Oscar Watch: Academy voting entering the digital age

It was simple, direct and to the point.  In one printed letter dated May 19, 2011, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences informed its almost 6,000 members that change was coming.  As soon as they mailed in what E-mail address they would prefer to be contacted at in the future, of course.  Yes, as early as next year, Academy members will discard mailed ballots with a new online voting system.  To say this is a sea change is an understatement, because with electronic voting all the established rules about how long you need to run the Academy Awards timetable gets thrown out the window.

There are no doubt many in the Academy who have big concerns about moving the annual date of the Academy Awards from the end of February to January (or the beginning of February for that matter), but the biggest issue about such a change has always been the lengthy voting process.  Currently, the Academy provides about three weeks for voters to submit their mailed in ballots for the big show.  Of course, ballots aren’t even mailed to members until a week after the final nominations have been announced.  That’s right, members currently have to wait a week after the field is revealed to even start voting.  What the Academy doesn’t discuss publicly is that almost half the voters send in their ballots right away and the rest trickle in over the three week period.  The number of members who wait to the end rarely affects the outcome of any race as the controversies surrounding the actions of a “Hurt Locker” producer and Melissa Leo’s now infamous campaign ads demonstrated over the past two years.  Basically, the extra long window is only assisting the stragglers in the process.

As for the earlier nomination process, members have almost two weeks from the end of the calendar year to submit their ballots (Jan. 13, 2012 this cycle).  Considering the deluge of screenings and screeners the membership has at their disposal before Dec. 31, let alone those who actually pay to see a film in theater, it’s a window that could be severely shortened.  

 Publicly, don’t expect AMPAS to mark this as anything more than moving the organization into the 21st Century, but when (not if) the Oscars move to an earlier date just remember it all started with a May letter asking for an E-mail address.  Oh, how 1999…

 In other awards season news…

 Fox Searchlight is working hard to make sure Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” becomes a prestige picture event.  The film won’t hit theaters until December, but the studio has already launched a teaser site for the dramedy and today released a new poster featuring star George Clooney. Considering Payne hasn’t directed a film since the beloved “Sideways” (also released by Searchlight) it appears the mini-major is pulling out all the stops to make sure everyone knows he’s back.  Gotta love the confidence, huh?  Check out the new key art below and judge for yourself.