Even if Spotlight were still the presumed unstoppable behemoth for best picture it was two months ago, it seems obvious that the film’s TV-procedural rhythms wouldn’t stand a chance here given what a sensation-driven contest this category—which used to be regarded as the secret bellwether for best picture—has become. Last year, Ed Gonzalez called best editing for Whiplash, arguing: “When in doubt, go with the film that most belligerently tests, for better and for worse, the audience’s patience.” This year, we’ve got at least three belligerent editing tests that tilt strongly toward better or worse, so we’re forced to take a leap of faith.
In the “for better” camp there’s Margaret Sixel’s well-nigh possessed work on Mad Max: Fury Road, the showiest display of cutting trickery here, but also potentially the most alienating. Even taking into account this is a category that’s been won by a Jason Bourne film in the last decade, Fury Road’s editing is manic enough to make Sergei Eisenstein feel like Béla Tarr. And, unlike Whiplash, which insidiously couched its flamboyance as a reflection of the film’s clash between egos, Fury Road wears its virtuosity as a badge of honor. However, it’s impossible not to be dazzled by how much carnage Sixel packs into two hours without ever losing the film’s sense of geographical scale.
And now onto the “for worse” side of filmic belligerence: The Revenant. Edited, or padded, by previous Oscar winner Stephen Mirrione, the film was passed over for an Eddie award, to the surprise of only those impressed by how Mirrione juxtaposes long takes where a lot of pointless things happen around Emmanuel Lubezki’s roving camera with long takes where, pointlessly, virtually nothing happens. While we regretfully have to admit that there are clearly fans of the film in almost every branch of the Academy, how many would go so far as to say, “I’m really glad that film was three hours long”? Call it The Big Long next to The Big Short, which, the way we see it, is the only film arrogantly assembled enough to give Fury Road a real race.
Will Win: Mad Max: Fury Road
Could Win: The Big Short
Should Win: Mad Max: Fury Road