This article is from the rec.arts.movies.current-films FAQ, by Evelyn C. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org with numerous contributions by others.
The general model is that the Academy members who work in the particular
specialty make the nominations. Thus, the Academy's actors nominate the
performers (no sex differentiation - actors/actresses both nominate actors/
actresses), directors nominate directors, writers nominate writers, etc.
All Academy members get to nominate films. In the categories of foreign
language film, documentary, and short film, the Academy does things a bit
differently. (See below.)
All Academy members get to vote on all awards, except for the foreign
language film (and possibly the documentary and short film awards).
Only members who have seen the nominated films get to vote on the foreign
language film awards.
Foreign language films are nominated by a complicated [and totally
ineffective] process. Each nation of the world (except possibly the
United States) [though there was a Puerto Rican entry a few years ago]
can submit one film per year for consideration. The film must have had
its first run in that country that year, and there are a variety of
other arcane, frequently changing rules to determine eligibility. (A
few years ago, the Dutch film "The Vanishing" wasn't eligible because
of a rule that stated the film had to be almost entirely in the
language of its native country to qualify; "The Vanishing" had much
more French than Dutch. That rule was changed. Recently, a supposedly
Uruguayan film was removed from consideration because the Academy
determined that the Uruguayan participation in it was insufficient to
make it truly Uruguayan.) The national film boards of the various
countries select the film they will submit, and there is room for
controversy here, too. A couple of years ago, the German national film
board caused a major fuss by refusing to nominate "Europa, Europa" for
the award. Both German and American filmmakers protested, but to no
avail. The nature of the nominating process is such that, some years,
two great films will come from one country, but only one can be
nominated. In some cases, the producers of the other will use various
tricks to get it submitted by another country. For example, "Close To
Eden" was a French financed film, but was made in Russia by a Russian
director, and hence could be submitted by Russia. More
controversially, "Black and White In Color", a French film largely in
French, by a French director, but set in Africa, was submitted by the
African nation where it was filmed.
A board of "experts" [and Lord only knows what makes them experts!]
then reviews all submitted foreign films to select five to nominate.
In the case of documentary and short films, anyone can send their film
to the Academy for consideration. The film basically has to have been
made for theatrical purposes (this issue is very fuzzy, but an obvious
television episode is not eligible), and has to have had its first
release that year. There are separate boards for documentaries (full
length and short) and short films (dramatic live action and animated).
They review all submitted films and select at most five for
nomination. [And apparently they often don't view each film
completely.] The animation board frequently chooses only three films,
rather than five. These boards are generally made up of volunteers who
may or may not work in the particular fields.
This process has come under fire in the last few years, particularly as
regards documentaries. Many of the best known and best reviewed
documentaries of the past five years [as of the writing of this]
("Roger and Me", "The Thin Blue Line", "Paris Is Burning", "Brother's
Keeper", and "A Brief History of Time", to name a few) have not been
nominated. There are periodic calls to do something about it, but,
basically, the Academy doesn't give a damn about these categories, and,
in fact, is trying to drop the short film categories. (In the
interests of, in the words of one commentator, "more smoke and dancing
girls" at the Awards ceremony.) Short films received a one-year
reprieve in 1993, but may be dropped from future Award ceremonies, or
perhaps be treated like the scientific and engineering awards. [Though
even in 1993, the winners were merely announced; they did not get to
come up and accept the awards, or give a thank-you speech.]
Special awards (like those recently given to Audrey Hepburn and
Federico Fellini) are handled specially. They are chosen by the
Academy's board, and they are not necessarily given every year.
I'm not sure what the procedure is for the special and scientific
awards. I suspect that the Academy has committees that handle these.
[Thanks to Peter Reiher, email@example.com, for this.]