“I have never seen so much campaigning. Ever. The advertising departments should be very happy,” one awards consultant told me this morning. When you consider the seemingly non-stop lunches, brunches, dinners, cocktail receptions, Q&As, private screenings, musical events, and endless ads, billboards and TV spots it does seem like the Oscar campaign season has been on overdrive since the Fall festivals kicked it off in early September. This is a year where so many still think they have a good shot, and that helps in loosening the wallets. Well now we will see if it all pays off, as today the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences officially kicked off the nomination balloting which takes place online (and by snail mail for those still in digital denial) through Friday January 8 at 5 PM PT. Academy CEO Dawn Hudson sent an email blast to members with the headline: “MAKE DREAMS COME TRUE” followed by the word “VOTE” painted in big gold letters. Another email sent yesterday announced the kickoff time of 8 AM PT and said “VOTE (early!)”. That email followed one a couple of weeks ago that featured video of great Oscar-winning moments for actors in past years, presumably to get voters into the pre-Christmas Oscar groove. In today’s missive, Hudson urged members to take the online route, which has really racheted up the numbers of participants in the last couple of years. “Encourage your colleagues to join you by voting online. Paper ballot delivery is not reliable – every year, many paper ballots are left uncounted,” she noted in a rather ominous statement for a year in which a lot of races could be determined by razor-thin margins. When the Television Academy fully adopted online voting for both Emmy nominations and final balloting earlier this year, they completely eliminated the paper ballot option, but Oscar still allows it, even while trying to discourage its use.
As for those tight races, Open Road’s Spotlight and 20th Century Fox’s The Martian seem to be the most buzzed (according to pundits) as front-runners for Best Picture in a race that appears to be, at this point just before the January onslaught of awards ceremonies and Guild nominations, wide open, much more so than usual. Will members go for the maximum of ten nominees in such a split year, or stick to the eight or nine films that made the cut since the rules were tweaked to allow as many as ten, but as few as five contenders? The year-end entries such as The Revenant, Joy, The Big Short and The Hateful Eight have all been burning up the box office in wide or limited runs the past week, so maybe their profile has been raised in the minds of Oscar voters, perhaps like American Sniper was able to do in a late break last year. And then there is the movie that is REALLY shaking up the box office, Star Wars: The Force Awakens which just could bust all the rules for a franchise movie and land a spot. Disney officially launched an Oscar campaign on Christmas Day with a double truck ad in consumer newspapers urging “For Your Consideration”. The acting races also appear to be as tight as ever, particularly in the supporting actor category which has more possibilities that ever, compounded by the fact that Spotlight and The Big Short’s ensemble casts could eat up the lion’s share of slots – or cancel each other out. There are lots of questions still to be answered and today, Academy members, it is finally up to you to sort it all out. Good luck.