When it comes to the fun of predicting the Oscars, I'm as much of a stat hound as the next guy. I've always delighted in mentioning this notable or that and what it could mean. But, of course, contextualizing that information is of the utmost importance; the silliest thing you can do is lean on this information to guide your understanding of a season. One such stat has stood for so long its become religion to some, but happily, it crumbled this year.
Sunday night, “Birdman” became the first film since 1980's “Ordinary People” to win the Best Picture Oscar without a film editing nomination. That's a 34-year streak, obliterated. It almost feels more significant than “Argo's” Best Picture win mitigating its lack of a corresponding director nomination, becoming, at the time, the first film in 23 years to do so.
But these “rules” are meant to be broken, for a variety of reasons. “'Birdman' can't win Best Picture,” you would hear from the devout. “It wasn't nominated for film editing.” No, it wasn't. But there is obviously some complexity to that circumstance. The editing in “Birdman” isn't built around the classic element of the form: montage, i.e. the juxtaposition of imagery to tell the story, convey the theme, achieve a reaction, etc. The central conceit of its assemblage was about concealing the seams and making the film appear as if it were one continuous take.
I doubt very seriously that this was a strike against it with the Editors Branch. After all, it was nominated for the American Cinema Editors award in the comedy category (which it admittedly lost to “The Grand Budapest Hotel”). I think at the end of the day they were simply drawn to the traditional goal and impact of their art form. And that's perfectly fine. Clearly, it didn't mean it was in some sort of Best Picture trouble.
So what's important here, I think, is that another one of these walls has fallen. And I must admit, my fingers were crossed for “Birdman” in large part because this obsession needed a good dousing.