In years past, the Best Documentary Feature, Best Short Film (Animated) and Best Short Film (Live Action) categories have been decided by the limited amount of members who could make it to the screenings of the films and therefore prove they viewed them before voting. This has always made predicting the results of those categories a little interesting, given the assumed "typical" sort of member who would have the time to participate. Things are changing this year, though.

In an email AMPAS president Hawk Koch sent out to Academy members, he notes that, "For the first time this year, our entire membership will be able to vote in three additional categories. The Academy will be sending you DVD screeners of the nominated films from these three categories before final voting begins." However, he added, "We look forward to seeing you at our screenings of the nominated films, which will begin on January 19 in Los Angeles, New York, London and San Francisco." So obviously a theatrical look is still preferred.

This is great news for the filmmakers behind the short nominees in particular, because the spectrum of exposure will be much wider. Their work will fall before the eyes of countless potential future collaborators, not just select people who make the effort to see and vote on these films each season. It also means the dynamics of predicting the eventual winners could be a touch different as a larger group of people will be deciding.

Meanwhile, opening the documentary feature category up to the entire Academy obviously helps films with a popular head of steam, and in this case, it all but secures the Oscar for "Searching for Sugar Man." However, as I noted in the podcast Friday, I think the film in that category that makes you feel the most while watching it is "The Invisible War," so it's potentially a spoiler. My pick running away would be "5 Broken Cameras," however, while "The Gatekeepers" is just catching its stride now and I suppose could pose something of a threat to its Sony Classics stablemate "Sugar Man."

I'm not quite sure why this hasn't been extended to the documentary shorts, as well. I mean, if the other shorts are going to be sent, why not these, too? I started digging into them recently and it's a varied lot. "Redemption" is a revealing look at canners in New York City and in its way a commentary on the jobs situation in America, while "Kings Point" is a depressing but moving profile of a retirement community in Florida full of seniors who don't dare get close to anyone with everyone on a ticking clock. I haven't seen "Inocente," yet, but it could be the one to beat as the trailer certainly presents a potentially moving portrait of a young, homeless, undocumented immigrant's dream of becoming an artist.

But we'll get into that in due time. There are six whole weeks to go before the Oscars, after all.