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Can 'Up in the Air' win best picture at Oscars without an editing nomination?

February 2, 2010 | 12:17 pm

Up in the Air 500
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 "Crash" pulled off a surprise win over "Brokeback Mountain" four years ago and why "The Departed" prevailed over PGA and SAG champ "Little Miss Sunshine" three years ago. Neither of those losing best picture contenders was in the running for the editing award at the Oscars.

Two years ago Oscar champ "No Country for Old Men" did make the cut with the editors, although Joel and Ethan Coen, under the pseudonym Roderick Jaynes, lost to Christopher Rouse for "The Bourne Ultimatum." And last year's best picture champ "Slumdog Millionaire" also won the editing Oscar.

All five of this year's editing nominees -- "Avatar," "District 9," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglorious Basterds" and "Precious" -- number among the 10 best picture contenders. Those best picture nominees that did not make the cut with the editors are "The Blind Side," "An Education," A Serious Man," "Up" and "Up in the Air."

Of these five, only "Up in the Air" landed a directing nod. And "Up in the Air" earned four other key Oscar nominations -- actor, supporting actress (2) and adapted screenplay. 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 first film to win best picture without even a nod for editing was "It Happened One Night." That screwball comedy swept the major categories in 1934 while "Eskimo" won the first Oscar for film editing. 1934 marked the first year that Oscar voters chose from 12 best picture nominees. The previous year -- when "Calvacade" won -- there had been 10 nominees while the year before that -- when "Grand Hotel" prevailed -- there had been 8 films in the running. For years two to four of the Oscars, five films had contended while the first year had just three best picture nominees.

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).

Of the nine best picture winners that went without an editing nomination, seven won best director and the other two had nominated helmers. "Up in the Air" director Jason Reitman did make the final five at the Oscars as did the helmers of four of the five editing nominees; Neill Blomkamp ("District 9") missed out on a nod.

The best director category has lined up with best picture 61 times over 81 years. In its first quarter century, the academy shared the wealth 11 times while during the last 56 years, there have been only nine occasions when the year's best director did not helm the best picture. However, three of those times occurred in the last decade, including four years ago when "Crash" director Paul Haggis lost to Ang Lee for "Brokeback Mountain."

While "Crash" did win the Oscar for editing, only 40 of the 75 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, 38 of the 56 best picture winners were also the best edited though just five of the last 10 top films have managed to win both awards.

And in the last decade, only three best picture winners -- "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (2003), "The Departed" (2006) and "Slumdog Millionaire" (2008) -- took home both best director and best editing.

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Photo: George Clooney and Anna Kendrick in a scene from "Up in the Air." Credit: Paramount

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