Every time someone tackles one of the aspects of film production honored by the Oscars, lip service is always paid to how vital that aspect is. But in the case of film editing, it really cannot be overstated. In fact, editing is what makes film its own distinct art form. We realized that movies were art when filmmakers realized what they could accomplish with the cut from one shot to another. Every step of the moviemaking process is just a prelude to editing. When a director and editor sit down at a computer bay with all their raw footage, they think to themselves, “okay, now I can actually make this movie.”

Studios have fought for control over what a final cut of a film looks like. The movie that eventually became Annie Hall was written and shot as something completely different. It was in the editing stage that Woody Allen and his editor Ralph Rosenblum assembled the classic that has been so beloved.

And yet, paradoxically, the best editing often goes completely unnoticed. If an editor does their job well, no one in the audience notices any of the cuts or transitions in the picture. For this reason, it can be quite difficult to properly evaluate good editing. There’s an old adage that one could replace the “Best” in the title of every Oscar award with “Most,” and the choices the Academy makes would make much more sense. Often, the films with the most obviously stylized editing win the statuette.

Additionally, this is one of the categories that sometimes seem to exist only to pad out the number of nominations that the “big” films get each year. Every movie that has won Best Picture since 1981 has been at least nominated for Best Editing, and two-thirds of the Best Picture winners also won Best Editing. That speaks less to people understanding what editing is and how it works and more to people simply piling accolades on that year’s “it” picture.

Here’s this year’s crop of nominees for Best Picture editing. Some of them deserve it, some of them don’t. Let’s take a look:
 

Argo

argofuck yourself

Who’s nominated: William Goldenberg

History: Goldenberg is best known for a lengthy collaboration with Michael Mann, which includes Heat, The Insider, and Ali. He was previously nominated in this category for The Insider, as well as Seabiscuit. He’s also nominated this year for Zero Dark Thirty.

Why he might win: It’s quite a well-edited film. Movies that utilize a lot of suspense, such as this, can usually cinch in editing noms, since one of the few times people can take notice of good editing is when it’s used to create tension.

 

Zero Dark Thirty

zero derp thirty

Who’s nominated: Dylan Tichenor and, again, William Goldenberg

History: Besides Goldenberg’s already-enumerated credentials, Tichenor has edited all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films besides Punch-Drunk Love, and got his start in the industry working under Robert Altman. Additionally, he edited Unbreakable, The Royal Tenenbaums, Brokeback Mountain, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Doubt, and The Town. He was previously nominated for There Will Be Blood, but has clearly deserved more of them.

Why they might win: Look at that pedigree again. Both of them have put in great work over the years that the Academy has so far allowed to go unrewarded. This could be their time. Zero Dark Thirty is masterfully edited, not just in creating suspenseful sequences, but in making a nearly decade-long story easy to follow. The sequence in which the SEAL team raids bin Laden’s compound alone might be enough to win it for them.

 

Lincoln

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Who’s nominated: Michael Kahn (KAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHN- sorry, couldn’t resist)

History: With three gold naked men, he’s tied with three others for the most wins in this category. He won for Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler’s List, and Saving Private Ryan. You might notice that, like this film, all of those were directed by Steven Spielberg. That’s because Kahn has edited the majority of the guy’s movies over the past thirty years. He’s also been nominated for Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Empire of the Sun, and Munich.

Why he might win: Because if any movie is going to make a big sweep, it’s going to be Lincoln, Life of Pi, or Les Miserables, and Les Miz ain’t in this one. Lincoln is two-and-a-half hours long and doesn’t feel it at all. That right there is good editing.

 

Life of Pi

life of pie

Who’s nominated: Tim Squyres

History: Has a long collaboration with Ang Lee, having worked on every single one of his movies except Brokeback Mountain, earning a nomination for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He also did Gosford Park and Rachel Getting Married.

Why he might win: Because if any movie is going to make a big sweep, it’s going to be Lincoln, Life of Pi, or Les Miserables, and Les Miz ain’t in this one. I didn’t see anything particularly special in the way this film was edited, though. Sometimes, in fact, it’s downright badly paced.

 

Silver Linings Playbook

got nothin

Who’s nominated: Jay Cassidy and Crispin Struthers

History: Cassidy has done extensive work in both documentary and fiction film, and received a nomination for Into the Wild. Struthers is relatively new on the scene, having worked mostly in TV until recently, although he also has a nom under his belt, for The Fighter.

Why they might win: Because one must never underestimate the spider-like puppeteering of the Weinsteins. Seriously, that’s the only reason I can come up with for why this is even nominated. The editing in this film is pure workmanship, quite competent but nothing special.

 

Who will win?

Think about the “Best vs. Most” truism about the Oscars. When it comes to movies with the “most” editing, it’s a toss-up between Argo and Zero Dark Thirty. If it were up to me, I’d hand the award to ZDT in a heartbeat. But it isn’t (and this is why the world is a lesser place, clearly). Of course, neither of those films have fancy Best Director nominations, meaning that they’re less likely to get this award as part of some kind of sweep. So will the Academy reward based on merit, or on tossing another Oscar in a certain film’s tally? Ultimately, I’m gonna have to go with either Lincoln or Life of Pi, although put Zero Dark Thirty too far behind them.
 

Road to the Oscars Series

January 14: Best Visual Effects – Ian Murphy

January 16: Best Sound Editing – Ian Murphy

January 18: Best Sound Mixing – Michael Benedict

January 21: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

January 23: Best Costume Design – Ian Murphy

January 25: Best Makeup and Hairstyling – Rebecca Susmarski

January 28: Best Film Editing – Dan Schindel

January 30: Best Production Design – Scott Youngbauer

February 1: Best Animated Feature – Carlos Aguilar

February 4: Best Documentary Feature – Dan Schindel

February 6: Best Documentary Short Subject – Dan Schindel

February 7: Best Live Action Short – Carlos Aguilar

February 8: Best Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 10: Best Foreign Language Film – Carlos Aguilar

February 11: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 12: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Screenplay – Dan Schindel

February 14: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Supporting Actor – Angela Stern

February 17: Best Supporting Actress – Hiko Mitsuzuka

February 18: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 19: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 20: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Picture – Kit Bowen

February 24: 85th Annual Academy Awards