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Oscar’s real problem: Deadline daze

Early date, not e-vote, plagues noms balloting

We’ll never quantify the impact of the earliest voting deadline in Oscar history on the coming Academy Award nominations, but I’m thinking negative.

With ballots due two days after New Year’s, Academy members generally must telescope their moviegoing efforts to the films they’ve heard have the most awards relevance. That means fewer chances to find and support underdog gems in all categories that otherwise might have been discovered, had there been a deadline equivalent to 2012’s Jan. 13 date (let alone a later one).

Rumblings over problems with e-voting — whether overstated or not — have only added to the anxiety and pressure.

In what has been celebrated widely as a rich and diverse year in cinema, the result will be greater consolidation of nominations among big-name films — arguably an Academy version of the 1% gaining ground on the 99% — the only mystery being how much consolidation.

Filmmakers and their campaigners have been working overtime to try to get eyes in front of screens and screeners, but the times could hardly be less forgiving for a small-scale film aiming for a groundswell or even for large pics that were completed near the end of the year.

We saw it with “Django Unchained,” which suffered at the SAG Awards for the sin of not being wrapped before December, even though the calendar year, last we checked, had 12 months. The simple logistics of getting the movie in front of voters one theater at a time and of printing, quality-checking (or not) and mailing screeners likely derailed the SAG possibilities for Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz.

Of course, few will shed tears for an Oscar campaign that has Harvey Weinstein as its cornerman, and “Django” has established itself as one of the top 10 or 20 films to see for Oscar consideration.

But as people race to “Django,” “Les Miserables,” and the other 11th hour pics, the chances to visit other film and individual contenders fade away. It’s one thing for voters who have been hammering away at the films since the festival season, but if you’re trying to catch up at the end, it’s brutal.

It defies all logic. It’s not as if awards voters had spent years lying on chaise longues, languidly chuckling over the excess of time to see potential nominees.

And to what end has the time been sacrificed? To create more bandwidth to see the nominated films that in theory will have already been seen prior to the nominations.

The alternate theory is that the Academy sought to clobber the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. by placing its Jan. 10 nominations ahead of the Jan. 13 Golden Globes ceremony. This remains a complete headscratcher, because it’s the Globes that will be timed perfectly to benefit from the Oscar nom excitement.

Imagine the Academy put up a sign advertising “Fresh Lemonade for Sale” three blocks away, and then the HFPA set up its own Country Time stand in front of the next driveway.

If the Acad did inflict harm upon the Globes, does it measure up to the angst felt by its own membership as it tries to navigate the tsunami of eligible films in the hopes of fulfilling the mandate for the most fair, broadbased, legitimate film awards show around?

That’s angst, by the way, that is compounded by the complex introduction of an electronic voting component that might not be suited and certainly isn’t tested for hordes of last-minute voters. With a later date, AMPAS would have more time to solve any problems, rather than trying to do fixes during everyone’s vacation.

At some point, I’d just like to understand what the rush was. You’re the Academy Awards, man. You’re the Fonz. You don’t need to haul ass for anyone.

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