Tuesday's 5 P.M. Oscar Ballot Deadline Brings End to Awards Campaigning (Analysis)

Billy Crystal Oscars 2011
Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Comedian Billy Crystal arrives on stage to present an award at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on February 27, 2011 in Hollywood, California.

The 2011-2012 Oscar race, which effectively began six months ago at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, will come to an official end tonight at 5pm PST, when final ballots are due back at the Academy's accounting firm of PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

PHOTOS: Academy Awards 2012: The Nominees

After that time, the people who have been courting Oscar votes -- among them George Clooney, Viola Davis, Jean Dujardin, Michel Hazanavicius, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer, Martin Scorsese, Octavia Spencer, Meryl Streep, and Harvey Weinstein -- will follow the lead of The Artist (if not its campaign) and go silent, notwithstanding appearances at a succession of parties between now and Sunday's ceremony (including THR's own Nominees' Night). Simultaneously, expect the nail-biting to be deafening until Sunday night, when nominees will make their way along the red carpet into the Kodak Theatre to learn whether or not their campaigning efforts, much less their contributions to the movies in 2011, have earned them a coveted statuette. 

Because PriceWaterhouseCoopers guards the results as aggressively as the Secret Service guards the president of the United States, we'll never know how close some contenders came to winning, or how many Academy members participated in the voting process. History has shown that many Hollywood-area voters wait until the last possible minute to fill out their ballots and then hand-deliver them to the Academy, but most pop them in the mail either right after they first receive them or a few days before they are due.

PHOTOS: Oscar Nominees Luncheon: The Official Class of 2012 Photo Shoot

That procrastination could cause some problems this year, since the ballots of members who waited until Friday or Saturday to send off their ballots, forgetting that Monday was President's Day, may not arrive in time to be counted. (The Academy's recently-announced plans to institute e-voting next year will presumably mean that this is the last year that mishaps of this nature will occur.)

But the main sentiment among film industry insiders right now is relief -- relief that the awards season that has preoccupied so many for so long is now coming to an end, and with it the endless interviews, gladhanding, and chicken-dinner awards ceremonies that come with it. We're just five evenings from the 84th Oscars, at which all our questions will be answered once and for all.