Best Film Editing
Sequences of All-Time:
From the Silents to the Present

Part 9

Best Film Editing Sequences of All-Time
Film Title/ Director & Editor and Film Description

Basic Instinct (1992)

d. Paul Verhoeven

(Best Film Editing Nominee: Frank J. Urioste)

This erotic thriller was most famous for the police interrogation scene in which ice pick murderess suspect and novelist Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) had waived her right to an attorney and was seated in a chair in front of a room full of male police detectives.

She was poised, cool, and sat there in command of the situation, refusing to stop smoking even though there was no smoking permitted in the building: "What are you going to do? Charge me with smoking?"

She matter-of-factly flirted and manipulatively toyed with the libidos and sexual appetites of the men as she tersely revealed her past sexual activities with the murder victim Johnny Boz and played sex games with their minds.

After admitting to cocaine use with Mr. Boz, she surprised the attentive audience by directing a follow-up question toward tough police detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas): "Have you ever f--ked on cocaine, Nick?"

She smiled and revealingly uncrossed her legs, flashing her panty-less private parts at him -- and then she re-crossed her legs in the opposite direction, causing a stir in the room.

Schindler's List (1993)

d. Steven Spielberg

(Best Film Editing Winner: Michael Kahn)

In a scene with skillful parallel editing and overlapping voice-over dialogue, gadabout Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) entertained and seduced SS German officers with rich food, caviar and drink in his apartment.

As part of an elaborate confidence game, he provided some of his pretty secretaries to the men, as he read off a list of black market items (including perishables and cognac) that he wanted Polish Jew Poldak Pfefferberg (Jonathan Sagalle) to acquire (with invested Jewish money) from Poles and provide as bribes:

Boxed teas are good, coffee, pate, uhm, kilbassa sausage, cheeses, caviar. And of course, who could live without German cigarettes and as many as you can find. And some more fresh fruit - they're real rarities, oranges, lemons, pineapples. I need several boxes of German cigars, the best. And dark and sweetened chocolate, not in the shape of lady fingers...we're going to need lots of cognac, the best - Hennessy. Dom Perignon champagne. Get L'Espadon sardines. And, oh, try to find nylon stockings.

Under a bridge crossing the Vistula River, a man pulled aside a tarpaulin covering boxes of fresh fruit in the bottom of his rowboat and was paid with cash.

A bribed doctor opened a medicine cabinet and pushed aside medicines, revealing a hidden compartment behind holding several bottles of Hennessey cognac.

Beneath the ties of train tracks, a metal case was pulled from beneath one of the timbers, revealing a case of sardines. (Schindler's voice-over described his business proposition as his factory opened):

It is my distinct pleasure to announce the fully operational status of Deutsche Emailwaren Fabrik - manufacturers of superior enamelware crockery, expressly designed and crafted for military use, utilizing only the most modern equipment. DEF's staff of highly skilled and experienced artisans and journeymen deliver a product of unparalleled quality, enabling me to proffer with absolute confidence and pride, a full line of field and kitchen ware unsurpassable in all respects by my competitors. See attached list and available colors. Anticipating the enclosed bids will meet with your approval. And looking forward to a long and mutually prosperous association. I extend to you, in advance, my sincerest gratitude and very best regards. Oskar Schindler.

Elaborate gift baskets (of liquor, cigarettes, coffee, tea, fresh fruit, and other rare luxury goods) with the accompanying letter from above - were assembled and carried by Schindler's cadre of pretty secretaries through the factory and strategically delivered to SS officers (the ones he had earlier been photographed with in the nightclub) to irresistibly stimulate bids and purchase contracts.

The ultimate con artist, Schindler bribed and schemed his way toward wealth. The Direktor strode through his factory, dictating to a parade of his secretaries about production demands and delivery details. As expected, one of the many SS officers, Julian Scherner (Andrzej Seweryn), signed and stamped his approval of a materials contract with D.E.F.

Schindler's List (1993)

d. Steven Spielberg

(Best Film Editing Winner: Michael Kahn)

Before composing a list to save as many of his Polish Jew workers as possible, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) met with his Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) in his office in Plaszow.

Both were resigned to their fates from the Nazis.

Schindler reassured his beloved accountant that he would make sure that he received "special treatment" or "preferential treatment" and then wearily said: "Someday this is all going to end, you know. I was going to say we'll have a drink then," but Stern responded: "I think I'd better have it now."

In the powerfully-edited scene between the two men, unlike so many other times, Stern now accepted a glass of cognac, raised it slightly to acknowledge Schindler, and then drank.

Out of Sight (1998)

d. Steven Soderbergh

(Best Film Editing Nominee: Anne V. Coates)

This crime caper contained a well-known, teasingly-filmed and edited, cross-cutting (or inter-cutting) sequence between convicted two of its characters:

  • bank robber Jack Foley (George Clooney)
  • deputy federal agent/marshal Karen Sisco (Jennifer Lopez)

First, they were conversing in a Detroit hotel bar-lounge and sharing a drink ("I like your hair, I like your outfit"), while they flirtatiously called each other different alias names, Gary and Celeste.

