This season’s top three editing contenders, “The Irishman,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and “Joker,” offer complex and confounding narratives. They challenge conventions of reality, fantasy, history, and memory, which definitely enrich their stories about stardom, violence, love, and death.
Martin Scorsese’s go-to editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, aims for her fourth Oscar win with the gangster epic, “The Irishman.” It’s the director’s summary statement about “loyalty, love, trust, and ultimately betrayal.” Robert De Niro’s elderly mob hitman, Frank Sheeran, looks back on his violent life and divided loyalties between cunning Philly crime boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) and hot-headed Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). The narrative contains a dense, zigzagging structure, complicated by Industrial Light & Magic’s innovative VFX de-aging of the three actors. This meant that Schoonmaker’s editing was made more difficult by the quality of the facial animation. Scorsese would carefully review the fully rendered and lit performances and try and get them to match the look and movement of the original ones on set. If there was a discrepancy, ILM dialed up the variation models for the three actors to achieve greater fidelity to their performances.
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With Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to Tinseltown, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” his trusted editor, Fred Raskin, helped navigate the director’s summary statement about the importance of the dream factory in countering life’s failure and disappointment. It’s 1969 and the intersection of fiction and reality, which puts has-been TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt-double/buddy Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) on a collision course with the mass murders involving Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) in Benedict Canyon by the Manson Family. Like “Kill Bill,” the movie hops from genre to genre (including the recreation of the “Lancer” western TV series and horror for the Spahn Movie Ranch turning point and finale). This makes it creepy and breaks the mood.
Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” meanwhile, offers the most provocative contender of the season. Joaquin Phoenix’s terminally depressed, mentally unstable, bullied clown, Arthur Fleck, lives mostly in his head. Therefore he’s an unreliable narrator on his journey to becoming the eponymous anti-hero. Editor Jeff Groth worked closely with Phillips in showcasing Phoenix’s tour de force performance by channeling ’70s cinema of long takes and moving camera (courtesy of cinematographer Lawrence Sher). At the same time, they depicted reality and fantasy as an ambiguous balancing act. But Fleck’s romance with neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz) had its own tricky challenge, since they made a last-minute switch with her becoming a figment of his imagination.
Other contenders include Oscar winner Lee Smith (“Dunkirk”) experimenting with a real-time/continuous take for Sam Mendes’ World War I thriller, “1917,” Nick Houy exploring the inner world of novelist Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) as she processes memories for her book in Greta Gerwig’s radical, non-linear adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved “Little Women,” Jennifer Lame deftly balancing the points of view of Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver experiencing a very painful divorce in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” Jinmo Yang taking Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” on the cutting edge of class-conscious thriller, and Tom Eagles delving into the surreal point of view of 10-year-old Nazi fanatic Jojo (Roman Griffin) in Taika Waititi’s anti-hate satire, “Jojo Rabbit.”
Contenders listed in alphabetical order. No film will be considered a frontrunner until we have seen it.
“Ford v Ferrari”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
“A Hidden Life”
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