The shape of Oscar campaigning just got a whole lot different. The Academy released the schedule for the 85th Academy Awards, and it has some significant changes which will, in some ways, make the process less political and more about actually seeing the films, but in other ways could completely shaft late December releases, not to mention what this means for other award shows and events typically considered “campaign stops”.
The major change is that the Oscar nominations will now be announced on January 10, three days before the Golden Globes. On the plus side, Academy voters will now have a longer window in which to actually see films (it's amazing how many voters don't actually watch the movies) once they're nominated. The downside is that the late December releases will have barely a week to get in front of Academy members. Take Les Miserables, which just moved to Christmas Day in order to get away from The Hobbit. The new schedule gives only eight days between release and the end of nominations on January 3. And the industry, by Christmas, has pretty much ground to a halt. Everyone is out of town and no real business is getting done. There's going to be a screening crunch this year as the change catches some contenders on the back foot.
What interests me most is the impact this will have on the Golden Globes and the Palm Springs Film Festival, two big-time campaigning events. People always say the Globes don't matter as an Oscar predictor, and it's true that they're not a reliable meter for potential winners. But I have always found that the Globes have (had) a strong last-minute impact on the nominations. They can cement or change momentum, it's a networking night—Oscar nominees have always been well represented by the Globes. But now that's not going to be the case. Now we're in a situation where the Globes' real value will have to be as a predictor, and that, they just don't have. It'll be interesting to see if this impacts attendance at all.
As for Palm Springs, it's been a highly political event for what amounts to stump speeches for Oscar hopefuls. But the new schedule means the nominees are announced in the middle of the festival, so for the hopefuls it will be less about actually going to the festival and more about touting who is being honored beforehand. One of the centerpieces of the festival is the big gala where actors and filmmakers are honored, to be held on January 5, 2013—two days after nominations end. Again, what does this do to attendance? This year, I don't think we'll see too great a change relating to the festival, but I wonder if, going forward, they don't bump up the fest, too.
If the Academy keeps to this earlier voting schedule, we'll see a re-engineered landscape for Oscar campaigning. Award season will shift a little earlier with people wanting to get in screenings before the holidays. Other award shows, and events like Palm Springs, may move up their dates as well. Some of the critics groups who pride themselves on pushing Oscar winners will have to adjust their schedules, too, to stay ahead of the curve. The Academy made these changes in hopes of quashing some of the more ridiculous aspects of campaigning, but all they're going to end up with is savvier, earlier campaigns.