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6 Best Editing Oscar Contenders: There’s More Than Survival at Stake

6 Best Editing Oscar Contenders: There's More Than Survival at Stake

1. “The Revenant”: Turns out that “Birdman” was merely a dress rehearsal for Alejandro G. Iñárritu and his fellow filmmakers. You couldn’t rely on dialogue to anchor the narrative, and because of the wide lenses and vast landscape, a lot of the camera work was on cranes, which changed the rhythm. They also shot in sequence, figuring it out as they went along and then making discoveries and adjustments. Once again, they started with blocking rehearsals, but there were many more moving pieces to play with for editor Stephen Mirrione. They shot 200 hours of material and went about finding the story, trying to be engaging and immersive and understanding Hugh Glass’ emotional journey. What they came up with beyond mere survival was about co-existence nature. This occurs right from the start with the opening battle, shifting points of view and alternating between realism and the abstract.

2. “The Big Short”: Hank Corwin, who snagged the LA Film Critics Award for best editing, helps make narrative sense of Adam McKay’s dense, complicated black comedy about the 2008 housing collapse and how these unconventional brokers profited from it. Corwin not only had to make the economics understandable but also humanize these eccentric players. Fortunately, he had a lot of great footage, including a wealth of on-set improvisation from Christian Bale and Steve Carell. One of his secret weapons, though, was the use of time-lapse montage to lend cultural context. His choice of rhythm was different for each set of characters and overall he found a way into the narrative that was chaotic, absurd and surreal.

3. “Spotlight”: Tom McArdle’s considerable editing skills elevated this fact-based journo procedural and best picture frontrunner (his fifth collaboration with director Tom McCarthy). The structural complexity required clarity but the restrained narrative could never be dull. At least the investigative objective was clear in proving the systematic cover-up of widespread sexual abuse by the Catholic Church. The challenge was juggling shifting points of view between Michael Keaton’s editor and his three Spotlight reporters played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy.

4. “Mad Max: Fury Road”: George Miller comes full circle in a surprisingly powerful way, reminding us what was so brilliant about his post-apocalyptic vision in the first place while stepping it up with even greater visual and visceral force. No wonder it’s a best picture Oscar contender. The whole movie is basically a chase in the desert landscape of West Africa with 75 vehicles. Miller’s mandate was to center the frame at all times, because he was going to cut fast and wanted the appearance of seamless, continuous action, with the viewer never confused. manipulating frames to help achieve the effect. And Miller admitted that one of the best decisions was recruiting his wife, Margaret Sixel, to cut “Fury Road.” Although this marked her first action movie, she was rigorous in putting the pieces together with elegance and fluidity.

5. “The Martian”: Ridley Scott best picture contender is really two movies in one: A “Robinson Crusoe on Mars” survival drama and a NASA/JPL procedural. For editor Pietro Scalia, it’s all about Matt Damon’s intense, self-deprecating performance. The scene when he hears Jessica Chastain’s voice for the first time resulted in an unexpected emotional breakdown on set. Throughout the movie, in fact, there are connections between Damon’s character and the environment on Mars and with humanity on Earth that are accentuated editorially by Scalia. There’s also a spirtual aspect as well: it’s about solving problems that seem insurmountable, and this has galvanized audiences young and old alike.

6. “Straight Outta Compton”: With its dense, real-life narrative, F. Gary Gray’s biopic of hip-hop group N.W.A posed a challenge for editors Billy Fox and Michael Tronick. Their dilemma? How to make it accessible to a wide audience, while remaining true to its three central figures: Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell). The result is a portrait of N.W.A’s “reality rap” as a cultural document of gang life, drug dealing and police harassment in ’80s and ’90s L.A. Not surprisingly, focus and pace were crucial to the narrative effectiveness. There was also the matter of having Ice Cube and Dr. Dre providing editorial input, which was a plus because of the former’s innate storytelling strength and the latter’s musical savvy. One of the challenging moments was N.W.A’s first national tour in ’89, shot at the Santa Monica Civic and the Sports Arena. After playing with the order, they found a natural flow.

READ MORE: How They Edited ‘Spotlight’ as a Thrilling Journo Procedural

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