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.” However, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is now the favorite, bolstered by its ACE Eddie win.
Editor Alan Baumgarten had the most ambitious editorial task: balancing three story threads in “Rashomon”-like fashion with multiple perspectives and jumping back and forth in time, from the overheated courtroom drama to the violent, vérité-like riots during the ’68 Democratic Convention to the bitter political rivalry between Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne) and Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen). Plus, Baumgarten oversaw a sprawling six-minute prologue that was like lighting a fuse with historical context and character introductions.
Yet “Sound of Metal” poses the biggest threat with its powerful editing/sound combo. Riz Ahmed portrays Ruben, a heavy-metal drummer who copes with losing his hearing. This 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.
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.
With “Nomadland,” the Best Picture frontrunner, 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.
If she wins, Zhao would join 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”).
“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.
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)
“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Alan Baumgarten)
“Sound of Metal” (Mikkel E.G. Nielsen)
“The Father” (Yargos Lamprinos)
“Nomadland” (Chloé Zhao)
“Promising Young Woman” (Frédéric Thoraval)