Herrington & Akers on the Oscars, Day 1: Editing/Cinematography



For Your Consideration:

Chris Herrington and Greg Akers, the Memphis Flyer's film editor and one of its writers, respectively, engage on a regular basis in conversation and occasional debate about the movies. Since 2009, the duo have been pulling out all the stops once a year to delve into the Oscars, with a series of posts on MemphisFlyer.com making predictions about who will win, arguing who should win, and considering who got robbed. Though they disagree a little about the ultimate value of the Oscars ("They suck but I put up with them!" Herrington says. "They suck but I love them!" Akers says.), this veritable Thelma and Louise gleefully put the pedal to the metal and drive off the cliff into the Grand Canyon of Oscar discussion.

Herrington makes his Oscar predictions with a little bit of intuition and a little more reasoned consideration. So long as it doesn't cut into his time thinking about the Charlotte Bobcats bench. (Nerd!)

Akers makes his Oscar predictions with a little bit of intuition and a little more in-depth research into award trends and history. To prepare this year, he made a spreadsheet of the last 16 years showing the winners of the Oscars, Golden Globes, BAFTAs, PGAs, SAGs, WGAs, DGAs, ACEs, and ASCs. Seriously. (Nerd!)

This week, Herrington and Akers will be looking at the categories of Editing and Cinematography (today); Actor and Actress (Tuesday); Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress (Wednesday); Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay (Thursday); and Director and Picture (Friday).

Without further delay, wheels up ...

Best Editing
The Artist, The Descendants, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, Moneyball

We choose Schoonmaker: The longtime Scorsese collaborator cut Hugo and could get another little statue for it.
  • We choose Schoonmaker: The longtime Scorsese collaborator cut Hugo and could get another little statue for it.

Greg Akers: As you know, the Eddie Awards (by the American Cinema Editors) haven't been handed out yet as of the time of this writing, so I'm flying dark here a little. The Eddies have predicted the Oscar 10 years in a row, so I reserve the right to change this pick for actual moneyed pool purposes before the ceremony**. All-time-great editor/Scorsese collaborator Thelma Schoonmaker makes the list again, and she did excellent work in a technically brilliant film, so I'm going to guess she'll get her fourth Oscar this year. Will Win: Hugo. **Note: The Eddies went to The Artist and The Descendants, so if you're in some kind of Oscar contest, probably you should pick one of those.

Should Win goes to Hugo as well. The Artist is awfully straightforward and intentionally old-fashioned. I don't remember anything in particular about the editing in The Descendants. Dragon Tattoo is a strong candidate, effectively balancing two time frames and two main characters' stories. As for Moneyball ... well, I'll reserve my disdain for Moneyball for a later category. My problem isn't really the editing, though.

Got Robbed: I'm flabbergasted that The Tree of Life didn't get nominated. Maybe it's because there are five editors credited for the film? Whatever it is, total robbery. Tree of Life is a visually impressionistic film in which a narrative slowly emerges. It's an overwhelming series of images that build no less than from cosmic birth to death, and does so in a manner that suggests both the elastic and linear natures of time (and does THAT in an extremely linear medium). There are probably an infinite number of ways the film could be edited, and, truly, the plot of the film comes from the editing more than the script. The essence of the film is in the editing as much as anywhere.

Chris Herrington: "As you know" ... your sarcasm is rich, Akers. As you must undoubtedly suspect, I have no idea what the "Eddie Awards" are or what they're supposed to be recognizing. Best Over-the-Top Supporting Performance in a Travel Comedy? Best Pop Song About Seasonal Malaise? Whatever. You could be making up the "Eddie Awards" for all I know.

But thanks for setting me up for my annual lead-in where I admit up front that I don't care about industry awards. (Now, critic awards and polls —┬áthat's a different matter.) However, the Oscars, for better or worse, drive casual film conversation, so I say enjoy them for the spectacle and use them to try to push the conversation in interesting directions. As for this award, I don't see The Descendants or Moneyball having much of a chance. I do think there's a danger in voters awarding The Artist here for its mundane yet smug deployment of silent signifiers like irises and wipes. But, ultimately, I'll agree with you. Will Win: Hugo.

Hugo got a boatload of nominations without any acting nods, so I suspect it will do well in a lot of the technical categories and this seems like one of the best bets.

Should Win: While I found the direction of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo disappointingly impersonal given what David Fincher did with Zodiac, it is very strong technical filmmaking and would be a worthwhile winner for the reasons you cite. But I'll also go with Hugo, which deploys its silent film samples with aplomb, has "action" sequences with both momentum and clarity, and ably weaves in its side stories about other denizens of the train station. So I hope Thelma Schoonmaker takes it. Beyond everything else, I have warm memories of her gracious visit to Memphis for a set of amazing but poorly attended Powell & Pressburger screenings at the Cannon Center.

