Still adjusting to Oscar’s early sked

Celebrating the fifth anni of accelerated awards

THIS YEAR marks the fifth anniversary of the accelerated awards season. The key question: Is the new schedule better or worse? Answer: I’m not sure, but I know it’s different.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in 1949 began holding the ceremonies in late-March/early-April. But, starting on Feb. 29, 2004, the ceremonies shifted a month earlier — and, of course, every other film-awards show moved earlier as well.

Personally, I find the abbreviated schedule to be difficult. But I reluctantly admit that the world doesn’t revolve around me. (Well, at least I say that in print, but privately I still secretly hope it’s true.)

After a glorious four-day New Year’s holiday — isn’t it fun when the town shuts down? — I stumbled into work Jan. 5. The relaxation immediately vanished as I was confronted with Producers Guild nominations, followed within 48 hours by noms from the WGA, DGA, NAACP, USC Scripters, ASCinematographers, Cinema Audio Society, the BAFTA longlist, Oscar shortlists for visual effects and makeup, and the Palm Springs Film Festival gala. (On a Tuesday night! Lotsa Angelenos drove there and back in one day! What a world!)

The hectic week climaxed with the Broadcast Film Critics ceremony and the Golden Globes. As one awards strategist wailed to me on Jan. 5, “I’m still hung over from New Year’s! How can the Critics Choice and Globes be this weekend? It’s too early!”

Some awards voters admit it’s difficult adapting to the accelerated schedule (“Ballots are due today?!”) But there are advantages to a shorter season: When you collapse, you can do it early March instead of early April.

BUT THERE are bigger questions, both financial and aesthetic.

The Acad said the move was to keep the honored films fresher in the minds of the public (and some of the films honored were pics from the previous summer.) But many folks hoped that the ratings would climb.

In terms of hard numbers, the move hasn’t improved the kudocast’s ratings.

And at the box office, the studios have less time to capitalize on the Oscar noms in their marketing, both domestically and overseas. The real money is not in the win. It’s in the weeks between the nominations and the awards.

Under the old timetable, there were approximately six weeks between noms and awards. Now, there are four.

There’s also a question whether the switch has affected the outcome of the awards.

Each film has its own rhythms and some argue that Halle Berry’s terrific performance in the 2001 “Monster’s Ball,” for example, would not have been seen by enough voters under the accelerated schedule.

HERE ARE some other weird factoids:

  • In the final year that the rites were held in late-March (the year “Chicago” won), all five best-pic contenders opened after Dec. 18. Since then, Oscar’s anointed five each year have included only one or two that were late-December bows.

  • Under the old timetable, the film with the most nominations won best picture 13 out of 15 times (1988-2002). But starting with the films of 2003 — the year that the earlier ceremony began — those odds changed drastically. It’s only been 2 out of 5 times.

  • In 10 years, climaxing with “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’s” win for best pic of 2003, Golden Globes predicted Oscar’s best pic win nine out of 10 times. Since then, the Globes voters — even though it has two winners, for musical/comedy pic and drama — have not picked a film that went on to Oscars.

Maybe these are coincidences. And to some, these changes are good news, because honors get spread around and there are more surprises.

It’s possible that the date shift has had no effect on the winners. Or it may have dramatically shifted the outcome. There’s no way to measure awards-voters’ moods and reasons for their decisions. There is no clear-cut data, there are just opinions. It seems unthinkable that the Acad (and other kudocasts) would revert to the later schedule. So is the move a good thing? Talk among yourselves.

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