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 of the world's biggest cinephiles might enjoy this season more than most: As the newest members of the film academy, they'll be voting on the Oscars for the first time.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences invited 135 actors, animators, art directors, cinematographers, documentarians, producers, publicists, writers and other filmmakers to join its ranks in 2010, and their first-ever Oscar ballots were being mailed out Monday.
So will having a say on the outcome of the Oscars change the way these folks watch movies? And how did they end up in the film business anyway?
The academy's class of 2010 considered these questions recently at a private party at the Margaret Herrick Library, 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."
An academy member for 27 years, Sherak said that he still feels like "the ultimate movie fan" - and he still votes 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 - those hard-to-get, watermarked DVDs of new films that studios send out this time of year - Oscar 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, with the results being 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 when she was 10 years old that she wanted to work 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.
Robertson's mother, Jan, said that her daughter was destined to work in film.
"She was exposed to it at home because I was always a movie buff," she said.
"The Oscars were always our thing," Robertson added.
Set decorator Douglas Mowat ("Inception"), visual-effects artist Steve Galich ("Transformers") and film exec Christopher Aronson each said that they've always watched movies with a critical eye, so that should help when they cast their inaugural Oscar ballots.
But actor Shaun Toub ("Iron Man," "Crash") and producer Glenn Williamson ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") said that they feel a new sense of responsibility as Oscar voters.
"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. It's exciting."