Got Robbed: You're probably right that the multiple editing credits have a lot to do with the The Tree of Life omission, but I also see this as indicative of its overall lack of Oscar juice. While The Tree of Life is, to me, one of the year's best films and probably the most edited, I think this omission is probably forgivable. Even many of its supporters — myself included — are lukewarm on the Sean Penn segments. The Tree of Life is a flood of quotidian fragments, but I guess I disagree with you a little bit in that I think its greatness lies more in the fragments than the flood. So, I'll give my vote to Martha Marcy Mae Marlene, one of the best films to be totally left out of the Oscar party and one whose best category might be this one. In oscillating between the past and present of its out-of-the-woods title protagonist, the film builds a hypnotic pace and finds just the right rhyming notes that let us knock around inside her rattled psyche.

Akers: You're right that Tree of Life has little-to-no Oscar juice. I'm not surprised, given the regression-toward-the-mean shallowness of the Academy, but it still feels like a major blunder to miss out on nominating it for Editing. I hear you on preferring the fragments to the flood, but there's something about the way the whole hangs together that elevates it beyond what some art-schooler with a camera capturing lovely, unconnected images might make. Plus, in 15 minutes Malick (or that team of editors, whatevs) puts together the Big Bang, formation of planets, cooling of earth, birth of life, evolution into complex forms, and rise and destruction of the dinosaurs. And does so while reinforcing the thematic shape of the film. And does so with exhilarating storytelling inertia.

Anyway. I like your ode to Martha Marcy Mae Marlene. I agree, that movie rules in large part because of its structure.

Lets here it for the technicians: We agree on Tree of Life shooter Emmanuel Lubezki.
  • Let's hear it for the technicians: We agree on Tree of Life shooter Emmanuel Lubezki.

Best Cinematography
Nominees: The Artist, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hugo, The Tree of Life, War Horse

Herrington: Hugo and The Artist are the overall Oscar behemoths and you could see either win here. The Artist is in black and white. It must be great cinematography, right? And Hugo would be a worthy winner in pretty much any technical or visual category you want to come up with. But I still think, perhaps foolishly, that the brilliant Emmanuel Lubezki (Children of Men, Y Tu Mama, Tambien) will finally get the gold here after five previous nominations. So, Will Win: The Tree of Life.

Should Win: This is actually a close call for me. I think Janusz Kaminski's opulent, classical, at times painterly work on Steven Spielberg's War Horse is magnificent. But I'd have to cast my vote for Lubezki as well, for helping Terrence Malick put his childhood memories and private meditations on the screen with astonishing beauty and intimacy in The Tree of Life.

Got Robbed: I think the Academy generally did a good job here, with The Tree of Life and War Horse, to me, the most deserving possible noms and the other three — yes, even The Artist — entirely defensible. As for those left out, I think indies Drive and Meek's Cutoff would be good picks, but I'll give my vote to my own favorite 2011 film and one completely off the Oscar radar — Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's French film Certified Copy, where Italian shooter Luca Bigazzi captures the film's driving-and-walking-and-talking two-person travelogue with warm tones and subtle movement.

Akers: Will Win: This might be the hardest category of the night to forecast. The American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) award isn't a great indicator for a win, predicting only 9 of the last 16 Oscar winners. And about a third of the time in recent history, the Oscar winner neither won the ASC or the BAFTA. Nominated this year are two previous winners (Robert Richardson for Hugo, Janusz Kaminski for War Horse) and two more multiple nominees (Jeff Cronenweth for Dragon Tattoo, Emmanuel Lubezki for Tree of Life). The fifth nominee, Guillaume Schiffman for The Artist, might actually be the favorite if you're one who thinks that film will rack up wins on its way to a Best Picture.

I could genuinely see any of them winning, but I'm going to go out on a limb (kill me, pardon the pun) and agree with you in guessing that Lubezki wins his first Oscar for his stunning work in Tree of Life. Lubezki won the ASC for it, and I'm going to possibly doom myself and hope my emotions aren't getting the best of me.

Should Win: I'm not trying to be heavy-handed with the praise, but Tree of Life is one of the most beautiful movies I've seen and stunningly filmed. Hugo looked great and, especially for a 3D film, was bright and clear. Despite my well-documented qualms about War Horse, there's no question it looked fantastic and called to mind a very specific style of film. Kudos go to Kaminski as much as Spielberg, probably. The Artist looked good, but it was black and white and therefore automatically looked good. Dragon Tattoo had that pleasingly rich humid atmosphere a la lesser Fincher films like Panic Room and The Game.

Got Robbed: These five are of quality, but omitting Melancholia's Manuel Alberto Claro is an oversight. The second half of the film is unbelievably unsettling, and it's due in large part to the "unnatural" lighting and eerie hues and shadows cast by the rogue planet on a collision course with Earth. An art-house end of the world disaster flick, Melancholia seems starkly realistic. (And those vivid vignettes that open the film: captivating.)

Herrington: I fear we may both be setting ourselves up for failure with our Tree of Life picks. But if one of the more favored films takes this category, I think it will be Hugo, not The Artist. I'm so blown away by the cinematography in Tree of Life and War Horse, that I probably didn't pay enough tribute to Hugo in my initial picks. 3D has become a dispiriting gimmick, but with Hugo, Martin Scorsese and Robert Richardson make it artful and purposeful. I wouldn't complain if it won.


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