The clock is ticking.

Oscar balloting went live at 9 a.m. PT on Thursday morning for the official total of 9,487 eligible voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on the books as of today. The deadline to cast electronic votes is 5 p.m. PT on Tuesday, February 1.

The overall current total of Academy members is 10,487, but 914 of them are emeritus status and don’t vote, likewise for 86 active Associate members. But they can all still watch, movies that is, on the Academy Screening Room digital platform where most of the deciding is taking place in these still-pandemic affected times. You think it is tough to get that older adult audience back to the multiplex? Try also getting some Oscar voters to leave the comfort of their screening rooms. Let’s hope they aren’t watching these films on their laptops at least.

There are 276 films eligible overall for the 94th Oscar year, truncated due to the extension from 12 to 14 months last year, so only films that qualify by release in various ways from March 1-December 31, 2021 are in the hunt this time.

This year, for the first time since 2011, the Academy is returning to a solid 10 guaranteed nominees for Best Picture. In an effort to radically realign the playing field and try to get some more popular movies in the mix, AMPAS took a page from its way-past. For the first time since the 16th Oscars for 1943, when Casablanca won over nine other movies, the Academy went back to 10 Best Picture nominees for the 82nd and 83rd show for 2009 and 2010 achievements, a move that was controversial within some factions of AMPAS and lasted only two years. It was tweaked and for the last decade it was possible for anywhere between five and 10 Best Picture contendes. In that time, the number of nominated films have fluctuated between 7-9.

This year, no matter what the number, all 9,487 of those eligible voters get a say in that category, where the ultimate winner is chosen by an accounting method apart from the 22 other categories — a well-publicized and still confusing (to some) method known as preferential voting, or a weighted ballot, where you must list your choices in order of favorite to least favorite. In most categories, five nominations are made by the individual branches, with the winners chosen by all eligible voting members and that winner simply receiving the most votes. That’s different with Best Picture where it’s, uh, more complicated in an attempt to get a “consensus” of all those participating. The Academy never reveals numbers in terms of voter turnout or what they voted for, but you can bet it will be hounding membership for the next few days to actively participate.

In terms of which branches have the most clout it is easily the actors, with 1,336 active members. Interestingly, the No. 2 branch is the less glamorous Short Films and Feature Animation with 844. They are followed by Executives with 681, Producers with 634, Documentary with 618, Visual Effects with 606, and Marketing/Public Relations with 605. Writers have only 504 members and directors a bit more than that with 568.

Of course, the Academy has made a major effort in recent years to expand the membership in terms of sheer numbers as well as with regard to diversity, women and international members. As one veteran producer (and a former Oscar show producer) told me the other day, “I used to predict the way the Academy would vote pretty easily, now it is much harder to figure out,” he shrugged.

We will see how well he does, and the rest of the Oscar clan, when nominations are announced Tuesday, February 8. The 94th annual Academy Awards are Sunday, March 27, once again broadcast on ABC and back to some sense of normality (we can only hope, Mr. Omicron) at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

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