Three or four people will win Academy Awards on Wednesday night, but it won't be for anything they've done in 2012.
Instead, the annual Governors Awards will be chosen at a meeting of the Academy's Board of Governors. Honorary Academy Awards, Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Awards and Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Awards will be up for grabs, though there won't be any public campaigning and only 43 people are allowed to vote.
Since 2009, the honorary awards have occupied their own spot on the Oscar calendar. That year, partly to give the recipients a more robust tribute and partly (or, to be honest, mostly) to shorten the Oscar show, the Academy moved the honorary awards to a separate and non-televised night, the Governors Awards.
The first three ceremonies have been among the most popular events on the Academy calendar, with highlights available on the AMPAS website. The show has also become a de rigeur early stop for many of the year's Oscar contenders.
Four honorees were chosen the first two years (Lauren Bacall, right, John Calley, Roger Corman and Gordon Willis in 2009; Kevin Brownlow, Francis Coppola, Jean-Luc Godard and Eli Wallach in 2010) and three last year (James Earl Jones, Dick Smith and Oprah Winfrey).
The rules make it extremely likely that at least three will be chosen this year, with a good possibility for a fourth.
The 43 governors are allowed to nominate as many living people as they like; posthumous honorary awards are not allowed. The list of candidates generally numbers at least 10, according to those who have participated.
The nominees are all listed on a board in the meeting room, and each governor casts a secret vote for whomever they think is the most deserving.
The nominee with the largest number of votes then moves to a second round of voting, where each governor simply votes yes or no on that person's candidacy. If more than half the board votes yes, the Oscar is awarded.
The process is repeated twice more, with a first round to choose the top vote-getter and a second round to vote yes-or-no on that person. After three honorary awards are voted, the fourth candidate must receive yes votes from three-fourths of the governors to receive an award.
Once the fourth winner is chosen — or once a candidate doesn't meet the round-two threshold — the vote ends.
The recipients will be announced by the Academy on Wednesday night if they can reach all the honorees; if not, the release could be delayed until Thursday morning.
As for which names will be on the list, it's always difficult to predict who the governors might be favoring, though it probably wouldn't be far-fetched to say that Clint Eastwood didn't exactly help his chances last week.
Christopher Plummer, too, is a less likely recipient than he was a year ago; while the veteran actor was frequently mentioned as a possible honoree in previous years, his Best Supporting Actor win for "Beginners" probably takes the Academy off the hook.
On the other hand, Max von Sydow was nominated but didn't win for "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," so he might be fresh in the voters' minds.
Doris Day is always mentioned, at least by outsiders trying to lobby the Academy — but then, the governors don't always take kindly to outside lobbying. "If we made decisions based on public proposals, all of the Three Stooges would have honorary awards," then-executive-director Bruce Davis once griped to me.
Tony Curtis, Albert Finney, Debbie Reynolds, Angela Lansbury, Maureen O'Hara, Christopher Lee and Jeanne Moreau have also been mentioned in the past, as has Mia Farrow (Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award), documentarian Albert Maysles and even critic Roger Ebert.
But there's no telling if any of them will be mentioned in the boardroom on Wednesday night, or which names might come up instead. Last year, makeup artist Dick Smith was by far the least-known honoree – but after a Governors Awards presentation that made a wonderful case for why he deserved the award, his segment was probably the highlight of the night.
This year's Governors Awards will take place Dec. 1 and will be produced by Academy governor Cheryl Boone Isaacs and by Don Mischer Productions.