10:32pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Fox Searchlight Highlights Cinematography, Editing of 'The Descendants' (Exclusive Video)
Over the past 15 years, Fox Searchlight has proven to be as savvy as any studio at navigating the often-murky waters of the awards season. Therefore, I am quite confident that its awards team knows exactly how few films have won the best picture Oscar without first scoring nominations for best cinematography (just 30 in the 84 years in which the category has been presented, and none since The Departed five years ago) and/or best film editing (just 9 in the 77 years in which the category has been presented, and none since Ordinary People 31 years ago), and that it is precisely for that reason that it is fighting very hard to win the support of the Academy's cinematography branch (201 members) and film editing branch (220 members) for The Descendants, their 2011 best picture Oscar hopeful. Their most recent move? Piecing together a special featurette entitled "Shooting and Editing The Descendants,' which we are exclusively premiering here today.
At the moment, at least, The Descendants is not a sure-thing for either category, however worthy it may be.
The film's cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, who previously collaborated with Payne on Sideways (2004) and who also lensed George Clooney's other 2011 film The Ides of March, was not nominated last month by the Broadcast Film Critics Association or this week by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC), the cinematographers' guild. The ASC snub particularly stings, since the group has perfectly predicted the best cinematography Oscar nominees and winner two out of the last three years, and had previously nominated Papamichael twice in the 1990s for TV work.
Meanwhile, the film's editor Kevin Tent, who has spliced all five of the feature films that Payne has directed (dating back to Citizen Ruth in 1996), provides an interesting case study: snubbed by the BFCA last month, he is awaiting the verdict of the American Cinema Editors (ACE), the film editors' guild, which will announce their nominations next Monday -- but even if they do nominate him, he will probably find it hard to rest easy about landing an Oscar nomination eight days later, since ACE previously nominated him for Election (1999), About Schmidt (2002), and Sideways (2004), but, bizarrely, the Academy then declined to nominate all three.
If The Descendants is going to have any shot of surpassing the presumptive frontrunner The Artist and winning the best picture Oscar, it will, in all likelihood, need at least one of these two artisans to score an Oscar nod -- and, if we're being realistic, probably both. And if you needed a good reason to study the below-the-line categories on Oscar nominations morning, that is it.