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OSCARS: Will Earlier Voting Schedule Influence Nominations?

With fresh nominations from the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Movie Awards, SAG, AFI, and a slew of critics groups chiming in almost daily, there are many voices trying to influence the race for Oscar’s best picture of 2012. Does it matter, or is all this just a lot of white noise as far as Academy voters are concerned?

It’s an even bigger question this year than in the past because of the earlier timetable the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences introduced for voting coupled with the new online electronic voting options. Oscar nominating ballots went out December 17 and are due back January 3 (essentially right in the heart of the holidays). That means a huge rush for members to see the major contenders, which are mostly November and December openings, and the influence factor of other awards and nominations could be more significant than ever — even if it simply draws voters’ attention to movies these groups are singling out. My own survey of Academy members indicates that as late as the second week in December, many had not yet seen most of the films pundits are saying will be the major players in the best picture race. By forcing an earlier vote on their members, the Academy is putting enormous pressure on them to see these films and make a judgment of Oscar-worthiness.

My guess is this will be another year, like 2011, when nine or 10 pictures will be nominated (it can be anywhere from five to 10), as there seems to be a dedicated but smaller constituency so far for a number of movies, rather than an obvious frontrunner. Argo, Life Of Pi, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Misérables, and Silver Linings Playbook are consensus titles that have popped up in significant ways on most of the important lists so far, including SAG. SAG is the first glimpse of the race from a guild and often mirrors Academy tastes — as do the PGA, DGA, and WGA along with below-the-line guilds — making it the most important barometer. But we have to put an asterisk next to it this year because Pi is not actor-centric and most members of the SAG nominating committee likely did not see Quentin Tarantino’s bloody homage to spaghetti westerns, Django Unchained, simply because the Christmas Day release was not ready in time to distribute DVD screeners. It was AWOL at SAG, but its strong showing with AFI, the Golden Globes, and Critics Choice, despite limited screening opportunities, means it also belongs with those aforementioned six other films in an unprecedented 7-pack of genuine contenders, all of which have shots at the prize depending on the way the wind blows in the next few weeks.

With best picture nominations likely for those seven, and a longer period of six weeks instead of four between Oscar nominations on January 10 and the show on February 24, the postnom period is going to be more crucial than ever. It is where the race Argo Ben Affleckcan really be won by the savviest of campaigns and, more importantly, momentum. In the Oscar race, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish, and each film has a chance to build — or in the case of October release Argo, rebuild — that frontrunning status. This is where smart campaign moves can make all the difference. With restrictive rules governing postnom parties, Q&As, etc., getting your film noticed is key. Lincoln’s December 19 command screening for the entire U.S. Senate is the kind of thing that smells “important” and can have an effect in swaying Oscar votes, if not those in the Senate. “Who knew we would be the last thing they see before jumping off the fiscal cliff?” Steven Spielberg told me at a Lincoln party last week.

In addition to the key seven, don’t discount Michael Haneke’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner Amour, which is also Austria’s official entry for foreign-language film. Although it’s not common, there are several examples of foreign films making the best picture cut including The Emigrants, Cries and Whispers, Life Is Beautiful, and Il Postino. Sony Pictures Classics is making a big play with Amour not only for foreign-language film but acting, directing, writing, and best picture recognition for this extraordinary movie. The problem is many voters don’t seem to be aware it is eligible in those other categories, even if it becomes a foreign-language nominee. This one could be a wild card in the picture race, and even for Haneke as director, even though that field is incredibly crowded. In fact, it’s the directors’ race that will be the one to watch for clues on which of these films has the mojo to go all the way. With only five possible nominations and so many truly viable contenders, someone is getting cut. But who among Ben Affleck, Quentin Tarantino, Ang Lee, Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper, and David O. Russell, not to mention Haneke, will be in or out, even as their picture gets nominated?

On top of these films, there is still hope for the likes of The Master, Flight, Moonrise Kingdom, Beasts of the Southern Wild, a recent surge for May’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and even hope of a first-ever best picture nomination for James Bond with Skyfall.

It’s anybody’s game right now but who will triumph in the end? This thing is just getting started.

  1. Weak year. Real weak.

    Armour is the only great one. The rest are tops because of the low bar of our day.

    Billy Bob is real.

