What has become commonly known in the trade as “Phase 1” of awards season is about to phase out, with tpete_hammond_300x100oday’s 5 PM PT closing of 2014 Oscar nomination balloting being the most significant indicator that we are about to move on to the finals. Oscar nominations will be announced January 15 at the crack of dawn.

Actually, the Broadcast Film Critics Association ( I am a member) is still to be heard from, with balloting for their The Critics Choice Movie Awards not evenImage (2) the-academy-oscars-new-logo-1__140216204306-275x137.jpg for post 684231 beginning until Monday ahead of its A&E broadcast also on January 15th. And the all-important DGA nominations are a week later this year, and aren’t being announced until Tuesday. BAFTA nominations will be announced tomorrow overseas. The whole season though feels like it is just sailing along now since the holidays officially ended last weekend.

Of course this is still a very big weekend in the first phase of the season, with tons of parties, the BAFTA tea and Independent Film brunch both on Saturday, and of course the Golden Globes on Sunday. Those results will obviously have no influence on the Oscar nominations, but certainly their noms might have convinced Oscar voters to check out some of the movies they may have missed. This remains a wide-open race:  No surefire winner has emerged, so that makes the nail-biting even more intense than usual.

IGolden Globes Logo have noticed that campaigning for Oscar nominations have really gone down to the wire this year. Perhaps that is because online voting has really taken hold and Academy members know they can vote virtually to the last minute. I have talked to several voters in the past few days who had not voted and were still trying to see movies. One told me he was not voting until he saw Boyhood, which he was planning to see earlier this week. And that’s a movie that came out in July! In past years I have heard stories of up to 500 paper ballots being walked into the downtown Los Angeles offices of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Academy’s accountants who add up the totals. I’m not sure it was ever that many, but the fact is the condensed season has really made it difficult for busy Academy members to see everything.

Speaking of Boyhood, writer-director Richard Linklater and his cast were toasted last night at a packed-like-sardines party at Chateau Marmont, which ostensibly was thrown to herald the release of the Blu-ray. Indie IFC Films, which is a newcomer to the Best Picture247F1EEA00000578-2901562-Another_work_event_The_four_time_Golden_Globe_nominated_performe-a-2_1420702983137 contest this year, was helped footing the bill for this by Paramount, which is distributing the DVD. It was an interesting convergence of Hollywood Foreign Press members mixing with Oscar voters  (and many many others): Among those listed on the invite as “hosting” were Diane Keaton, Frank Marshall and Jon Hamm.

Marshall told me how much he thought Boyhood was such a remarkable, landmark achievement. Keaton was deep in conversation with Linklater when I squeezed by at one point. The HFPA members there had to turn in their final Golden Globe ballots Wednesday morning, and most that I talked to had waited until the last minute — almost literally. They not only have to see every movie but also every TV show nominated, a Herculean task if you ask me.

I couldn’t get a strong sense of what will win the Best Picture-Drama prize. One member said she thought it was a split between Boyhood and Selma, saying both had their big supporters. Another told me she was dAmerican-Sniper-Bradley-Cooper-2isappointed the group didn’t nominate American Sniper because she would have voted for it. Some of the Academy members at the Boyhood party were headed to a dinner and Clint Eastwood Q&A at a Sniper event hosted by Sean Penn (he won an Oscar for Clint’s Mystic River)That movie really seems to be gaining big steam among members I have been talking to so Warner Bros was maximizing the campaign right to the end. Perhaps its late-breaking release strategy will work in Eastwood’s favor, just as it did a decade ago for his Best Picture winner Million Dollar Baby.

One veteran actress who was going to the Sniper event told me she felt she couldn’t wait until the last minute to see the film so she popped the screener into her DVD player and watched it Tuesday night (and was blown away by it, she said). So maybe being last out can be an advantage; she filled out her ballot yesterday and voted for it among her top five. On the otherrs_1024x759-150108061847-1024_Pope-Francis-Angelina-Jolie-JR-1815 hand another voter and past Oscar nominee confided her No. 1 vote was going to “The Great Budapest Hotel.” Actually of course it’s the Grand Budapest Hotel, but I don’t think spelling counts on these ballots. That movie came out in March, so it’s the opposite of Sniper. 

As noted there really have been TONS of events, even continuing today. Angelina Jolie was in Rome showing Unbroken at the Vatican, where she met the Pope and received lots of nicely timed publicity at a moment when everything counts. There was a big Selma lunch in New York on Tuesday with a Q&A with director Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo, and a quickly created lunch for Lana Del Rey and her Big Eyes song yesterday in L.A. among lots of other awards happenings. While the New Yorker Academy types were lunching with Selmaselma_lunch that same night, a small contingent of Oscar voters attended a dinner celebration of the success of Nightcrawler, which has really been building. The intimate dinner thrown by Susan L20141120_BAFTA_0013andau at her house feted writer-producer Dan Gilroy and his wife, and Nightcrawler co-star Rene Russo, so great in the film as is star Jake Gyllenhaal who was on stage in his play in New York. Russo told me how excited she was with the reception the film has gotten. Along with Whiplash, it’s clearly become the awards story among the indie pictures. Opinions about favorite movies this year among those Academy members to whom I spoke at that dinner were all over the map.

The Q&As haven’t stopped either. Every movie from The Theory Of Everything to The Imitation Game to Boyhood, Birdman, Nightcrawler and on and on have been out there with those this week. Interestingly, with every last vote counting in the tightest Best Actor race in years, distributors have come up with the increasingly popular idea in Skyping in contenders to Academy screenings in L.A. Because both American Sniper’s Bradley Cooper and Nightcrawler‘s Gyllenhaal are currently appearing on Broadway and can’t do the Hollywood awards circuit as they usually might have, both films had Q&As this week in New York that were satellited or Skyped into LA screenings.

How all this will impact the vote is anyone’s guess, but we will find out soon enough. Oscar voters, you have until 5 PM to make a difference.