Oscar loosens foreign regs, tightens tunes


A couple of new rules governing the 81st Annual Academy Awards could result in the foreign- language film category becoming more inclusive and the original song category becoming more competitive.

In the wake of the 2007 nominations that saw such critically applauded features as "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" and "Persepolis" left off the shortlist of nine films, the foreign-language committee has made a subtle but potentially critical change in its voting procedures that will allow the executive committee to rectify any glaring omissions on the way to the nominations.

Over at the music branch — where one film in each of the past two years, 2006's "Dreamgirls" and 2007's "Enchanted," dominated the original song category with three noms each — a new rule stipulates that only two tunes per movie may be nominated for original song.

Calling the change in the foreign-language nominating process "formidable," foreign-language committee chair Mark Johnson said: "It will ensure that the oversight that we had this past year would not have happened. While I was very proud of our five nominees, I was just more concerned about what we excluded than what we included."

Building on rules that were adopted two years ago to open up the foreign-language nominating process to more Academy members, Phase I of the nominating process will remain open to any Academy member who views a minimum number (probably about 15) of the eligible films. That balloting will produce a list of six films. Once those votes are tallied, members of the 20-member foreign-language committee will step in and nominate three more films — a move that should allow the committee to rectify any notable exclusions on the initial list.

As it has done in the past two years, the 30-member Phase II committee then will winnow the shortlist of nine down to five nominees.

In the original song category, any number of songs from one movie may be submitted for consideration, but only two songs per film may ultimately be nominated. If more than two songs from one film are in contention, the two songs with the most votes will be the nominees.

The music branch also doesn't want its members nominating themselves, either. Another new rule decrees that members who have songs contending for nominations may not vote in the nominating process, though, if nominated, they can participate in the balloting for the final winner.

Finally, in addition to its annual screening event featuring clips of the eligible songs, the music branch will distribute DVDs of those clips to branch members who can't attend.

Nominations for this year's Oscars will be announced Jan. 22, and the awards will be presented Feb. 22. (partialdiff)