Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Runner-Ups: The Editing of "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" (2010)

Michael Cera in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Every Oscar season, there are a handful of actors who get tagged with the "snubbed" moniker. While it is always unfortunate to see our favorites not honored with at very least a nomination, there's another trend that goes largely unnoticed: those who never even got that far. The Runner-Ups is a column meant to honor the greats in cinema who put in phenomenal work without getting the credit that they deserved from The Academy. Join me every Saturday as I honor those who never received any love. This list will hopefully come to cover both the acting community, and the many crew members who put the production together.

The Runner-Up: Jonathan Amos, Paul Machliss
Film: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Oscar Nominees in the Best Editing category (2010):
- The Social Network *Winner
- 127 Hours
- Black Swan
The Fighter
- The King's Speech

Up until now, I have generally covered topics that have little to do with the technical side of things. As readers of The Oscar Buzz may know, I am more focused on the visual presentation. When I critique something, I tend to go for acting, direction, writing, or music. To me, these tools outweigh the technical. However, I do think that there's a conversation that's worthy of having when it comes to the fields used behind the cameras. They are the ones that make what we see work as well as they do. While most people cannot tell you the difference between Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, I will choose to focus on a broader topic that I feel is more familiar to readers: Best Editing. Even if you cannot tell me what "editing" means technically, I'm sure that you're well away about what it actually is.

Have you ever noticed how a scene transitions from one vantage point to another? Do you notice how a scene cuts to an incongruous moment? Those are edits. In film, editing is possibly one of the most resourceful tools in telling a story. It allows audiences to enjoy a moment without overstaying its welcome. While transitions are often the most common form, there's also the order, pacing, and presentation to consider. There can be tons of editing in a single frame. While some of this is generally lobbied into the Best Visual Effects category, editing gives it a certain focus. To an extent, this is the art of order - as if combining multiple pages jumbled together and putting them into a coherent structure.

When it comes to The Oscars, Best Editing is a category of much contention. For starters, there was an ongoing myth that Best Editing is usually the predictor of Best Picture. While this isn't entirely false, recent years have suggested the contrary. Still, it is likely why one can look at an average year's Best Editing list and notice that on average, all of the films nominated are also in the Best Picture field. In fact, only two since 2010 (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) have gone against this logic. However, I think that it's about time that we accept one truth: there can be great editing without necessarily being Best Picture-bound. It is why I present an interesting case for director Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

Before I go much further, I will admit one thing: I wasn't expecting this film to ever get too much Oscar love. It was by design destined to be a cult film. Based on a Bryan Lee O'Malley series, it followed the journey of Michael Cera as Scott Pilgrim as he fought evil exes. At the time, the film bombed after having impressive legs at that year's Comic Con. So depending on who you ask, the film was either a confusing adrenaline rush, or one of the best films ever. I understand that in a year like 2010 (which had an embarrassment of riches), it is hard to consider it at all prestigious or worthy of acclaim - especially with the "box office bomb" moniker worn proudly. However, there's something that's immediate about the editing that almost makes the five Best Editing nominees look like slouches.

Of course, I must confess that this is how I generally feel about Wright's approach to editing. His policy when editing a scene is to "arrive late, leave early." This helps to give his work a certain aggression that makes the film feel faster than it does. In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, he chose to apply it to comic book logic, and ended up making his fastest paced movie to date. Considering how much special effects were featured here, it's tough to totally rule out a Best Visual Effects column. However, the editing is quite possibly a field that it felt more deserving to be in. If nothing else, there's something that's labor intensive about it that makes you notice and appreciate the craft better.

The general policy when picking Best Editing winners is to go with the most editing. It's why Whiplash and Mad Max: Fury Road won these past two years. I feel like this is the thankless field that most people wouldn't notice anyways. However, was there any film that had more editing than Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in 2010? Admittedly, The Social Network is an indisputable masterpiece worthy of any and all awards. However, one cannot help but wonder what this category would look like if it was like the other technical fields and wasn't too shy in recognizing more obscure selections. I know that Wright's youth oriented film may be too overwhelming, especially to older audiences, but it definitely captures an energy that reflects a certain growth in film technique.

The general issue with Best Editing category is that it often thinks too traditional. Sure, you get films like Gravity that challenge the norm, but how often do thrillers end up in the category? It's pretty rare. The magic of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World was that it managed to somehow control its dizzying pace without losing the audience entirely. There were often edits within edits in such a way that it's still revolutionary. The idea that a film has to be good to be nominated is itself a suspect concept. While I love Wright's film, I acknowledge that maybe its aggression and niche market wasn't going to do the trick. However, one cannot help but feel like the idea of editing needs an update.

One can easily look at the editing in the "Black Sheep" scene and notice several visual cues. There's tension that flashes for seconds between the various characters. As the instruments clang their melody, split screens reveal a conflict between the bass player and Cera. There's inserts of Cera's own internal conflict as well. There's so much at play that it becomes overwhelming to dissect how much detail is displayed within a three minute song. However, it embodies what editing can do beyond transitioning scenes. It can convey deeper and more complex ideas. Sure, one could argue that this scene also makes a strong case for Best Visual Effects, but this was the year of Inception, and the successful blockbusters ruled the other nominations. It feels more appropriate to attack the Best Editing field, which seems to have a usual suspects vibe most years.

I know that this is possibly among the least plausible defenses that I've done in The Runner-Ups so far, but that's the point of this series. It's to provoke thought and ideas of how The Oscars could have been different. In general, I do think that altering the Best Editing field would result in a more compelling contest each year. Speaking as Mad Max: Fury Road showed that voters are starting to get hip with this idea, it may only be time before quality action films manage to get their say. Maybe there will still be a taboo around "box office bombs" that keeps films like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World out of the race. However, I do think that having films like this considered in the first place could help to make the awards feel more modern. If nothing else, I'd like to think that Wright one days gets recognized for his work. He more than deserves it.

No comments:

Post a Comment