Pete Hammond

OK Oscar voters, the pressure is on.  Ballots are in the mail — or should we say email – as of today, and the Academy hasOscar_Logo110922004651__120227115551 been bending over backwards to make sure everything is going to go smoothly this year after a well-documented bumpy inaugural ride with electronic voting last season. You all got that email from Academy CEO Dawn Hudson a couple of months ago which detailed the streamlined system so hopefully problems will be minimal. And if you choose not to register online, the Academy will make sure you get a paper ballot. So you can even ignore all the Academy’s missives and forget to register and you will still be taken care of — the old fashioned way. But obviously AMPAS is hoping you will join the 21st century and go online.

Related: “Upgraded And Simplified” Online Voting System Launched

I have confidence it will all work out and members who kvetched last year will be in hog heaven this time around. The bigger problem is just trying to see all those movies you need to catch up with before ballots are due back by 5 PM on January 8th. And an informal poll I have taken in the last couple of weeks indicates many members have yet to see a whole lot. Studios have been working overtime to get the potential 6,028 eligible voters (dues-paying voters, that is) into screenings — even luring them as usual with parties, lunches, dinners and loads of Q&As where they can get up close and personal with the contenders. And we also know they all have a stockpile of screeners at home or the office from the first one sent out – Mud to the last – The Wolf Of Wall Street —  and maybe even a couple of other strays will arrive before it’s all done.

ballotBut busy voters are still playing catch-up. Pundits and and consultants live and breathe this stuff day in and day out so we naturally assume the average Oscar voter is paying attention. They aren’t. When asked last week which of the recent movies she liked, one multiple Oscar winner told me her favorite was Page Eight. What? Turns out she caught that 2011 David Hare-directed movie on Netflix but thought it was new. Of the 289 eligible films from this year, she and her Oscar-winning husband loved Philomena and Tim’s Vermeer, but when I asked about any number of other titles like Gravity, Nebraska, American Hustle, August: Osage County, 12 Years A Slave etc, they hadn’t seen any of them. That’s clearly what holiday breaks are for. She said they planned to take a couple with them on their getaway. On the opposite end of the scale I also talked to one member who served concurrently on the Foreign Language, Animation and Documentary committees and saw more movies in three months than I saw all year. He gets the gold medal. It’s a diverse Academy to be sure, and that is what makes it so unpredictable.

Overall this is turning into a real barn-burner of an Oscar race. Opinions are all over the map and the results of the voting1382517325-oscar-nominations-banner-470w that starts today will clearly remain a mystery until nominees are announced at 5:38 AM on January 16th. One nervous studio consultant who has been biting off her fingernails told me one thing is guaranteed: “I think there are going to be surprises, BIG surprises,”  she predicted. Well that’s par for the course. Remember last year when Behn Zeitlin was nominated for Best Director but Ben Affleck was not? The Academy is always capable of pulling off some shockers. That’s what keeps it interesting.

So after trying to endlessly predict which way Oscar’s winds are blowing, it’s finally time for the real voters to have their say. Here’s hoping the next 13 days brings more clarity to this race than the last four months have done. And here’s hoping the mere act of voting doesn’t have Academy members breaking out into a sweat this year. To that end the Academy sent press some reminders for members in hopes we might pass it along:

To pay dues (you MUST or you can’t vote) and register to vote go to members.oscars.org

To see the reminder list of eligible films (sorry Page Eight isn’t one of them) go to http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/rules/reminderlist.html

To log in to vote: Username, password and phone for security code – (vote.oscars.org)

For any help if needed call the Support Center 855-742-9140.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.

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