Pop quiz: What do Chris Rock, Claire Denis, Eddie Vedder and Josh Hutcherson all have in common? Answer: They could all be Oscar voters very soon. The annual Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences invitation list always makes for interesting reading, shedding light on just how large and far-reaching the group's membership is -- or could be, depending on who accepts their invitations.
This year, 271 individuals have been asked to join AMPAS, meaning every one of them could contribute to next year's Academy Awards balloting -- and it's as diverse a list as they've ever assembled. Think the Academy consists entirely of fusty retired white dudes? Not if recent Best Original Song nominee Pharrell Williams takes them up on their offer. Think it's all just a Hollywood insiders' game? Not if French arthouse titans Chantal Akerman and Olivier Assayas join the party. It's a list that subverts expectation at every turn.
Well, nearly every turn. Some of these are obvious: of course everybody's favorite new ingenue, Lupita Nyong'o, was going to get the nod after taking home the Best Supporting Actress honor. And her "12 Years a Slave" co-star Michael Fassbender is likewise an obvious pick.
They're among a number of this year's nominees and winners invited to join the fold, including Williams, Barkhad Abdi (after making just one film), Sally Hawkins, June Squibb, Steve Coogan, producer du jour Megan Ellison, animation master Hayao Miyazaki, Best Foreign Language Film winner Paolo Sorrentino and nominees Thomas Vinterberg and Hany Abu-Assad, "Gravity" composer Steven Price, "12 Years a Slave" writer John Ridley, "Frozen" songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez, and many more. Other notable names: Clark Gregg, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mads Mikkelsen, Jason Statham, Denis Villeneuve, Jean-Marc Vallee, Eugene Jarecki... and so on and so forth.
It's important to note that this isn't necessarily the first time everyone on the list has been invited: they're free to turn the Academy down, and the Academy is free to keep asking. (You can bet, for example, that the animators' branch has been wanting Hayao Miyazaki to join their ranks for eons.)
Amid a host of strong picks, I think two branches have particularly excelled. The cinematographers have (slightly) made it up to Sean Bobbitt for that egregious "12 Years a Slave" snub by extending an invitation, and have also included two of the most exciting up-and-comers in the field: Bradford Young and Masanobu Takayanagi. And if you've ever wondered why the writers frequently arrive at the most discerning nomination fields, check out their very smart (and refreshingly international) list of invitees. The idea of Claire Denis (for my money, the greatest filmmaker still working at the top of her game today) being an Oscar voter is mind-melting and heart-warming at the same time.
Check out the full list on the next two pages and share your thoughts in the comments. Who are you thrilled to see make the cut?