  2. LOVED Silver Linings Playbook. Modern version a Preston Sturges film. Wonder if Weisnteins can take this all the way and make it 3 in a row.

  3. I can’t stand this early schedule!!! My family is away for the holidays and apparently the UPS notices for the late season screeners are piling up on my door (according to my neighbor, who’s unable to sign for them). No doubt they’ll end up being sent back to the distribution company after three attempts because I’m not there to sign. So far this month, I’ve had to take four trips to the bowels of downtown LA for UPS (!) and two to Sun Valley for FedEx (!) to pick up these f*cking packages. I know they’re worried about piracy, but between sending the screeners UPS and FedEx (virtually impossible to sign for when you’re at work) and private screenings that you have to wait an hour in line to see (and you can’t eat popcorn or drink a soda while watching), these studios are making it harder and harder to see these films that they’re BEGGING you to vote for. I know it shouldn’t make a difference, but when I have to drive 15-20 miles to pick up a movie, I’m already thinking bad thoughts about it and the company that distributes it. Conversely, the ones that come right to my mailbox via USPS…I’m already thinking better of them. Frankly, I’m getting tired of it all. I prefer the old days when you could walk into any theatre with a guest and see the movies with an audience…like you’re supposed to.

  4. I’ve seen pretty much every screener save django. Unfortunately, it seems like the best 3 movies if the year are long shots.

    Moonrise Kingdom was Wes Anderson’s first true masterpiece. Just watched it again and its utterly magical.

    Intouchables is one of the funniest movies in a long time and Omar Sy should be a Best Actor comtender.

    Sky fall was not only the best bond movie ever but also the best action movie in years. Deserves norms for Dench, Bardem, picture and cinematography.

    Of the short list, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, and Silver Linings Playbook are all very special films. Lincoln is a great HBI movie, Argo is a good thriller but not among the years best. Les Mis is all over the map. Some of the songs and performances are powerful but its a chore to sit through. Hooper shot and cut the movie as if its all dialogue and there was almost no rhythm to the editing – ironic for a musical. Even on a flat screen, the movie made me seasick. Still, very impressive effort.

    Can’t wait for Django. What a great year for movies!

    Oh, and Amour is the most depressing film of all time and shouldn’t be watched by anyone

    1. “Oh, and Amour is the most depressing film of all time and shouldn’t be watched by anyone.”

      Your vote counts?? Yikes!!

      1. Amour is an incredible movie with amazing performances. Both of the leads should be nominated.

        But… but…. what in God’s name is the point? I respect the movie immensely, but it gives you the ending in the first scene and then spends the next 2 hours beating you down. The movie feels eternal. Haeneke holds onto shots for minutes at a time, it’s as if there’s 20 set ups for the whole movie. And it’s just absolutely endless.

        I think it’s an amazing film, but are you DENYING it’s depressing? If it’s your cup of tea, go for it, but I was checking my watch every 5 minutes while I waited for the inevitable death (not a spoiler alert, as said, you see this in the first scene).

        I’m imagining a bunch of unsuspecting moviegoers checking out this movie on Christmas Day and shitting their pants.

  5. Why not SKYFALL? That would be a great nomination. It’s not as obvious as LES MISERABLES (a period piece/all-star-cast/musical), or ZERO DARK THIRTY (that seemed to be contending as award-worthy before they even started filming it).
    SKYFALL has everything that movie-magic should be: it starts off as this wild, big adventure in Turkey with car chases and train fights. It moves onto a Shanghai assassination sequence.
    But, the further the movie traveled, the “smaller” and more intimate it became with themes of self-doubt and re-creation, until it concluded with a mano a mano, HIGH NOON type showdown, where “last rat” was left standing.
    Beautiful to look at, fun to watch, wonderful writing, great actors, and, it’s actually pleasing the majority of viewers (to the tune of over $950 million worldwide).
    If the Academy could only see the need to dust the stuffiness off of them, they may actually judge SKYFALL the film, and not the frachise it comes from.

