.  It’s too bad Smith wasn’t nominated for his work here.  Smith is a two-time nominee (2 nods for 2003’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and 2008’s The Dark Knight).

The actual nominees at the 83rd Academy Awards were:
The Social Network – Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall (*Winner)
127 Hours – Jon Harris
Black Swan – Andrew Weisblum
The Fighter – Pamela Martin
The King’s Speech – Tariq Anwa

Other films that were considered include 1960’s Breathless, 1970’s Duck, You Sucker, and 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven.

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