The Eddie Awards — And The Oscars

15 02 2010

The Eddie Award Statue (courtesy A.C.E.)

The A.C.E. Eddie Awards were handed out tonight (see the article at The Hollywood Reporter‘s site) and, as usual, they are very mainstream but also indicative of what Hollywood is thinking this week, as it revs up for the Oscars (ballots are due something like March 2nd, so it’s getting close). Here, in a nutshell, are the winners:

BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (DRAMATIC): “The Hurt Locker” (Bob Murawski & Chris Innis)
BEST EDITED FEATURE FILM (COMEDY OR MUSICAL): “The Hangover” (Debra Neil-Fisher, A.C.E.)
BEST EDITED ANIMATED FEATURE FILM: “Up” (Kevin Nolting)
BEST EDITED DOCUMENTARY: “The Cove” (Geoffrey Richman)
BEST EDITED HALF-HOUR SERIES FOR TELEVISION: 30 Rock: “Apollo Apollo” (Ken Eluto, A.C.E.)
BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES FOR COMMERCIAL TELEVISION: Breaking Bad: “ABQ” (Lynne Willingham, A.C.E.)
BEST EDITED ONE-HOUR SERIES FOR NON-COMMERCIAL TELEVISION: Dexter: “Remains to be Seen” (Louis Cioffi)
BEST EDITED MINISERIES OR MOTION PICTURE FOR TELEVISION: Grey Gardens (Alan Heim, A.C.E. & Lee Percy, A.C.E.)
BEST EDITED REALITY SERIES: The Deadliest Catch: “Stay Focused or Die” (Kelly Coskran & Josh Earl)
STUDENT EDITING COMPETITION: Andrew Hellesen, Chapman University
TECHNICAL EXCELLENCE AWARD: Avid

There are a number of things that I could comment on here, including the fact that the reality series winner (the involving “Deadliest Catch”) was edited two editors who aren’t members of ACE. The American Cinema Editors organization (full disclosure here — I became a member last year) is a bunch of really great, but very accomplished editors. Reality television editors are fast becoming a younger breed, who will — of course — not be part of A.C.E. This is a situation which I hope will go away eventually, but that is a discussion for another post.

Let’s talk about the films that won — THE HURT LOCKER, UP and THE HANGOVER.

These were all great films and, as can be expected from this group, were all well edited. THE HANGOVER maintained a great pace and its style all of the way through and Debra Neil-Fisher kept her usual unfailing eye for comedy always open. Kevin Nolting’s work on UP was sure-footed and, considering how involved Pixar editors are with the writing and crafting of the script, his award is not only not surprising but incredibly valued.

But how the hell did THE HURT LOCKER beat out the juggernaut of AVATAR (or the early Oscar favorite UP IN THE AIR)? I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. HURT LOCKER was probably my favorite film of 2009. From the very first scene, it had a sense of tension that more accurately described how the soldiers on the battlefield in Iraq actually feel about being there, than all of the war films since PATHS OF GLORY. In fact, the last time that I can remember feeling that consistently tense was during another Stanley Kubrick film — THE SHINING. That is not an easy thing to do. It requires a perfect combination of performance, camerawork, production design, sound, music and editing — not to mention a script to die for.

THE HURT LOCKER had all of that. And the movie has been a darling among critics as we head down to the Oscars this year.

So it was especially gratifying to see the A.C.E. recognize that consistent, powerful editing, even though there is no doubt that AVATAR had some amazing editors, working in new, uncharted territory, crafting performances from motion captured acting. You could say that it’s the very fact that most of us in A.C.E. are old folks, who go for a more traditional technique. But that’s actually selling the group short. Most of the A.C.E. editors who I’ve spoken to loved AVATAR (as did I). But there is no doubt in my mind that it suffered from the same problems that most other films do — a slowness in the middle, as its characters and plot is redefined.

So, A.C.E. rewarded the more amazingly shaped film. But what does this mean for the Oscars? Well, let’s look at some numbers.

As of the end of 2008. there were 5,829 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the group that votes on the Oscars. Of them, there were 223 editors, about 4%. The largest branch is the Acting Branch, with 1243 members, about 21%. In my opinion, that’s why the Best Picture Oscar usually goes to the same film that’s won the Best Editor. The actors and actresses (along with the 440 executives, the 369 PR members, and the 254 members at large, who together make up another 12%, for a total of one-third of the potential voters) take a look at a film and say “Yeah, I liked that film. So it must have been well edited.”

And, while that’s true, that doesn’t address the realities that we editors deal with every day in our own editing rooms.

So, what do I think is going to happen this year? Do I think that AVATAR has impressed enough actors, executive, PR people and at-large members, to overcome the extraordinary editing of THE HURT LOCKER? I’ll go out on a limb here and say, “No.” Bob Murawski & Chris Innis’s editing was just that good.

And it doesn’t hurt that the actors branch didn’t think any of the actors in Avatar were worth noting.


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