  6. Earlier voting is going to greatly diminish the number of films that are viewed and seriously considered for Best Picture. As a longtime (almost twenty year) Academy member I used to rely on the weeks during the winter holidays to catch up on all of the films I hadn’t yet seen — often it was in this time frame that I had the chance to finally view the smaller pictures that weren’t getting all the big studio push and media. This year, with nominations due by next Friday and with Christmas and New Years in between now and then, I cannot see myself getting in more than five more films before the deadline. I have to assume other members (particularly those of us working and with young children at home who don’t get to as many screenings during the year as we would like), simply won’t have seen very many films from which to make our nominations. So expect the expected to get all ten of the nods. Too bad.

  7. First…it’s impossible for any functioning human being to see every movie of the year even if they’re hand delivered to your door and you never leave your house to see a movie in a theater…gone are the Bosley Crowther and Vincent Canby days…the Times now has three major film critics and although I’m sure they try, I doubt that any individual one of them has seen EVERYTHING from the year, as much as they would like to say that. Second, it’s possible now that you won’t even have enough time to see what received opinion, campaigning and marketing, has deemed the best. So, more than ever, received opinion will construct what gets nominated (and what wins) best be damned. (Everybody is saying this picture is going to win Best Picture? Foregone conclusion. Count me in. Who I am to fight momentum?) This is just one of the reasons that Harvey Weinstein’s pictures win a lot. He’s really good at constructing received opinion IN ADVANCE, reacting and playing off of it, and following up on both in a very timely way. (I hope Spike Lee will actually SEE “Django Unchained” and write a review of it somewhere. Could be fascinating, cohesive, definitive about a couple of different specific subjects.)

  8. I hardly think it matters. The nominations and eventual winners seem more and more to be based on everything but the performance or quality of the work. It is such a political process with ‘lobbyists’ controlling the outcome. The average voter is lazy and will consider only what is handed to them on a silver platter. Too bad, because there is genuine work of value out there. But, it is often ignored or not even up, for unknown reasons, for consideration.

  9. It seems strange that the Academy would have all of these issues considering how many years they’ve had to perfect the process.

    I looked the the schedule. They have until Jan 3 to get in their nominations. The noms are announced a week later. Feb 19 is when the voting on the noms ends. Jan 3 to Fed 19 seems long enough to see all of the nominated films.

    Django Comes out tomorrow….it is a bit tight in terms of the voting but seems like plenty of time. I doubt there will be a single nomination ballot by anyone in the academy before christmas!

    In any case, money matters more than the oscars…so if it makes financial sense to release on Christmas day…then so be it.

  10. This is what frustrates me about the earlier voting date– it’s hard enough with the holidays but to also see all the films nominated? They have short changed the ceremony and the integrity of the awards.

  11. If we have another one of these stupid Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close conundrums I’m really going to lose it.

    Here’s the NEW RULES for selecting Best Picture.

    There are basically two subsets of cats. Acting, Directing and Writing being the first. Tech Awards being the second.

    RULE #1
    Any film that gets a Best Director nomination gets a Best Picture nomination.

    RULE #2
    If a film gets 5 or more nominations in any of these cats, it’s automatically nominated for Best Picture.

    RULE #3
    If a film gets 3 or more nominations in the first set it automatically gets nominated for Best Picture.

    RULE #4
    If a film gets at least 1 nom from the first set and 3 or more tech awards, it automatically gets nominated for Best Picture.

    Using these rules, for example, last year the Best Pics noms would have been:

    The Artist
    The Descendants
    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    The Help
    Midnight in Paris
    The Tree of Life
    War Horse

    Basically, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo makes a cut and Extremely Close and Incredibly Close doesn’t. The way we vote for Best Picture is silly. The body should decide what films deserve that honor, not a select group of producers.

    1. The directing Oscar is actually for “Best ACHIEVEMENT in directing” as opposed to the best directed film. They’re not the same. For example, “End of Watch” is clearly an achievement in directing (and if you haven’t seen it, take a look and you’ll see why), although it may not be Best Picture material. “The Impossible” is also an achievement in directing, given what the director put on the screen with his budget, and the excellent performance he got out of the inexperienced young lead. On the other hand, Steven Spielberg had a huge budget to put whatever he wanted on screen, and it’s no achievement in directing to get a great performance from Daniel Day Lewis — he’s great no matter who directs him. So to me,”Lincoln” does not seem to be an achievement in directing. Most Academy voters don’t make this distinction, but I think it’s one that should be made.

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