He explained how they were destined to be together:

It's just something that happens. It's like seeing someone for the first time. You can be passing on the street and you look at each other for a few seconds, and there's this kind of a recognition, like you both know something. The next moment, the person's gone, and, and it's too late to do anything about it. And you always remember it because it was there and you let it go and you think to yourself 'what if' I had stopped, if I had said something. What if. What if. It may only happen a few times in your life...or once.

Minutes later (after she knowingly invited: "Let's get out of here") in images that were non-continuous (with flash-forwards and flash-backs) accompanied by overlaid dialogue, she undressed in front of penthouse room windows with a view of snow falling outside amidst the lights of the city.

They were also seen in the bedroom, where they kissed and entered the bed to make love.

Run, Lola, Run (1998, Germ.)

d. Tom Tykwer
Film Editor: Mathilde Bonnefoy

In this relentlessly-thrilling, exhilarating hit film, there were three breath-taking and frenetic attempts (all "what-if" scenarios of reliving the past), largely shot in real time, of short red-haired, tattooed Lola (Franke Potente) running to help her dependent, drug-dealing boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu).

In each instance, she ran and acquired replacement cash of 100,000 Deutschmarks in 20 minutes so that he didn't have to rob a grocery store - and suffer the fateful consequences.

He was panicking at a phone booth in Berlin, where he was to meet his boss Ronnie (Heino Ferch) at noon (in about 20 minutes) with the cash, but he had inadvertently left the bag of cash on the subway car, where it was picked up by a bum.

The film's clever twist was that she was off by only a matter of seconds each time, drastically altering the consequences.

  • in the first attempt, Lola was shot in the chest by police and died!
  • in the second attempt, Manni was run over by a red ambulance
  • in the third attempt, Lola won 100,000 marks at a casino playing roulette and Manni recovered the lost money from a homeless man - Manni's reassuring words to Lola in the film's happy ending after a third and successful attempt were: "Did you run here? Don't worry. Everything's okay. Come on."

Also notable was the film's techno/industrial soundtrack and the use of a mix of visual styles.


Saving Private Ryan (1998)

d. Steven Spielberg

(Best Film Editing Winner: Michael Kahn)

Steven Spielberg's WWII war drama opened, after a short prologue, with a harrowing, graphically-visceral 25-minute depiction of the Allied landing on D-Day on Omaha Beach (June 6, 1944).

Its vivid opening sequence of the blood-bath attack was documentary-styled cinema verite at its finest (with hand-held cameras and special-effects shots), based on actual veterans' accounts of their experiences, and using film that deliberately bleached out colors to make it appear like a newsreel.

The frantically-edited, immersive scene, to accentuate the terror and chaos and the tremendous number of casualties, began with a view of one of the soldier's trembling hands as his PT boat approached the landing area of the beachhead, revealing him to be veteran Captain John Miller (Tom Hanks in an Oscar-nominated role).

One soldier vomited, and another kissed his crucifix.

Miller told his nervous platoon that was squatting down and readied for landing the craft: "We'll see you on the beach."

The sequence showed the grisly horrors of war as they dropped the PT's ramp and some soldiers jumped over the side into the ocean to escape the gunfire - the first wave of soldiers leaving the boats were instantly shot down as the camera jerked around, revealing that there was nowhere to hide.

Bullets struck bodies underwater, legs were blown off, soldiers were incinerated by an exploding flamethrower, a grunt carried his own severed arm, and one man held onto his own pile of bloody intestines (crying: "Mama! Mama!") etc.

The segment was accompanied by the loud sounds of ricocheting bullets, explosions, and grenades as the German troops in bunkers and machine gun nests fired relentlessly at the unprotected soldiers who had little cover.

For a few disorienting moments, Miller was shell-shocked and lost his hearing from loud shrapnel (as the soundtrack went blank).

Also, while he dragged a wounded fellow soldier, a bomb struck and took off the lower-half of the man's body, signifying how helpless the soldiers were and how battle deaths were very violent.

The Matrix (1999)

d. Andy and Larry Wachowski

(Best Film Editing Winner: Zach Staenberg)

The Matrix became best known for its phenomenal and revolutionary visual effects - airborne kung fu, 3-D freeze frame effects with a rotating or pivoting camera, and bullet-dodging ("bullet-time" and "Flo-Mo").

This action film became a smash hit, featuring elaborate fighting and stunt sequences with complex editing.

In the main fight-training sequence, computer programmer Thomas Anderson/Neo (Keanu Reeves) was first trained in various combat skills and martial arts via downloads (Jujitsu, Kempo, Tae Kwon Do, Drunken Boxing, etc.) through a plug-in jack at the back of his head.

Then, in a highly-choreographed sequence filmed with multiple cameras and requiring intensive film editing, Neo personally battled within a kung-fu sparring program against Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) in a virtual reality environment similar to the Construct.

In the matchup, Neo was shown how he possessed super-human abilities, could break some programming rules, and could bend others, i.e., the laws of physics.

He realized he could free his mind and perform impossible feats of physicality.

The pace of the scene was set by the various lengths of film spliced or edited together.

Best Film Editing Sequences
(chronological order)
Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

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