The Dumb Reason Steve Jobs Might Win an Oscar

By  · Published on October 20th, 2015

Universal Pictures

I’m a big fan of Steve Jobs, the movie that isn’t so much a truthful biopic as a cleverly structured father-daughter story. I am all in for it to be nominated for lots of Oscars. I’d certainly consider Michael Fassbender for Best Actor, Aaron Sorkin for Best Adapted Screenplay and Kate Winslet and Katherine Waterston for Best Supporting Actress (that category really needs like 20 nominee slots). They can even give it a Best Picture nod. But there’s one Academy Award the movie does not deserve to be in contention for: Best Editing.

Most of the awards pundits include Steve Jobs among their five predictions for the editing Oscar, and that is frankly a safe bet. Their job is to guess the nominees, not list their favorites they’d like to see nominated. Many are good critics and can write separate pieces on why such and such deserves this or that award, but in their prediction sidebars and analyses they’re focused on what the voters are likely to pick. And it’s indeed very likely that voters will choose Danny Boyle’s latest for one of the most misunderstood categories.

Steve Jobs is not a badly edited movie. It’s just not an exceptionally well-edited one. There are plenty of faults in its cutting, especially during the sequences where flashbacks are interweaved, back-and-forth-and-back-and-forth with the main scene at hand. There are too many instances where the rhythm of the editing fails to keep up with the rhythm of Sorkin’s dialogue, which is forgiven because that’s a near-impossible task. Some of that is Boyle’s fault for not having clearer visual storytelling to balance with the expository conversations. Specifically, the part of the movie dealing with Jobs’s firing from Apple is kind of a mess.

I may be stubborn, but I also don’t accept any movie as being well-edited if it resorts to “reminder” flashbacks. These aren’t usually the fault of the editor – who is Elliot Graham in this case, by the way – or even the director. It’s more likely the call of a producer or studio executive making a note about something needing clarification for the dumbest of moviegoers. Reminder flashbacks are those flashbacks featuring moments we’ve already seen in the movie, inserted later to remind us that we’ve seen them, because presumably our brains can’t recall things we saw and/or heard more than half an hour ago to make the connections ourselves. In Steve Jobs, the most notable visual nudge of this kind is a flashback to little Lisa (Makenzie Moss) drawing on the Macintosh in the first part of the movie.

The worst reason that Steve Jobs could be nominated and even win the Oscar for Best Editing, though, is that it’s a movie with a lot of noticeable editing, including the flashback intercutting and also some collage editing where, say, footage of a NASA rocket is superimposed on a wall while two characters are talking, rather than a lot of notable quality editing. And it’s a movie with a noticeable structure, which is something that was written in the script and plotted out by the director before the shoot rather than found in the editing process. Sorkin is the one responsible for the three-act form of the movie, not Graham.

Maybe it’s not necessarily the Academy that mistakes most editing for best editing. After all, the nominees are selected by other editors, people who would know better. Sure, the winner is chosen by the whole Academy membership pool, many of whom would not know better, but they’re picking from a bunch already vetted by experts. And they collectively don’t always go for the expected movie in terms of the one with the most notable and clever structure. Memento did not win, for instance. Nor did Boyhood.

Critics and audiences are the ones more likely to choose well-structured yet not-well-edited movies for editing awards. To name another by Christopher Nolan, a lot of editing awards went to Inception, which has some truly terrible in-scene cutting, particularly during action sequences, but it’s got a lot of structural interweaving. But it’s not like the editor (Lee Smith) was given a stack of dream layer sequences with no direction regarding how they fit together, and he decided to intercut them. On the other end of the spectrum is a movie with a notable lack of cuts, or seemingly so, as in the case of last year’s Birdman (edited by Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione), the actual editing of which is a special effect, not award-worthy compilation and splicing.

If I thought Steve Jobs had a shot at the top award and wasn’t just a plausible Best Picture nominee, I’d agree that an editing nomination is likely. But then again, Birdman made history this year by becoming the first movie since 1980 to win Best Picture without being nominated for Best Editing. Still, Steve Jobs is not going to win Best Picture, and it’s not going to win Best Editing, and it shouldn’t and probably won’t actually be nominated in the latter category. It might, though, so don’t hold me to that. You can definitely bet, however, on it showing up as a nominee for anything not selected by its peers.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.