Citizen Dame 5: Favorite Anne V. Coates Films

Acclaimed editor Anne V. Coates passed away May 8th at the age of 92. Nominated for five Oscars, winning in 1963 for Lawrence of Arabia, Coates has become one of the most legendary editors around. Working well into her 90s, Coates was prolific and a remarkable source of film history. We honor her with a look at our favorite films edited by Anne V. Coates.

Kristen’s 5

I can’t say I enjoy these films specifically because of Anne V. Coates’ editing, and I won’t be surprised if many say I haven’t seen some of her best work (I know I haven’t). However, I think a lot of what makes these movies work is their pacing, and they’re well-paced because they’re edited well!

Erin Brokovich (2000)

Much of what makes Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brokovich work is how it situates this story with so many players – both Julia Roberts’ lead character and the countless plaintiffs she’s defending – and keeps everything moving so well. Coates knows this story should have all the impact of a freight train and edits scenes so that you watch Erin uncover things with stealthiness and suspense.

Chaplin (1992)

I had no idea Coates edited one of my favorite Old Hollywood biopics. Chaplin’s life was conveniently exaggerated and shaped by him, and what Richard Attenborough does is showcase that. Coates cuts from a young Chaplin (Robert Downey, Jr.) to an older version being told by his biographer (played by Anthony Hopkins) that it’s untrue. Coates uses editing to separate fact from fiction, or to cement fiction as fact.

Out of Sight (1998)

I’m not as big on Out of Sight as most people are which is weird because I’ve seen it several times. The film is a slick heist thriller and the rapid-fire editing does keep things moving briskly. There’s a vibrancy and a verve to it all, I just don’t know if I like the movie or not.

Unfaithful (2002)

Anne V. Coates definitely enjoyed erotic thrillers, if you look at her work on this and the less-than good Fifty Shades of Grey. Unfaithful is by far a better movie and the editing creates a languid, charged air to everything. Like her work on Chaplin, several prominent scenes in Unfaithful involve editing to signify memory and guilt. Characters reflect on things they shouldn’t be thinking about which only intensifies the emotions and the sexual energy. If only Fifty Shades had all that!

Lady Jane (1986)

I needed a five and, I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen Lawrence of Arabia! I’m a Tudor-phile so I’m contractually obligated to  see anything associated with the family. Lady Jane is an off-beat historical drama about Lady Jane Grey (played by a young Helena Bonham Carter) and her role as the “Nine Day Queen.” There are elements of the movie that are highly fictionalized – the movie relies on the whole doomed love between her and Guildford Dudley (played by an equally young Cary Elwes) that’s sentimentally manipulative – but Coates edits this well. The sweeping vistas are great but they’re coupled with an increasingly claustrophobic closeness as Jane becomes more put-upon. It’s a good movie worth seeing if you like the Tudors.

Karen’s 5

Anne V. Coates was a legend, and it’s really too bad more people didn’t know her name during her life and impressive career. She won exactly one competitive Oscar and it was for her very first nomination. It also happens to be for one of the greatest films of all time.


Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

What can you say about this film that hasn’t already been said, and far more eloquently? Any film that can clock in with a 3.5 hour run-time and keep your attention owes EVERYTHING to the editor. The story is great and the performances are some for the ages, but it was Coates who made this marathon epic watchable.


What About Bob? (1991)

I’ll admit I love this one for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with editing. I just imagine the chuckles that ensued while combing through footage of Bill Murray being at once the most annoying and endearing character. Hardly a workday goes by that I don’t find myself saying, “Baby steps to 4 o’clock.”


Erin Brockovich (2000)

I love everything about this film. Julia Roberts is incredible, the story is amazing, both for being tragic and for being inspirational. I live only a few hours away from the real town of Hinckley, California, and this is still a case that people talk about. The impeccable editing just drives home all of the elements that combine to make it such a good film. It’s always interesting when a true story you already know manages to be so intense, and that’s what happens here.

In the Line of Fire (1993)

This movie was a big hit in 1993, but has fallen out of favor in recent years. It’s been awhile since I watched it, so maybe it wouldn’t stay on my list if I did? What made this  so fun is John Malkovich was so damn creepy, and also there’s a scene in which Clint Eastwood tries to show off how much of a tough guy he is and Rene Russo makes him look like an idiot, which is hilarious. Coates earned an Oscar nomination for this one, and it’s another of many examples where she proves how good she is at amplifying tension.

