It’s all about capturing the rhythm of the movie and these five contenders are all editorial gems: "American Sniper" is a ticking bomb about to explode simultaneously on the war front and home front; "Boyhood," the frontrunner, is a unique 12-year journey of adolescence told in real-time and patched together like a fine quilt; "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is a prism that spins wild pre-war and post-war memories; "The Imitation Game" captures the inner turmoil of a mathematical genius trying to break the Enigma code; and "Whiplash" is a war between instructor and student that builds to a frenzied drum solo.
1. "American Sniper" is gaining Oscar momentum. Editors Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach provide a new psychological twist on violence for Clint Eastwood’s polarizing war movie. Legendary Navy SEAL assassin Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) is torn between military duty and family responsibility. And the opening lays it all out brilliantly with Kyle’s first combat assignment, in which he must decide if it’s necessary to kill a mother and son to prevent a suicide attack, cross-cutting memories of his wedding and the birth of his first child.
2. "Boyhood," the favorite to win best picture, represents the ultimate in Richard Linklater’s brand of fictional vérité. The director’s long-time editor, Sandra Adair (who’s already won the LA Film Critics’ prize) pieces together footage shot throughout a 12-year period that’s both epic and intimate. We actually get to witness the actors age as the characters do, especially Ellar Coltrane as Mason, seen from age seven to 19. But Oscar frontrunner Patricia Arquette provides a compelling dramatic arc full of bad choices and lessons learned.
3. "The Grand Budapest Hotel." For editor Barney Pilling, collaborating with Wes Anderson for the first time was an opportunity to watch a meticulous craftsman at work while expanding his own. More epic in scale than the director’s previous movies, it spans three different eras and is mostly set in a wondrous pre-war era where style and grace and good manners are all that matter.
4. "The Imitation Game." Editor Billy Goldenberg pieces together a crossword puzzle about the enigmatic Alan Turing (Oscar-nominated Benedict Cumberbatch): The fact that it’s such a multi-layered narrative makes it all the more powerful, according to the Oscar winner for "Argo." On the one hand, you’ve got the frenzied effort to break the code by Turing and his team; on the other, an introspective story about a social misfit trying to fit in and coping with the loss of love.
5. "Whiplash," which features the most powerful cutting style, is an action movie first and a musical drama second, so it comes off as a musical "Raging Bull." Tom Cross honed a multi-layered editorial approach for this intense, psychological cat-and-mouse between Miles Teller’s ambitious drummer, Andrew, and Oscar frontrunner J.K. Simmons’ abusive instructor, Fletcher, who puts him through hell to become the next Charlie Parker.