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Why Oscar's Simple Date-Change Is a Ticking Time Bomb
Why Oscar's Simple Date-Change Is a Ticking Time Bomb

By Steve Pond

LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) - The press release didn't look as if it contained big news.

"Key Dates Announced for the 85th Academy Awards," read the headline on the September 18 announcement, which came significantly later than usual for the Academy and contained one seemingly innocuous line:

"In an effort to provide members and the public a longer period of time to see the nominated films, the Academy will reveal the 85th Academy Awards nominations on January 10, five days earlier than previously announced."

But that little change - those five days, which moved the nominations from what was already an unusually early slot to the Thursday before the Golden Globes - has shaken all things Oscar, essentially detonating a time bomb across the Academy Awards landscape.

As advertised, the move will give members of the Academy and prospective viewers extra time to see the 35 or so features that will be nominated (plus another 10 documentaries and foreign-language films) - but it'll give them significantly less time to see the 250 to 300 films that are eligible to be nominated.

"As an Academy member, I'm not happy about it," said one voter, who was typical of those TheWrap has spoken to. "It's short-sighted and unfair to members, and they're limiting the number of movies that might get nominated because members won't see as many. And as a marketer, it hampers you in every way and forces you to flood people with emails and mailings and screenings and screeners to get all your stuff out by January 1."

Grumbling, moaning and the occasional gnashing of teeth over the compressed timeline has been almost constant since the announcement. One commonly heard phrase is, "What were they thinking?" Another is, "I know what they were thinking, and it has nothing to do with what they say they were thinking."

To this latter camp, which includes both outsiders and AMPAS members, the clear intent of the move was to hurt the Golden Globes, the tacky show whose importance on the awards calendar has always rankled the Academy.

The governors were said to be determined to make the Globes (and its presenting body, the much-maligned Hollywood Foreign Press Association) irrelevant by announcing Oscar nominations before the Globes even happen … as if that would stop people from tuning in or persuade NBC, Dick Clark Productions or the HFPA to pull the plug on a multimillion-dollar cash cow that they would no doubt move to Thanksgiving weekend before they'd ever consider giving it up.

Yes, the move will put the Globes in the awkward position of taking place at a point where trade ads are more likely to proudly trumpet "six Oscar nominations!" than "Golden Globe winner!" And by the time Academy members are able to vote, the Globes results will most likely forgotten by anybody casting an Oscar ballot.

The move won't impact the Globes ratings, but it could conceivably reduce attendance at the show: If a star hoping to use a fabulous Globes acceptance speech to boost an Oscar candidacy winds up not being nominated, will he or she still feel inclined to show up for the HFPA's dog-and-pony show?

Among other awards shows, the real casualty could be the Broadcast Film Critics Association's Critics' Choice Movie Awards, a reliable Oscar precursor that this year is scheduled to take place the evening of the day on which Oscar noms are announced.

It's hard to imagine too many actors wanting to put on a brave face and mingle with nominated colleagues only a few hours after learning that Oscar voters have ignored them; I'm guessing the BFCA may find itself with at least a few last-minute cancellations and lame excuses.

But the move's repercussions go far beyond other awards shows.

A voting window that ends on January 3, immediately after the Christmas/New Year's holidays, will mean more pressure to book early screenings, more of a push to get parties and Q&As done before the holidays, and outright desperation to have screeners in voters' hands before they head to Aspen or Hawaii for the break.

And for films released in December - a typical Oscar slot that has been utilized quite effectively in the past by the likes of "Million Dollar Baby" and "Shakespeare in Love" - the new calendar could be a killer: With nominating ballots due so soon after the holidays, films had better be must-sees if they want to get voters to check them out before casting their ballots.

Obviously, that won't hurt the December releases "Django Unchained," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Les Miserables" and "The Hobbit" - those are no-brainers for any Academy member who wants to be the slightest bit thorough. But what about a lower-profile film like Michael Haneke's "Amour," which Sony Classics is releasing on December 19?

The Cannes Palme d'Or winner is strong enough to escape the foreign-language category and become a viable Best Picture contender if enough members see it, but SPC may have to push awfully hard to get it in front of voters already facing a year-end crunch.

The move also puts a hit on the Palm Springs International Film Festival, whose annual Awards Gala, which typically honors an array of Oscar hopefuls, now falls three days after polls close.

And the late-January Santa Barbara International Film Festival now sits in the 29-day no-man's-land between the nominations and the opening of final voting, long enough after nominations that some potential honorees might want to wait for the Academy's verdict before committing to an SBIFF tribute.

Still, it'll make things easier for Oscar-watchers who also want to go to the Sundance Film Festival; rather than noms coming in the middle of that fest, they will happen two weeks before Park City kicks off.

And yes, the new calendar will, as advertised, give viewers and voters more time to watch the nominated films.

The same voter who slammed the move as unfair for members and terrible for marketers did concede one thing: "From the exhibition point of view, I think it's a good thing. You get an additional two weeks in theaters with the films that have been nominated, and we all know that's where the money is made."

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