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Oscars 2020: Best Editing Predictions

Big-budget studio movies are competing for slots with Netflix's dramatic epic "The Irishman" in a category that often presages the strongest Best Picture contenders. Updated 1/16/20.

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“The Irishman”

Netflix

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This season’s editing race features five Best Picture Oscar contenders with unconventional characters and demanding narratives: “The Irishman,” “Parasite,” “Joker,” “Ford v Ferrari,” and “Jojo Rabbit.”

Martin Scorsese’s go-to editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, aims for her fourth Oscar win with the gangster epic, “The Irishman.” It’s the director’s summary statement about “loyalty, love, trust, and ultimately betrayal.” Robert De Niro’s elderly mob hitman, Frank Sheeran, looks back on his violent life and divided loyalties between cunning Philly crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and hot-headed Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The narrative contains a dense, zigzagging structure, complicated by Industrial Light & Magic’s innovative VFX de-aging of the three actors. This meant that Schoonmaker’s editing was made more difficult by the quality of the facial animation. Scorsese would carefully review the fully rendered and lit performances and try and get them to match the look and movement of the original ones on set. If there was a discrepancy, ILM dialed up the variation models for the three actors to achieve greater fidelity to their performances.

In “Parasite,” Bong Joon Ho’s acclaimed class warfare thriller, editor Yang Jinmo builds the rhythm from a drizzle to a typhoon. The most important sequence is the “Belt of Trust,” in which the members of the Kim family systematically pull a con to gain employment in the wealthy Park household as tutors, chauffeur, and housekeeper. But then the chaotic “Ram-don” sequence flips the con on its head with a rainstorm, the unexpected return of the Park family, and a hidden “parasite” in the basement that leads to a violent class uprising.

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parasite

“Parasite”

Neon

With Todd Phillips’ phenomenally successful “Joker,” editor Jeff Groth effectively balances the reality and fantasy that drive Joaquin Phoenix’s mentally disturbed Arthur Fleck into becoming the legendary DC Joker. It’s a volatile, tour de force performance that’s carefully preserved by long takes and the camera’s embrace. And the fact that Fleck is such an unreliable narrator liberates Phoenix into taking a lot of creative risks. It hardly matters whether this Joker origin story is real, partially imagined, or a total fantasy, because we are implicated as voyeurs in his murderous revolt.

James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” is not only the most realistic racing movie ever made, but also a compelling bromance between innovative car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and eccentric British racer Ken Miles (Christian Bale). And the 24 Hours of Le Mans circa 1966 offered a 40-minute mini-movie (shot in three different locations), with Miles pushing Ford’s GT40 to the limit with a meditative grace. Editors Michael McCusker and Andrew Buckland do a brilliant job of splitting time between Shelby and Miles and using lots of cross-cutting to emphasize the tension with the Ford company ensemble. But they never lose sight of the big race through Miles’ perspective, which becomes a Zen-like experience where time and space converge.

Joker

“Joker”

Nico Tavernese/Warner Bros.

Taika Waititi’s anti-hate, Nazi satire, “Jojo Rabbit,” provides yet another complicated character study. It’s told from the perspective of a lonely German boy (Roman Griffin Davis), who fantasizes Adolph Hitler (Waititi) as an imaginary friend, but whose world is unexpectedly turned upside down with the discovery of a young Jewish girl (Thomasin McKenzie) hiding in the attic. Editor Tom Eagles deftly balances the ridiculous absurdity with inevitable pathos, treating it as a surreal fable.

The final five contenders are listed in alphabetical order. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.

Frontrunners
“The Irishman”
“Joker”
“Parasite”

Contenders
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Jojo Rabbit”

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