Pete Hammond

EXCLUSIVE: With Monday night’s Gotham Awards and Tuesday’s announcement of the Independent Spirit Award nominations and winners of the New York Film Critics awards (more on that below), awards season is in full swing and we are barely past Thanksgiving. It seems as if the season is becoming a literal rush to judgment with screenings beginning only this week for some big titles such as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Angelina Jolie’s In The Land of Blood and Honey.

But things could become even more hurried if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences actually follows through on their much-talked about plan to move the Oscars earlier in 2013 by as much as a month. The most-discussed date is the last Sunday of January that year — the 27th. The current season’s Oscars will be on Sunday February 26th. But as it turns out, I have learned that a significantly earlier Oscarcast is very unlikely for 2013 and even 2014.

The prevailing thinking is that an earlier Oscars would mercifully shorten the long awards season and make them more competitive with the slew of movie awards shows that precede the Academy Awards beginning with this week’s events (The National Board of Review will also announce their winners on Thursday). Past Academy President Sid Ganis and current President Tom Sherak have been known to favor an earlier awards date but sources close to the discussions tell me there are complications.

I checked this all out after hearing that at least two prominent Guilds that hand out their own awards usually in late January/early February were extremely worried about the Academy making such a major move and were told an announcement may be imminent. One guild source said it would cause complete chaos with everyone’s schedules meaning there would be a pileup of awards and obviously each show including the BAFTAs, Golden Globes, various Guild awards and others would all try to move much earlier too. BAFTA chief executive Amanda Berry whose show airs two weeks before the Oscars told me she would definitely have to consider a move rather than following the Academy Awards.  One guild exec angrily told me, “I don’t know why they would do this. The Oscars are the Super Bowl. What do they have to worry about? Everyone else, including us, are like playoff games.”

Actually the real Super Bowl is part of the problem. The Academy’s broadcast partner ABC has a say in these plans and I have been told by a very informed Acad source that the January 27, 2013 date has been ruled out and the earliest they could go is February 3. Problem is that happens to be the date of the Super Bowl so obviously that Sunday is out. So is the next Sunday after that for an undisclosed reason meaning the earliest the show could go is February 17 and frankly my sources say they will have to think about the value of moving it just one week earlier than it is already. Academy voters already are crunched with a plethora of films to watch and losing that extra week may just not be worth the minimum return the Acad gets in moving up a few days. The calendar for 2014 has a very similar configuration and presents the exact same scenario.

Of course they could always move the show back to Monday where it aired for many years before landing on the much more desirable Sunday berth a few years ago. Word is that’s not being seriously considered. In fact I have been told absolutely no decision will be made until the Academy has figured out how to implement online voting. Some experimentation is taking place now but there won’t be a big test until later in the Spring.  Once they know they can safely make the switch from paper to electronic ballots without fear of getting hacked or having vote totals uncovered by some enterprising college kid, they will decide if and when the show can move.

Of course for most of the critics groups moving earlier is no big deal because they generally are the first to see the movies. The much larger nearly 6,000 member Academy has a hell of a time trying to see all the major contenders as it is, especially on the big screen instead of via screeners which is what the Academy is actively urging members to do. Another guild exec suggested that “moving earlier would have the undesired effect of making critics groups and their choices even more influential since many Oscar voters might only have time to watch what these groups vote for.”

That apparently was the bone-headed thinking this year when the New York Film Critics, under new president John Anderson boldly moved up their awards voting by two weeks just so they could be first and beat the National Board of Review which normally get that first slot.  Originally they were to have voted today but then Scott Rudin told them he couldn’t possibly show them The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo any earlier than today. Considering the film was directed by last year’s NYFCC darling David Fincher they agreed to move their vote to Tuesday. However another Rudin film, one with a special New York connection, the post 9/11 drama Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was not ready in time and Warner Bros. had to turn down the NYFCC’s request to see it early causing a war of words between the critics group and the studio — and it won’t be considered. Isn’t this early move a case of the tail wagging the dog? No matter what awards the group does or doesn’t bestow on Dragon Tattoo it’s a lose-lose situation with some members complaining aggressively. One told me, ”If I can’t see everything, I just won’t vote.”

Perhaps therein lies a storm warning for the Academy’s early bird proponents as well.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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