The editing of a film is one of the hardest aspects to evaluate since the whole point is to make you forget that it’s there and in order to understand how the editing is working you have to see it done badly. Only very occasionally does a film purposely do something jarring and creative with its editing, like in Peterloo, the cut between the cavalry charge on the protestors to the horse race. The rest of the time it’s to create a single impression across the transition, cut from one shot to a similar one to minimise the shock of cutting from one angle to another. There’s also the difference between momentary and structural editing, cutting between shots and cutting between scenes. I would say that the hardest job any editor was handed this year was Bob Murawski, who was presented with the task of editing hours of footage that Orson Welles left unfinished in 1976 into a finished film. The fact that The Other Side of the Wind came out so well and that even the stylistic editing choices of Welles’ other late period were perfectly preserved is truly impressive. The Other Side of the Wind would have been a hard film to edit in any case, a mock-documentary set across a single night, cutting between the film and the film within the film, shot on dozens of different cameras following a huge ensemble cast as a Hollywood party descends into chaos, it’s no wonder Welles never found a cut he was happy with.
Perhaps the finished product was too arthouse and biting for the Academy crowd and Netflix wanted to put all their weight behind Roma, but Murawski wasn't the only editor harshly overlooked this year. Perhaps Avengers: Infinity War and Mission: Impossible – Fallout were mere action blockbusters but it really is films like this that build an adrenal tempo with their scenes where the editing really shines, and Infinity War was given the task of balancing half a dozen different plot threads light-years apart. American Animals, Bart Layton's skilful witty blending of documentary and fiction and the aforementioned Peterloo had some of the most creative editing work this year and I'm genuinely surprised at the omission of First Man in so many categories, especially the editing by the previous winner Tom Cross.
In comparison, there's not much to say about the actual nominees. The Favourite had some moments of creativity and bravado but a large part of why it fell so flat with me was the dead zone of silence after all those witty lines that crackled so well in the trailers. If it were a competition for the best-edited trailer then The Favourite would win hands down. The editing is another respect in which Green Book was unremarkable, I saw it after the nominees came out so I was looking for it to impress me and it never did, it was no more than you would expect from any glossy Hollywood star vehicle.
I didn’t like Vice, Adam McKay and Hawk Corwin’s fourth wall breaking editing sheen has always been shallow but here it just felt tasteless and pretentious. Vice was the most toneless, aimless movie of the year with no consistent aesthetic or timbre. Perhaps the editing was well executed and if anyone involved with Vice deserves recognition it’s Corwin, who as editor shouldered more than his fair share of making Vice seem professional. Bohemian Rhapsody, well that’s about as messy as my opinion of it is. There are huge sections of it that are very poor indeed, a series of aimless cuts once every second just to create a false sense of dynamism in a scene that has no flow. The editing was televisual and no more than adequate, which is perhaps no surprise given that the directors changed midstream. But then, like the rest of the movie, you still have the Live Aid scene, which I maintain is alone enough to justify the movie's existence. No doubt editing is at its easiest and most impactful when you can just time the edits to the music. Spike Lee is one of a select few filmmakers whose true calling might have been music videos since he always produces his best work whenever the soundtrack opens up and he can find the music in the images and BlacKkKlansman gave him more than enough opportunities to remind us of it. It deserves to win Best Editing off of the Birth of a Nation/Harry Belafonte scene and the ending montage alone. Hell, it deserves the best picture because of them.