Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is constantly reviewing their rules and regulations, the changes are usually minor. But this year one major change regarding the foreign-language category could cause a few tremors in that race: For the first time, the entire Academy will vote on the winner.
The nominating process to select five foreign-language contenders from the 70-some entries from individual countries remains the same. But in the past, only members who had proven they had seen all five nominees in a theater were able to vote. Now everyone gets to vote without proving they’ve seen the films, just like the rest of the major categories.
But will this change the dynamics of the race, perhaps favoring higher-profile titles? Last year, Austria’s acclaimed Amour won the foreign-language Oscar the old-fashioned way. Had the new rules been in effect, it almost certainly would have won anyway because it was the rare foreign-language entry that also received a best picture nomination. Would lesser-known winners such as Argentina’s The Secret In Their Eyes (2009) or Japan’s Departures (2008) have reigned in an unsupervised Academy-wide vote against better-known nominees? It’s highly questionable. This rule change will be closely watched, insists Mark Johnson, who is returning this year to head the Academy’s foreign-language executive committee.
Another more subtle change also has been put into place for the animation race. Previously, voters participating in the nomination process would have to attend regular Sunday evening screenings of contenders and prove they had seen at least 80% of the entries. The Academy hasn’t officially announced this change, but reportedly, DVD screeners will be allowed in addition to the screenings, giving more voters outside of Los Angeles the chance to participate. Also, the threshold for viewing will be reduced from 80% to about 65%. This could definitely impact the race considering only about 100 voters participated before. The final vote will remain open to all Academy members.
The Academy’s evolving rules seem to be encouraging more participation, not less. Overall, can the move toward pure democracy be a bad thing?