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Can 'The Reader' win best picture at Oscars without an editing nomination?

January 22, 2009 |  1:13 pm

Ever since the Oscars introduced an award for editing in 1934, only nine movies have won best picture without at least being nominated for the editing Academy Award. That's one explanation of how "The Departed" prevailed over PGA and SAG champ "Little Miss Sunshine" two years ago and "Crash" pulled off a surprise win over "Brokeback Mountain" three years ago. Neither of those losing best picture contenders was in the running for the editing award at the Oscars. Last year's champ "No Country for Old Men" did make the cut with the editors (though Joel and Ethan Coen, under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes, lost to Christopher Rouse for "The Bourne Ultimatum").

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With "The Reader" left off the list of Oscar nominations for editing, can it still win best picture? Granted, it did better than expected earning four other key Oscar nominations — director, actress, adapted screenplay and cinematography. However, even surprise best picture winners like "Gladiator" (2000), "Shakespeare in Love" (1998), "Chariots of Fire" (1981), "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952), "An American in Paris" (1951), and "Rebecca" (1940) had nominations in both directing and editing.

The most recent example of the nine best picture winners that flouted the Oscars' editing rule? "Ordinary People" back in 1980. The earliest: "It Happened One Night," which swept the major categories in 1934 while "Eskimo" won the first Oscar for film editing. The other seven: "The Life of Emile Zola" (1937), "Hamlet" (1948), "Marty" (1955), "Tom Jones" (1963), "A Man for All Seasons" (1966), "The Godfather, Part II" (1974), and "Annie Hall" (1977). Of these nine best picture winners that went without an editing nomination, seven won best director and the other two had nominated helmers.

Stephen Daldry, who directed "The Reader," did make the final five at the Oscars as did the helmers of the other four best picture nominees. The best director category has lined up with best picture 60 times over 80 years. In its first quarter century, the academy shared the wealth 11 times while during the last 55 years, there have been only nine occasions when the year's best director did not helm the best picture. However, four of those occurred in the last decade, including three years ago when "Crash" director Paul Haggis lost to Ang Lee for "Brokeback Mountain."

And while "Crash" did win the Oscar for editing, only 39 of the 74 editing awards have gone to best picture winners. From 1934 to 1952 (the academy’s silver anniversary) these awards lined up only twice. Since then, 37 of the 55 best picture winners were also the best edited. Interestingly, only four of those have been in the last decade as well.

In the last decade, only best picture winners "The Departed" and "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" also won both best director and best editing. So don't write off "The Reader" just yet. After all, it has already slayed "The Dark Knight."

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Photo: Weinstein Co.

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