Is Oscar loosening up? For the first time in 77 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences -- the 5,800 or so folks who vote on the Oscars -- is publicly announcing info about its membership by naming the 127 people invited to join this year. The list includes last year's winners (like ''Mystic River'''s Sean Penn, who's been invited three times before -- once for each nod) and nominees (Keisha Castle-Hughes, ''Whale Rider''), who are typically invited. But it also has people who were never nominated, including Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scarlett Johansson, and Viggo Mortensen, directors Miguel Arteta (''The Good Girl'') and Shawn Levy (''Cheaper by the Dozen''), and producer Nancy Juvonen (''Charlie's Angels''). ''It can't be a bad thing to have a younger, more balanced voting base,'' says member/producer Adam Fields (''Donnie Darko'').
Clearly, the Academy is trying to shed its old-fogy image. ''This is absolutely part of that,'' says spokesman John Pavlik (okay, he didn't use the term ''old fogy''), adding that there are no plans yet to release the whole roster -- much of which went out to studios during last year's screener dispute. ''Everyone is nervous about releasing all the names at once, but this is the first step.''
So far, more than three dozen invitees have returned applications, with the $250 annual dues. ''Of course I'm accepting,'' says producer William Horberg (''Cold Mountain''). ''It is a prestigious and long-awaited event.'' Apparently, not so much for Penn; the actor's rep has ''no information about whether he will join.''