Director Michel Hazanavicius of "The Artist" speaks after… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
The race for Oscar just got a little more harried.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' decision to shift its nominations date five days earlier sent ripples throughout Hollywood on Tuesday, with new deadlines threatening to leave some high-profile end-of-year releases with less time to make an impression on Oscar voters.
Nomination ballots will now be due on Jan. 3, with the Motion Picture Academy announcing the Oscar nominations one week later on Jan. 10, the same date that the Directors Guild of America, the Cinema Audio Society and the American Cinema Editors had planned to announce the nominations for their annual awards. The Oscars ceremony takes place Feb. 24.
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AMPAS is also planning to implement a new browser-based electronic voting system that will enable its membership to select both nominees and winners online. The organization will begin registering its members for the system in October but will still allow for paper ballots during this transition year.
Additionally, the academy will provide voting systems at its headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard, its Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study in Hollywood and locations in New York and London.
Ric Robertson, chief operating officer of the academy, is hopeful that the specially designed electronic system will ease voting challenges for constituents living overseas, while eliminating the need for the academy to send ballots to members vacationing during the Christmas holidays.
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"You can buy voting systems off the shelf but developing one that met our needs and had the appropriate level of security was a big focus of our efforts," said Robertson of the system, which was developed by the academy in partnership with its auditing firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and the electronic administration and security firm Everyone Counts over a period of 18 months.
Although the new dates give academy members more time to see films once they are nominated, the earlier deadlines compress the period of time Oscar voters have to see (and potentially nominate) movies opening in late December, meaning screeners for those titles could be mailed much earlier than in previous years.
Prior to the academy announcement, Universal Pictures on Tuesday morning said it was moving its adaptation of "Les Miserables," the Broadway musical from "The King's Speech" director Tom Hooper, from Dec. 14 to Dec. 25. Rather than opening on the same weekend as Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" prequel "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," it will debut opposite another Oscar hopeful, Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained."
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Among the other high-profile films set for late December are Gus Van Sant's "Promised Land" and Dustin Hoffman's directorial debut "Quartet," both of which are set for release Dec. 28.
Reacting to the moves, the DGA rescheduled its feature film nominations announcement for Jan. 8. The ACE was set to discuss changing its nominations date at its board meeting Tuesday night; CAS confirmed it will change the date of its nominations announcement, but the guild hadn't selected a new date at press time.
The Oscar deadlines also stand to affect two winter film festivals, both of which are seen as attractive promotional platforms for Oscar hopefuls.
In the past, the Palm Springs International Film Festival's annual star-studded gala has occurred before the nominations deadline, but this year it will happen two days following that deadline on Jan. 5.
By contrast, the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which falls in the middle of the post-nominations period, could gain new prominence — festivals are not subject to the same strict campaigning rules that prohibit throwing lavish parties for academy members during that time.
Harold Matzner, chairman of the Palm Springs fest, is not concerned about the revamped deadlines, however.
"We select Oscar-quality honorees based on their work and their films," said Matzner, noting that Palm Springs announces its honorees in October and November with the hopes that they will attend the January gala. "We might have one honoree who isn't nominated. I guess that's possible. If it happens it won't change anything."
Times staff writer Glenn Whipp contributed to this report.