OSCARS: Rule Changes Missed Opportunities To Fix Song, Foreign-Language Categories

With today’s press release from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences regarding their annual review of rules — these affecting the upcoming 85th Academy Awards in February — the only thing “newsy” was how little news there was. It is almost like status quo. That is not to say the Academy should not have made some real changes but apparently they have missed their opportunity to right some wrongs, at least for now.

Related: Oscar: New Rules Affect Music, Foreign Language, Makeup, Visual Effects Categories

One of the biggest controversies coming out of last year’s Oscar nominations  was in the music branch where due to a ridiculous rule original songs must achieve an unrealistic voting standard of an overall 8.5 score that only two (“Real In Rio” from Rio and eventual winner “Man Or Muppet” from The Muppets) managed to meet, leaving a number of major contenders including deserving songs from big names like Mary J. Blige and Elton John out in the cold. Many branch members and former nominees like Diane Warren loudly complained and branch executives indicated they would look into the matter. However with today’s rules announcement the only tweak involving Best Song is that a fourth songwriter is now eligible to compete for an individual tune in “rare and extraordinary” circumstances. Since 2005 only two songwriters have been eligible per song with a third considered in “rare” instances. There was absolutely no mention about a much needed overhaul of the needlessly complicated numeric voting system that gets these nominees there. Or am I missing something, music branch?

There was also an opportunity for another overhaul of the arcane rules for nominating Foreign Language films, a perennial source of controversy. The Academy could have used this opportunity to change the way films are submitted from individual countries, a process that has increasingly become mired in the politics of some countries leading to unworthy entries and the overlooking of genuinely deserving films. I’m not at all surprised they didn’t, but why won’t the Academy just open up the whole process and allow the best foreign-language films to be considered each year rather than the outdated quota of one from each country. Surely there is a way to make the whole contest more inclusive of quality work, rather than just the final nominees. I often hear loud complaints from committee members about the quality level of many of the 60+ films they are forced to consider. Instead the only rule change coming in this category is a minor tweak about the screening format of the films, not the films themselves. They must be either 35MM or DCP but are no longer required to be seen in those formats in the country of origin. Big whoop.

Perhaps the biggest change is in the Makeup category which has altered its name to Best Achievement in Makeup and HAIRSTYLING, an admission that hair is just as important as the other aspects of the art. And in Visual Effects there was just a further expansion of eligibility. In 2010 the category moved from three to five nominees. Now those nominees will be selected from a pool of ten contenders, rather than the “seven to ten” rule previously in place.  Okay.

Earlier this year the Documentary branch became the only one in the Academy to really shake things up and significantly change the way docs would be eligible for consideration. There are much stronger rules now in place and it could truly affect the kind of films that get nominated or even win by opening up the process and making it easier for the entire Academy to have a say in the final vote. That was announced at the beginnng of the year, rather than in today’s catch-all release, because it involved a major eligibility shift to a calendar year instead of the previous September to August eligibility period for docs. It’s also designed to make the nominees real theatrical films, rather than glorified TV projects that find a way to qualify for Oscars (in addition to Emmys).

Previously the Academy announced they were not moving the Oscars a month earlier to end of January or beginning of February and are staying put with their date on the last Sunday in February at the newly renamed Dolby Theatre, again all status quo despite much support or at least talk about a major change. But like the very minor rule changes announced today the Academy is saying that, for now at least, ‘we are not going to rock the boat’.

Incidentally Tuesday’s Board Of Governors meeting was the last one before a new President will be elected since current President Tom Sherak’s term is up. That happens July 31, and if they stick to last year’s timetable, winners of this year’s Honorary Oscars could also be selected at that meeting.

    And.. yet again, the Academy is not recognising the work of a major head of department – the Casting Director.
    It would seem every director just KNOWS exactly who they want to be in their film – the entire cast – no need to consult anyone ever.
    Hailey Steinfeld just walked into the production office, did she? Nothing at all to do with Ellen Chenoweth?
    Jennifer Lawrence was already a huge star BEFORE Winter’s Bone, that’s why she was cast – nothing to do with (the amazing) Kerry Barden?
    Sure, many lead actors are cast to help get a film up – but MANY times this is still done consulting with a casting director. And there is still THE REST OF THE CAST!
    Casting is as much a collaboration with directors as is art directing/costumes/make up/editing etc etc. You offer the director ideas and they guide and direct the overall film.
    Seems crazy to me that there are categories for who dresses the actors, who puts make-up on the actors, who does the actors’ hair, who lights the actors, but not for who puts the actors there in the first place.
    Not every casting director is a good casting director. But not every editor is a good editor. The CDs at the top of their game deserve to be recognised.

    1. And Kerry Barden’s partner Paul Schnee.

      I’m sure Kerry and Paul also had a little something to do with Octavia Spencer in THE HELP (and Jessica Chastain and Viola Davis, and the rest of that amazing cast). Laray Mayfield: Rooney Mara in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGOD TATTOO. Sheila Jaffe: Melissa Leo and Christian Bale in THE FIGHTER. Allison Jones: Melissa McCarthy in BRIDESMAIDS. John Jackson: Shailene Woodley in THE DESCENDANTS. Ellen Lewis: All Martin Scorsese films. Ellen Chenoweth: Clooney’s films, the Coen Brothers.

      The list could go on and on and on.

      A travesty.

  2. The change in the foreign feature films is not small: it allows low budget and truly independent movies from each country to be chosen for the awards. I´m sorry that Mr. Hammond fails to understand that this is NOT a minor progress in this particular award history.

  3. Should be some kind of hair award for the Battle of Alesia on you tube. The hair in that opus makes ones jaw drop. The fun really starts at the 45 second mark.

  4. And I also noticed that the Stunt Ensemble or Best Stunt Coordinator was left out, again, as well. Perhaps the whole Academy Awards process needs a shakeup indefinitely.

  5. Were Elton John and Mary J. Blige REALLY robbed of an Oscar nomination last year? Seriously. What actually needs to happen is the total elimination of the completely pointless Best Song category. Why do we need it? So we can give a “big name” in the music industry a movie award? (The height of this has to be Annie Lennox’s win for LORD OF THE RINGS) Give the occasional special award to songwriters who have contributed greatly to the movies over the course of time.

  6. Easing the three-writer limit on Original Song is more than just a minor step forward for the Music Branch; it at least allows them to nominate all four members of U2 again (in recent years they’ve had to trim their movie-song credits to Bono & The Edge to meet the rule). But even there they SHOULD have scrapped the limit altogether; it was targeted at a single past nomination (i.e., all the members of Counting Crows for “Accidentally in Love” from Shrek 2) but has had massive unintended consequences AND is absolutely contrary to how most popular songs are written today.

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