BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - The holiday season is high time for film fans. The year's best pictures hit theaters, awards buzz begins, and cold weather and extra days off make for perfect moviegoing conditions.
Still, some big-time cinephiles might enjoy this season more than most: As the film academy's newest members, they'll be casting their first Oscar votes.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invited 135 actors, animators, art directors, cinematographers, documentarians, producers, publicists, writers, and other film folk to join in 2010, and their first Oscar ballots were being mailed out Monday.
So will having a say on the Oscars outcome change the way they watch movies? And how did they end up in the business anyway?
The academy's class of 2010 considered these questions recently at a private party where they were welcomed to one of Hollywood's most exclusive clubs by president Tom Sherak, who called the event "rookie night at the academy."
A member for 27 years, Sherak said he still felt like "the ultimate movie fan" - and he still voted like one.
"When I go to a movie, even as an academy member, I go to be entertained, from crying to laughing to thinking to being angry to being happy," he said. "I go as a fan first."
His advice to new voters? "Vote as conscientiously as you possibly can. This is something we do that the whole world pays attention to," Sherak told the new recruits, "and we need you to take that seriously."
He said that though everyone covets screeners - hard-to-get, watermarked DVDs of new films that studios send out this time of year - voters should try to see movies on the big screen because "that's the way they were made."
He explained the two rounds of voting. First is the nominations ballot mailed out Monday; the results will be announced Jan. 25. Then the final ballots arrive in February, leading to the Oscar ceremony on Feb. 27.
"You do not have to vote if you haven't seen all the movies," he said.
New member Michelle Robertson, who knew at age 10 that she wanted to be in show business, doesn't think her Oscar-voting status will affect the way she watches movies.
"I think I'll view them the way I always do: What I respond to, and what I really like," said the inductee to the academy's public-relations branch.
Set decorator Douglas Mowat (Inception), visual effects artist Steve Galich (Transformers), and film exec Christopher Aronson said they've always watched movies with a critical eye, which should help when they vote.
But actor Shaun Toub (Iron Man, Crash) and producer Glenn Williamson (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) say they feel a new sense of responsibility now.
"I'm a producer, and I know how hard it is to make a good movie," Williamson said. "Now that you're actually voting, I want to make the right choice, the intelligent choice based on the art of what's gone into the movies."
Toub said he'll take care to consider achievements beyond acting and directing.
"I am very detail oriented in general . . . but you now keep in mind different categories," he said. "Generally, the direction and the acting - it's given; now you'll really pay attention to the other artists who need your support."
Toub said he knew at age 5 that he wanted to act, but his physician parents frowned on his choice. He completed his schooling to please his folks, then headed for Hollywood.
"I got into the business kind of late because of that, but no regrets because I think you bring in your life experiences," he said. "I've been at this now 23 years, and it's a blessing."