A couple of gay ranch hands, the Incredible Hulk and a Jane Austen heroine have finally been given the right to vote.
Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Eric Bana and Keira Knightley were among the 120 actors, directors, producers, technicians and executives to receive invitations Wednesday to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the only such offers that the organization will extend in 2006.
"Two years ago the Academy decided to slow membership growth, and to become even more selective in choosing members," Academy President Sid Ganis said in a statement. "Instead of inviting every proposed person who has achieved the minimum qualifications for his or her branch, the membership committees are selecting the most exceptionally qualified names from those lists."
Thirty-nine of this year's invitees were 2005 Academy Award nominees (David Strathairn, Terrence Howard, et al.) and eight of them (including Rachel Weisz and Crash producer Cathy Shulman and writer Bobby Moresco) actually took home a new pal named Oscar.
Since 2004 enough invites have been extended each year to both increase the number in the Academy annually by 30 and to replace established members who have either retired their voting privileges and become non-active participants or, to put it in Hollywood terms, who instead joined the annual "In Memoriam" montage prominently featured during every Oscar ceremony. Last year 112 people were offered membership.
The Academy comprises more than 6,000 members split into 14 branches (actors, animators, cinematographers, etc.), with representatives from each being the ones responsible for choosing who gets to become a member of the 79-year-old institution that counts names like DeMille, Mayer, Warner, Thalberg, Pickford and Grauman among its founders.
But while the existing members of the Academy have laid out the welcome mat for Edward R. Murrow, a hustlin' pimp, a preteen phenom (Dakota Fanning) and Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix), among many others, we're left with one question:
Who throws a party for Heath Ledger and leaves Michelle Williams off the guest list?
(Answer: the same people who make Deuce Bigalow stay home for the third consecutive year. Sorry, again, Rob.)
Although Williams, Ledger's Brokeback Mountain costar and the mother of his child, will no doubt be a welcome guest at the--what else?--invitation-only reception to honor this year's new inductees (should they choose to accept, of course), she was not on the list of thespians offered Academy membership, despite her Oscar nod for Brokeback and her growing list of impressive indie film credits.
A total of 17 actors were asked to join the ranks, with Maria Bello, Amy Adams, Hayley Mills, Barry Pepper, Jon Polito and Liev Schreiber rounding out the list. New members will be officially welcomed Sept. 20 at the Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study in Beverly Hills.
Dolly Parton, Grizzly Man director Werner Herzog, The Squid and the Whale filmmaker Noah Baumbach and Munich scribe Tony Kushner were among the invitees in other categories.