Pete Hammond

With today’s press release from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences regarding their annual review of rules — these affecting the upcoming 85th Academy Awards in February — the only thing “newsy” was how little news there was. It is almost like status quo. That is not to say the Academy should not have made some real changes but apparently they have missed their opportunity to right some wrongs, at least for now.

Related: Oscar: New Rules Affect Music, Foreign Language, Makeup, Visual Effects Categories

One of the biggest controversies coming out of last year’s Oscar nominations  was in the music branch where due to a ridiculous rule original songs must achieve an unrealistic voting standard of an overall 8.5 score that only two (“Real In Rio” from Rio and eventual winner ”Man Or Muppet” from The Muppets) managed to meet, leaving a number of major contenders including deserving songs from big names like Mary J. Blige and Elton John out in the cold. Many branch members and former nominees like Diane Warren loudly complained and branch executives indicated they would look into the matter. However with today’s rules announcement the only tweak involving Best Song is that a fourth songwriter is now eligible to compete for an individual tune in “rare and extraordinary” circumstances. Since 2005 only two songwriters have been eligible per song with a third considered in “rare” instances. There was absolutely no mention about a much needed overhaul of the needlessly complicated numeric voting system that gets these nominees there. Or am I missing something, music branch?

There was also an opportunity for another overhaul of the arcane rules for nominating Foreign Language films, a perennial source of controversy. The Academy could have used this opportunity to change the way films are submitted from individual countries, a process that has increasingly become mired in the politics of some countries leading to unworthy entries and the overlooking of genuinely deserving films. I’m not at all surprised they didn’t, but why won’t the Academy just open up the whole process and allow the best foreign-language films to be considered each year rather than the outdated quota of one from each country. Surely there is a way to make the whole contest more inclusive of quality work, rather than just the final nominees. I often hear loud complaints from committee members about the quality level of many of the 60+ films they are forced to consider. Instead the only rule change coming in this category is a minor tweak about the screening format of the films, not the films themselves. They must be either 35MM or DCP but are no longer required to be seen in those formats in the country of origin. Big whoop.

Perhaps the biggest change is in the Makeup category which has altered its name to Best Achievement in Makeup and HAIRSTYLING, an admission that hair is just as important as the other aspects of the art. And in Visual Effects there was just a further expansion of eligibility. In 2010 the category moved from three to five nominees. Now those nominees will be selected from a pool of ten contenders, rather than the “seven to ten” rule previously in place.  Okay.

Earlier this year the Documentary branch became the only one in the Academy to really shake things up and significantly change the way docs would be eligible for consideration. There are much stronger rules now in place and it could truly affect the kind of films that get nominated or even win by opening up the process and making it easier for the entire Academy to have a say in the final vote. That was announced at the beginnng of the year, rather than in today’s catch-all release, because it involved a major eligibility shift to a calendar year instead of the previous September to August eligibility period for docs. It’s also designed to make the nominees real theatrical films, rather than glorified TV projects that find a way to qualify for Oscars (in addition to Emmys).

Previously the Academy announced they were not moving the Oscars a month earlier to end of January or beginning of February and are staying put with their date on the last Sunday in February at the newly renamed Dolby Theatre, again all status quo despite much support or at least talk about a major change. But like the very minor rule changes announced today the Academy is saying that, for now at least, ‘we are not going to rock the boat’.

Incidentally Tuesday’s Board Of Governors meeting was the last one before a new President will be elected since current President Tom Sherak’s term is up. That happens July 31, and if they stick to last year’s timetable, winners of this year’s Honorary Oscars could also be selected at that meeting.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.