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Oscars 2021: Best Editing Predictions

Current Best Picture frontrunner "Nomadland" leads the pack, with director Chloé Zhao serving as editor. Constantly updated.

Frances McDormand in the film NOMADLAND. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved


Searchlight Pictures

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This season’s editing race features five Best Picture nominees with very visceral stories: Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” (serving as her own editor), Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Darius Marder’s “Sound of Metal,” Florian Zeller’s “The Father,” and Emerald Fennel’s “Promising Young Woman.”

Zhao delivers a haunting odyssey about migrant laboring in the American West in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2008. It’s told through the eyes of the majestic Fern (Frances McDormand), who interacts with a host of colorful characters (all played by actual nomads with the exception of David Strathairn). Zhao was inspired by Terrence Malick’s depiction of nature and spiritual transcendence, and alternates between roving images of Fern during her Magic Hour walks with anecdotal life lessons conveyed by her new friends, magnificently shot by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Joshua James Richards.

As the Best Picture frontrunner, Zhao’s chances also increase as editor. She joins a select group of directors who also edited their movies: Alfonso Cuarón (co-winner for “Gravity”), James Cameron (co-winner for “Titanic”), David Lean (“A Passage to India”), Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (“No Country for Old Men,” “Fargo”), Michel Hazanavicius (“The Artist”), and Jean-Marc Vallée (“Dallas Buyers Club”).

Riz Ahmed in “Sound of Metal”

Amazon Studios

“Sound of Metal,” in which Riz Ahmed portrays Ruben, a heavy-metal drummer slowly losing his hearing, is a film about sound that explores deafness as a way of experiencing sound and vibration. Getting inside Ruben’s head, therefore, was integral in awakening our senses along with him. Editor Mikkel E.G. Nielsen’s challenge was to determine the order of scenes with and without sound for maximum narrative and emotional impact. The director wanted to especially appeal to people who feel like outsiders because of a hearing problem. Editorial and sound teams worked closely together in figuring out how to force the viewer inside of Ruben’s head and stay with his POV.

Editor Alan Baumgarten (previously nominated for “American Hustle”) continued his collaboration with Sorkin on his sophomore film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” the timely account of the conspiracy trial surrounding the 1968 Vietnam protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The structure was divided into three parts: the overheated courtroom drama in 1969, flashbacks about the demonstrations turning violent, and the bitter political rivalry between the ambitious Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and the more radical Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen). Baumgarten dynamically overlapped the intensity of the trial with the revelatory flashbacks. The riot in Grant Park was scripted to function as rapidly intercut vignettes, and Baumgarten went with the vérité approach and also added archival footage that was turned into black-and-white for contrast.

In “The Father,” the viewer is forced into the head of Anthony Hopkins’ protagonist, whose dementia increasingly disrupts his sense of reality. For editor Yargos Lamprinos, the unnerving, non-linear situation was like a horror film. He got to play with the inner workings of his unstable mind, shifting points of view, adjusting the pace, and repeating dialogue. The brilliantly disorienting production design of Oscar nominated Peter Francis was also key in helping shape the editorial choices. As Hopkins loses track of his surroundings, the interlocking series of sets became the best possible playground for selecting shots that best depict Hopkins’ troubled state of mind.

“Promising Young Woman” editor Frédéric Thoraval (“Taken”) was specifically chosen by first-time director Fennell to cut her subversive revenge comedy because of his action and horror chops. But this film contained a subversive twist that provided a wonderful editorial opportunity. Normally, the traumatic incident occurs at the outset, but here it’s part of the backstory of Carey Mulligan’s dysfunctional protagonist that slowly unravels in layers. From the outset, Thoraval was presented with a mood board of visual cues by the director for the candy-colored world along with a female-driven playlist of songs (“It’s Raining Men”) to help underscore Mulligan’s mood swings. The editing became a balancing act between delivering and subverting expectations.

Key Oscar Indicators

The Academy’s editing branch currently has 400 members, of which 372 are active and 28 are retired. While Best Editing has coincided with Best Picture many times over Academy history, in the recent past, the last time that occurred was “Argo” in 2012; and Academy and ACE Eddie Award winners have overlapped just five times in the last 10 years.

Key Dates

Friday, March 19, 2021
Final ACE ballots sent

Friday, March 19-Friday, March 26, 2021
Online Blue-Ribbon ACE Screenings

Friday, March 26, 2021
Final ACE polls close

Friday, April 9, 2021
Deadline for ACE advertising

Thursday, April 15, 2021
Final Oscar voting begins

Sunday, April 17, 2021
72nd annual ACE Eddie Awards presented (location TBD)

Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Final Oscar voting ends

Sunday, April 25, 2021
Winners announced at the 93rd Academy Awards (Oscars)

“Nomadland” (Chloé Zhao)

“Sound of Metal” (Mikkel E.G. Nielsen)
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Alan Baumgarten)
“The Father” (Yargos Lamprinos)
“Promising Young Woman” (Frédéric Thoraval)

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