The Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has tentatively voted to shorten the Oscar calendar by a month, moving up the film industry's highest honors from late March to late February starting in 2004.
Oscar nominations, balloting and voting also would be accelerated, assuming the compressed schedule "proves to be feasible," academy spokeswoman Leslie Unger said. The move was approved by the 40-member board last week, she said.
Supporters say they hope to boost public enthusiasm for the awards while making it easier for smaller-budget films and those opening early in the year to compete with end-of-the-year releases from big studios ready to spend big dollars on Oscar promotional campaigns.
"We would like to see much less hype, to let the films speak for themselves," said board member and DreamWorks SKG executive Marvin Levy. "It would just accelerate everything, and I think it would be really good -- good for the studios, good for the public and we hope, also good for television."
Unger said the academy has never been "particularly fond" of Oscar campaigning by studios but was mainly interested in keeping the awards process from dragging on too long.
"With the show in March, we're three months removed from when the last of the films have made their way out into theaters, and moving up a month makes those films fresher in the minds of not just academy voters, but everyone who sees films and sees our show," she said.
Next year's 75th Academy Awards presentation will remain set for March 23, telecast live on ABC, Unger said.
The Oscars have grown increasingly contentious in recent years, with studios waging hard-fought, expensive and sometimes nasty campaigns to win votes for their films and stars.
In the latest race, the filmmakers for best-picture winner "A Beautiful Mind" found themselves fending off a string of media stories suggesting they had distorted the truth by omitting unsavory aspects about the real-life mathematician depicted in the film, John Nash.
Before it was over, Nash publicly denied the allegations against him, while actor Russell Crowe, who portrayed the Nobel laureate in the film, joined director Ron Howard in condemning what Hollywood insiders widely viewed as an orchestrated smear campaign against the film.
The official Oscar season currently runs from the end of December, the deadline for films to qualify for Oscar eligibility, until the awards are handed out in late March, six weeks after nominations are announced. But Oscar handicapping typically begins months before then.
With the next awards still eight months away, studios already are sizing up the competition among an usually crowded field of early films viewed as having Oscar potential.
Oscar buzz has so far centered on such films as the romantic comedy "About a Boy," starring Hugh Grant; the Alaskan detective yarn "Insomnia," co-starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams; Steven Spielberg's the sci-fi thriller "Minority Report," starring Tom Cruise; and the female drama "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood" with Ellen Burstyn, Ashley Judd and Sandra Bullock.
One consequence of moving up the Oscars would likely be to spur earlier presentations of other film awards, Levy said.
The Oscar calendar has changed several times since the first Academy Awards were handed out in May of 1929. In the early days, Oscar night was in November. During the 1960s, and for part of the '80s, the show was held in April. The late-March date has been the norm since 1989.
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