Oscars cliffhanger: Can ‘Birdman’ win Best Picture without editing nomination?

Birdman” did very well on Thursday, reaping a leading nine Oscar nominations as did “The Grand Budapest Hotel. However, while both compete for Best Picture, Director and Original Screenplay, “Birdman” was snubbed in the key category of Editing.  The other four nominees this year for Editing also number among the eight Best Picture contenders: “American Sniper,” “Boyhood,” “The Imitation Game” and “Whiplash.”

So, just how important is it for a Best Picture champ to contend in the editing category?

Since the editing award was introduced in 1934, only nine movies have won Best Picture at the Oscars without at least contending for the cutting prize. The last of these was “Ordinary People” in 1980.

Even those Best Picture winners that are regarded as upsets — think “Gladiator” (2000), “Shakespeare in Love” (1998), “Chariots of Fire” (1981), “The Greatest Show on Earth” (1952), “An American in Paris” (1951) and “Rebecca” (1940) — could boast of bids for editing.

We should have seen those Best Picture wins by “Crash” over “Brokeback Mountain” in 2005 and “The Departed” over PGA and SAG champ “Little Miss Sunshine” in 2006 when those also-rans were snubbed in the editing race.

Surprisingly, given the seeming need for an editing nomination to win Best Picture, only 42 of the 80 editing awards have gone to the top winners. From 1934 to 1952 (the academy’s silver anniversary) these awards lined up only twice. Since then, 40 of the 61 Best Picture winners were also the best edited with five of the last 10 top films winning both awards. Last year was one of those exceptions as “Gravity” won Editing while “12 Years a Slave” won Best Picture. 

The first film to win Best Picture without even a bid for editing was “It Happened One Night.” That screwball comedy swept the major categories in 1934 while “Eskimo” won the first Oscar for editing. 1934 marked the first year that Oscar voters chose from 12 Best Picture nominees.

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In 1935, a dozen films were also in the running when “Mutiny on the Bounty” prevailed in the top race; the high seas adventure was also in contention for Best Editing, losing to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The Best Picture race was then pared down to 10 from 1936 to 1943. In those eight years, all the Best Picture champs — with the exception of “The Life of Emile Zola” in 1937 — had at least an editing nomination. Only 1939 Best Picture winner “Gone With the Wind” also won the editing race.

Since the Best Picture category went to five nominees in 1944, seven films have won the top Oscar without an editing nomination: “Hamlet” (1948), “Marty” (1955), “Tom Jones” (1963), “A Man for All Seasons” (1966), “The Godfather, Part II” (1974), “Annie Hall” (1977), and “Ordinary People” (1980).

However, of these nine Best Picture champs that went without an editing nomination, seven won Best Director and the other two had nominated helmers.

Indeed, the Best Director category has lined up with Best Picture 64 times over 86 years. In its first quarter century, the academy shared the wealth 11 times while during the last six decades, there have been only 11 occasions when the year’s Best Director did not helm the Best Picture. But three of those splits occurred in the last decade, including in 2005 when “Crash” director Paul Haggis lost to Ang Lee for “Brokeback Mountain.”

As such, in the last decade, only three Best Picture winners — “The Departed” (2006), “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008) and “The Hurt Locker” (2009) — also took home both Best Director and Best Editing.

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