Pete Hammond

Okay Academy members, this is your last chance to vote.

And by all indications from my own admittedly unscientific survey over the weekend there are many who are choosing to wait, despite the Academy’s emails encouraging them to vote early in this final round. Part of the reason seems to be a desire to catch up on the Documentary Feature, Live Action and Animation Shorts which have been sent to the entire Academy membership for the first time, instead of requiring voters to attend special screenings. One voter told me he received his late and was trying to watch them all before submitting his ballot.

With today being a holiday, those voters who opted for paper ballots and still haven’t mailed them are out of luck if they hope to do that and still have it reach the downtown Los Angeles offices of the Academy’s accountants, PricewaterhouseCoopers, or the Academy lobby at its Beverly Hills headquarters in time before Tuesday’s 5 PM deadline. If you are a paper voter, not electronic, the best you can do at this point is have the ballot delivered in person to one of those locations before 5 PM tomorrow. And every year there are usually many that do just that. It has even numbered up into the hundreds in past years. But with the new, sometimes awkward, transition to online voting this year, that number will probably be significantly decreased.

Those who chose the online option can comfortably wait to vote even until Tuesday, although the Academy is warning against waiting too long in case technical problems are encountered. In that regard those I have talked to who are voting online this round are generally reporting no problems. It seems to be going much smoother than the first round, although with the security precautions it still is a complex system. One voter who said she voted online told me she had to call the Academy helpline because none of her ballots told her which website address to use. “Well that’s because it is supposed to be a secret”, she says she was told by the person on the other end of the phone.  Once she got in she reported zero problems, the same for others I spoke with.

The Academy has really been going out of their way to make sure members have gotten the message to vote and know the deadlines. One online voter told me he was called at 10:30 PM one night by a young guy from the Academy asking if he had “any questions” about voting. Another member who switched from online to paper said she got a call from someone wondering why ”they hadn’t received her ballot yet”. Everyone reports they have received almost daily emails and postcards and even robocalls with reminders. A Friday email to online voters from Academy CEO Dawn Hudson came with a warning: “Although the deadline for voting is 5 PM PT on Tuesday, be advised that it can take up to two hours to reset  your password if you do not have it. For that reason, we strongly advise against waiting until the last minute to vote”. Another email many voters got on Sunday came with the subject line: “Important message from Academy members Halle Berry, Bill Condon, Tom Hanks and Jason Reitman”. It encouraged their fellow members to vote saying, “Oscar Sunday is one week away. But first, members have the privilege of voting, and your chance to vote ends in 48 hours… It wasn’t easy to choose among this year’s extraordinary films, performances,and achievements, but it wasn’t hard to actually cast our ballots. We hope you’ll join us”.

The last-minute barrage of messaging to members has not only come from the Academy. Sensing that many  voters have yet to cast a ballot, a huge wave of heavy TV, online and newspaper advertising has been continuing as if we still have weeks to go, and not just two days. Constant ads for Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty, and Life Of Pi have been particularly prevalent on the Los Angeles airwaves, as have spots for frontrunner Argo which also put an expensive wrap-around ad supplement touting its long list of awards on the front page of the LA Times as late as Sunday. Even at Kate Mantilini Restaurant in Beverly Hills, a watering hole for Academy members since it is within walking distance of the Academy, brochures from Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook are available on the front counter (they are illegal to actually send to members) and large blow-up photos and For Your Consideration ads of Les Miserables and Anna Karenina can be seen on the walls.

The Weinstein Company, which is constantly changing the message on its Silver Linings ads, has over the weekend and today begun to rely on a Roger Ebert column from Friday in which they quote him as saying the momentum in the race has shifted: “For Best Picture… more and more from many different quarters, I hear affection for Silver Linings Playbook. People tell me: ‘I have a brother-in-law exactly like that’. I sense a groundswell”, he wrote and Weinstein has been repeating. Harvey Weinstein, initially booked to promote his new animated film Escape From Planet Earth, even took to the airwaves as a guest on today’s KTLA Morning News to tout the quote and try to burnish Ebert’s credentials as an Oscar prognosticator. In their recent TV and print ads Sony has been heavily pushing Jessica Chastain’s lead performance in Zero Dark Thirty, perhaps sensing the film may now have its best shot in the Lead Actress category. Fox has been pushing the impressive worldwide gross as well as Ang Lee’s growing prospects in the Best Director race for Life Of Pi. Recent Lincoln TV ads prominently feature the normally reticent Steven Spielberg touting his unique directorial challenges on the film. And so on. Whether the last-minute blitz can turn some crucial votes in a close race is anyone’s guess, but my surveys of voters is turning up no consensus at all even though Argo is presumed to be a strong front-runner at this point. It seems, at least in terms of voting and advertising, this race is going right down to the last possible minute.

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