This season’s prevailing theme is about playing with time both literally and metaphorically. And the impact of COVID-19 and the cultural cry for unity add a sense of urgency to these stories and their particular structures and cutting styles.
Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious “Dune” (Warner Bros.) provided go-to editor Joe Walker with the challenge of coalescing the epic scale of the political and religious machinations with the intimate personal journey of would-be messiah Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet). Added to this was the extra narrative layer of Paul’s prophetic dreams and visions of leading the nomadic Freman in a holy war on the desert planet Arrakis. Rhythm and pacing were delicate yet enhanced by Walker’s expertise with sound and score. It all came together early on in the pivotal Gom Jabbar scene, in which Paul’s special mental abilities and impulse control are put to a deadly test by the Bene Gesserit Mother Superior (Charlotte Rampling). Walker achieved an editorial breakthrough when inserting the medieval chant from Hans Zimmer’s otherworldly score to demonstrate how Paul summons the inner strength to pass the test.
“The Power of the Dog” (Netflix), Jane Campion’s psychological western about repression, is skillfully edited by Peter Sciberras, who provides escalating tension in exploring Phil’s (Benedict Cumberbatch) sadistic behavior on the other characters: his sensitive brother George (Jesse Plemons), his vulnerable sister-in-law Rose (Kirsten Dunst), and his tender nephew Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). It inevitably becomes an ambiguous power play about savagery and affection between Phil and Peter, and Sciberras makes great use of the complex performances, the beautiful landscape, the imposing ranch house, and Jonny Greenwood’s dissonant score.
With “Belfast” (Focus), Kenneth Branagh meticulously planned the coverage for his monochromatic childhood remembrance with cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, composing many moments in one shot. It’s about the close-knit family and neighborhood community amid the violent conflict between Catholics and Protestants in 1969. Editor Úna Ní Dhonghaíle utilized a psychological approach, keeping the subjective point of view alive through use of sound, music, slow motion, or reflected images or faces seen through glass. She also focused on the nuances of each performance in a given take among the talented ensemble (Caitríona Balfe, Judi Dench, Jamie Dornan, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan, and newcomer Jude Hill). Yet her biggest challenge was striking a balance between being intimate (even pushing back a poignant moment between father and son) and incendiary (the climactic riot).
Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “King Richard” (Warner Bros.), the biopic about Richard Williams’ (Will Smith) uncompromising mission to propel daughters Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and Serena (Demi Singleton) to the top of the tennis profession, required a delicate balancing act from editor Pamela Martin. While the focus is Richard’s obsession and psychological warfare, the Williams family story always looms large. Not surprisingly the climactic third act tennis match for Venus proved the most challenging and required a lot of calibration. It was like cutting an action movie for the editor, with the suspenseful back and forth of the match and Venus finally making her own decisions, and raising of the stakes for the Williams family.
“Tick Tick Boom” (Netflix), Lin-Manual Miranda’s directorial debut about “Rent” creator Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield), is a meta musical biopic about failure with an ambitious structure. That meant editors Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum had to navigate a musical within a musical, which required a lot of nuance to avoid confusion or frustration for the viewer. They integrated the stage performance of the present with autobiographical moments from the past, making the music come alive in surreal and emotional ways, and experimenting with intercutting to help us understand and relate to Larson’s personal journey.
The challenge for “No Time to Die” (UA Releasing) director Cary Joji Fukunaga was completing Daniel Craig’s arc as James Bond, and his catalyst was revisiting the ghosts of the past from “Casino Royale” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” For editors Tom Cross (the Oscar-winning “Whiplash”) and Elliot Graham (the Oscar-nominated “Milk”), that meant first establishing their links in the emotionally-charged 20-minute pre-credit teaser, and then proceeding with the romantic adventure that continued to humanize Craig’s Bond while providing him with a sense of subversive fun along the way, before coming full circle back to “Casino Royale.”
Listed in alphabetical order. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.
“The Power of the Dog”
“Tick Tick Boom”
“Being the Ricardos”
“Don’t Look Up”
“House of Gucci”
“No Time to Die”
“The Lost Daughter”
“The Tragedy of Macbeth”
“West Side Story”
“In the Heights”
“The Harder They Fall”
“The Last Duel”