Why has Academy reduced pre-nom screening period?

Ten days. Ten little days’ difference between the Oscar nomination ballot deadline in 2012 (Jan. 13) and 2013 (Jan. 3).

Ten days that are shaking Hollywood’s world, knocking festivals, awards strategists, other kudofests and conspiracy theorists upside their heads.

It says something about the level of fear (and in some cases, loathing) spurred by Tuesday’s news that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has moved up its nomination dates that a simultaneous milestone announcement, introducing electronic voting to the Oscars, played second fiddle.

Don’t worry. There will be plenty of time for anxiety and doomsday scenarios over the fate of those e-ballots later on, though I can’t imagine anyone ever felt completely secure sticking their choices in the mailbox all these years.

For now, it’s those 10 days that weigh on awards watchers.

If your principal worry is the logistics of voting, well, it’s simply 10 fewer days to take in the films of 2012. Now, with the voting deadline still more than three months away, you might think even the worst procrastinator could accommodate the tighter schedule and make room for every last contending frame.

But hasn’t the sprint already begun? If you haven’t spent weeks at Cannes, Telluride, Venice and Toronto — maybe even if you have — you’re already feeling the pressure of your cinematic to-do list. And there’s no changing the fact that most voters won’t get access to some releases until very late in the game.

The result is the constant need to prioritize the must-sees while identifying what may be expendable. That means making judgment calls based on buzz, on word of mouth — leaving the unfamiliar, underdog film vulnerable to abandonment.

The Academy could have used the timesaving benefit of electronic voting to expand the window for seeing the broader field of films, rather than contract it. The reverse argument is that by allotting 40 days (Jan. 10 to the final voting deadline of Feb. 19) to see all the nominees, the Acad encourages a more educated final tally. But given that the org essentially expects the electorate to have seen as many movies as possible before turning in nomination ballots, the plus-sized post-noms period seems an unnecessary luxury.

That’s how people get to wondering about the Academy having other motivations for its early noms date, such as undermining other awards shows, chiefly the Golden Globes (no other kudofest would likely get under the Academy’s skin).

But that logic doesn’t necessarily track. The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. still gets the early burst of thunder with its Dec. 13 nominations, a full three weeks before the first wave of Oscar ballots are due. Even though the Oscar noms will now be proclaimed Jan. 10, noms alone won’t diminish the Jan. 13 Globes ceremony. If anything, the earlier announcement should create more interest among Golden Globe viewers who will now sense that awards season is getting serious.

Not unless the Oscarcast itself moves ahead of the Globes will there be any actual harm on the HFPA event. For that to get serious consideration, the film industry would really have to be asleep at the switch.

What are the Oscars, in the end, but a means to celebrate the best that film has to offer? Why would the Academy seek to short-circuit that celebration? The shorter the window the industry has to promote its greatest achievements … do I need to even finish that sentence?

We’re left with what may be for some a discomfiting concept — taking what the Academy says at face value. On his first day as Academy prexy in August, Hawk Koch told us the following: “There’s this old cliche that it’s great to be nominated,” Koch said. “I really want the nominees this year to feel like, ‘Wow, it really is great to be nominated,’ that by the time they sit in their seats at the Dolby Theater, they have had a great time being nominees and feel so honored.”

In short, by pushing the gas pedal on the nominations process, the Academy can hit cruise control during the drive to the Oscars themselves. If there are some bumps in the road to the nominations, in order to pick up 10 days on the post-nom ride — the Acad can apparently live with it.

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