Analysis of Brand New Oscar Voting Rules for Documentaries and Animated Features

Hollywood Reporter is announcing a few Oscar rule changes that have just been made. One that really isn't a shock at all is in the Best Documentary category that states multi-part or limited series docs are no longer eligible for nomination. I am sure this came under discussion after the 467 minute ESPN produced OJ: Made in America won this year and there may have been panic over what hellacious gates they may have opened. The series did debut at Sundance and make many festival stops while also getting a theatrical run, but it also was shown in a mini-series format on ABC (with the premiere episode) and ESPN (the rest of the series). I think it is smart to define a clear difference between a really long movie or documentary and something that is crafted as a miniseries (clearly designed episodes). TV episodes of Doctor Who have been shown on the big screen, and I think even some series have premiered at festivals, but that doesn't make them movies. I can still see some filmmakers finding ways to work around the new rule.

In something that I did not even know prior to the announcement of the new rule, the Best Animated Feature used to be nominated just by members of the Short Films and Feature Animation branch. Then the selected movies were voted upon by the entire Academy. Just having this specific branch nominate movies was probably why got lesser known movies like The Red Turtle, When Marnie Was There, and Song of the Sea along with Disney and Pixar features like Zootopia, Moana and Inside Out. But starting next year, the nominations are going to be the same as Best Picture where all members of the Academy have the opportunity to nominate the movie. If you look at the Best Picture category, it tends to be movies that either got big studio backing or a decent amount of mainstream buzz. There is a risk we may lose some of the lesser known and more experimental animated features.

This could mean in the future we end up with a slate entirely full of Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks and Blue Sky. I am sure with studios knowing this shift that stuff like The Baby Boss will get a stronger Oscar push at year end, since their chances likely have gone up significantly. Or this could not cause any change at all, and it ends up mostly being nominations from the Animation branch.

What it does mean is that critic and writers of movies need to champion harder for those special lesser known animated movies at year-end in order for them to bounce into the periphery of the Academy members not as attached to the animated realm.

What I would really like to see though, is voters to get out of the mentality of "well, animated has its own category" and actually acknowledge when an animated feature is good enough for a Best Picture nomination. Toy Story 3 is the last one to get nominated for Best Picture but I strongly stick to my guns that both Inside Out and Zootopia deserved that tenth spot that remained empty both their respective years.

Another rule that is pretty noteworthy and commendable is an attempt to curtail excessive campaigning. Essentially, an Academy member cannot be invited to a lunch, dinner or other catered gala event that is associated with an Oscar contender movie that does not also contain a screening at the function. The idea is prior to nomination you can't have an early morning screening than provide some lavish dinner in the evening, but rather the screening needs to be the focus with some appropriately catered food allowed as well. The goal is that the member will be voting for the movie rather than a juicy steak.

I commend the Academy for working hard at trying to come up with some restrictions over campaigning, because there has been criticism in the past that the winner has been the more aggressive campaigners. Anything that makes it a voting based on the quality of the movie over effective promotion is a major plus. It is also good to see the Academy constantly open to trying to adapt and improve the process of the biggest awards show of the year.