Earlier Oscars mean more muddling in ’14

Academy Awards likely to move up from this year's Feb. 24 date into January

Flummoxed by electronic voting for the Academy Awards? Vexed by how early the nominations deadline was? Chances are, you ain’t seen nothing yet. It seems increasingly likely that next year’s Oscars ceremony will move up from this year’s Feb. 24 date into January.

Put that in your voter identification number and smoke it. The likelihood of the move arguably matches Hollywood’s lack of enthusiasm for it.

In 2014, the return of the quadrennial Winter Olympics (Feb. 7-23) will be the television centerpiece on three of February’s four Sundays, with the Super Bowl (Feb. 2) taking the fourth. Unless the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences opts to move its signature event to a Monday, the day after the Super Bowl or after the Olympics end, February is out.

An alternative — one that would make a lot of people breathe easier — would be to delay the Oscars until March, which is when they took place during the Winter Olympics year of 2010.

But the prevailing sentiment among insiders is that AMPAS is determined to push its kudofest earlier. (AMPAS had no official comment.)

In fact, with the 2014 Grammys tentatively positioned to take place Jan. 26 and the NFL’s conference championships set for Jan. 19, next year’s Oscars could be as early as Jan. 12. In that scenario, the Golden Globes could move to Jan. 5 — unless AMPAS boldly goes after that date.

That would make this year’s Jan. 3 nominations voting deadline — excuse me, Jan. 4, after it was extended at the last minute — seem like exquisite luxury. With a January ceremony, the nominations vote would likely close before the calendar year is over. Acad ballots could be due before Santa’s toys are out of the workshop.

Shortlists and bakeoffs for such categories as documentary, foreign language and visual effects — already their own sort of powder kegs — would face even more intense deadline pressure. And the prelude award shows, such as the Screen Actors Guild Awards, would also have to seriously consider venturing into December or face the possibility of becoming true afterthoughts.

Is the filmmaking community ready for all of this? The logistics of the accelerated timeline would require a major tweak, with Oscar-contending movies needing to find voters firmly by November — to be safe, October. Films that push the calendar envelope, as “Django Unchained,” “Les Miserables” and “Zero Dark Thirty” did in 2012, might have to be held a year.

This calendar shakeup, combined with the disgruntlement over the introduction of electronic voting, doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the next Oscar season.

However, an attitude adjustment from all in the e-voting realm would certainly help.

First of all, let’s be clear about one thing: Online awards voting is nothing new. The SAG, Writers Guild, Directors Guild, Visual Effects Society, British Academy Film Awards and European Film Awards are all veterans of the electronic voting game, and you barely hear a peep of complaint about their computer ballots.

So while AMPAS’ security concerns, which drove its initial offering of online voting to exceedingly complex levels, are understandable, maybe some steps can be taken to simplify matters next time around.

On the other hand, let’s not be too quick to demonize the film academy. Throughout the nominations process, the Acad has been steadily responsive, extending deadlines and increasing availability of paper ballots in addition to maintaining a 24-hour support line. Yeah, there’ve been problems, but AMPAS has hardly gone into a bunker.

Meanwhile, for every well-intentioned voter who has been genuinely frustrated by the process, there are those who have only themselves to blame for their troubles. The changes to this year’s voting process have been public knowledge for months, and it’s not the Academy’s fault if members refuse to read the numerous advisories and deadline warnings that have been sent, online and through conventional mail. And all along, paper ballots remained an option.

Abandon your generalizations about the online vote being an “old-people problem” as well. I’ve talked to voters in their 70s who had perfect understanding of the potential pitfalls of the online vote and prepared themselves accordingly, and voters in their 40s who were cavalier and set themselves up for trouble when the deadline arrived.

We’re clearly in a time of transition at the Oscars, one in which teachable moments are in no short supply. For the upcoming nominations, which will be revealed Thursday, what’s done is done. But looking beyond, there are clear lessons to be learned and applied — from understanding the nuances of online ballots to the consequences of pushing the Oscars earlier and earlier.

There’s no reason future voting needs to be as stressful as we’ve just seen.