Sweet November

Sweet November (2001)

You know what? I know this movie isn’t amazing or anything, but I dig it. Charlize Theron and Keanu Reeves onscreen together are just…so…sweet. Nothing groundbreaking, but it’s perfectly assembled, even if the story is not perfectly told.


Lauren’s 5

Did I know who Anne V. Coates was before this past week? No, I’m sorry to say I did not. But now I’ve learned that she’s responsible for putting together some of my favorite films and that, frankly, is pretty damn cool.


Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

Without even looking at what the other Dames are putting on, I’m pretty confident this one will be on everyone’s list. And why not? Lawrence of Arabia is one of the lushest films ever made and Coates’s editing certainly helped make it that way. That famous cut from the match in Peter O’Toole’s elegant hand to the sweeping, desolate desert is simply perfection. David Lean owes her a debt of gratitude.


Tunes of Glory (1960)

This is a remarkable film that I wish more people would see and appreciate. Alec Guinness and John Mills face off as a wartime Commanding Officer replaced by a quieter peacetime CO, and the conflict that ensues. I’m especially excited that Coates edited this one because it’s a film that deals with the conflicts of wartime masculinity and the perception of the military from within. As with Lawrence of Arabia and Becket, having a woman’s hand in the interplay between two male titans of the screen seems very apropos and gives the film a depth it might not otherwise have possessed.


Becket (1964)

I like to think that it is Coates’s editing that allows us to dwell on the homoerotic relationship between Richard Burton’s Becket and Peter O’Toole’s King Henry, but maybe that’s just me.


Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

Murder on the Orient Express is a breezy, deeply entertaining lark of a film, and I had no idea Coates was the editor on it. But it makes sense – the cuts are quick and sharp, and there’s a breathless pacing to it, rhythmic like the train it takes place on. Where Branagh’s film has a slow, meandering feel, gently constructing the relationship between the characters in between sweeping set-pieces, this version is more interested in the cramped quarters and hidden motives within than in the landscape without.


Out of Sight (1998)

I am so pleased to know that Coates is responsible for the structure of one of the hottest sex scenes ever. Damn.


Kimberly’s 5

This was a harder list for me to fill out. When going through the legendary editor’s filmography, I found I haven’t seen much of her best work. As such, the films listed below are a few deep cuts, a few standards, and at least one film our faithful readers are probably surprised to find on a Citizen Dame 5. I can’t say these films are on here for their editing, but they each hold a special spot when looking into them.


Out to Sea (1997)

I expressed my love for My Fellow Americans on a previous Citizen Dame 5. To make another embarrassing admission, I saw both Grumpy Old Men and Grumpier Old Men when they were in theaters while I was in elementary school. As such, I was (and still am!) all about the 1997 comedy Out to Sea. Featuring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as cruise ship stowaways posing as dance hosts, the film is a fun love letter to classic Hollywood. Besides our already named stars, the film features appearances by Donald O’Connor, Hal Linden, Elaine Stritch, Gloria DeHaven as well as a delightful villainous turn by Brent Spiner. I saw this movie in theaters and will still watch it every time it comes on.


Chaplin (1992)

I have long memories going back with this film. Even at a young age, I remember being absolutely fascinated with the 1920s (and Old Hollywood) aesthetic as depicted in the movie. It should come as no surprise to my family I turned out how I did. The look Attenborough captures for this film, as well as another spot-on performance by the always capable Robert Downey Jr. sticks with me, even though I haven’t seen this film in far too long.


What About Bob (1991)

I’m not sure if this one deserves a “Sorry, not sorry”, or just a “Sorry”. What About Bob is a big nostalgia film for me. I was five years old when the movie came out, and that is probably the best age to truly appreciate some of Bill Murray’s humour. I may or may not still go “I’m sailing!” every time I get out on the water.


Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

An admission: I watched this film during my rather lengthy Richard Widmark phase. Yep, I’ll avoid spoilers, but that was disappointing. Anywhoo, this is another movie I haven’t seen in far too long. However, the pedigree of Murder on the Orient Express speaks for itself. The ensemble put together for this movie is second to none. Like a number (3) of the films on this list, what sticks in my mind is the artistry captured on an epic scale.


Lawrence of Arabia (1962)

I needed five, and I will admit it has been a long time since I watched this film. However, so much of the imagery from this movie truly sticks with you. It deserves its place on seemingly every single Top 10 List because in it, David Lean (and Coates) truly capture a sense of cinema as an art form. Even this screen cap above shows just how beautiful, colorful and meticulous each frame appears.

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