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Why the Oscars still matter

  • Oscars-Live Tweeting_Cala.jpg

    FILE - In this March 5, 2010 file photo, an Oscar statue stands on the red carpet outside the 82nd Academy Awards in Los Angeles. The 85th annual Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta, file)

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    This publicity photo released by Sony Pictures Classics shows former heads of the Israeli security agency, Shin Bet, from left top, Avraham Shalom, Ami Ayalon and Yaakov Peri, from left bottom,Yuval Diskin, Avi Dichter and Carmi Gillon in Director Dror Moreh's documentary film, "The Gatekeepers." The Israeli documentary film is nominated for an Academy Award. The 85th Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, Feb. 24, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Sony Pictures Classics, Mika Moreh)

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    FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2012 file photo, an Oscar statue is seen on the red carpet before the 84th Academy Awards in Los Angeles. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences says the golden statuette will visit at least 10 cities as part of its first national tour. Beginning Monday, Feb. 4, 2013, in New York City, the golden guys journey will be chronicled online. (AP Photo/Matt Sayles, File)

This Sunday marks the biggest night in Hollywood. So why should you care about the 85th annual Academy Awards? Do the Oscars still matter? Did they ever matter?

Yes, they matter.

Last year, 39.3 million people tuned in to see who looked ravishing in the latest Louis Vuitton gown or – worse! -- made a fashion faux pas. Gawkers waited with bated breath to see who took home the coveted prize of Best Picture. But it’s not the glitz of the fashion or the Best Actor or Best Actress winners who really matter.

The Oscars matter most to the little guys, the unsung nominees who finally get their moment in the spotlight, which is broadcast in more than 200 countries.

The Oscars matter most to the little guys, the unsung nominees who finally get their moment in the spotlight.

Hidden in the shadows of the major film studios and superstars vying for all of your attention come Oscar season, are the documentarians, cinematographers, composers, songwriters, editors, animators, costume designers and visual effects gurus. These are the wizards behind the curtain and Oscar night is one of the few moments these storytellers are given their deserved attention on the world stage.

Not every Oscar-nominated filmmaker or movie is lucky enough to receive the immediate recognition or financial backing like “Argo” or “Lincoln.” But for the smaller independent films, an Oscar nomination or award can bring more than just a gold statue.

Mel Brooks said it best: “It’s good to be the king.” People want to work with winners, and when a documentary or short animated film, for example, is nominated for an Oscar, it receives much more than an acknowledgement by a celebrity mispronouncing its name during the broadcast. Nominations bring prestige, recognition and, hopefully, capital to the production houses, companies and crews associated with them, and can lead to investments and increased chances of distribution of future projects, providing more jobs and thus, more creativity.

The Oscars also globalize foreign films like Norway’s “Kon Tiki” or provide avenues to documentarians like Malik Bendjelloul, whose “Searching for Sugar Man” has now become a popular hit. It also provides a platform to lesser known animators like PES, whose short film “Fresh Guacamole,” offers a new taste of animation. PES, by the way, has since become an Internet sensation and is quickly moving toward feature-length animated films.

Oscar night also has a far greater and, arguably, more important impact than the broadcast.

While the Oscars are the public face of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Oscar night is just one moment out of an impressive 365-day calendar for the non-profit organization. The revenue The Academy receives from broadcast rights for the Oscars helps fuel the institution’s advancement of film preservation, education and motion picture technology.

Revenue from Oscar night provides worldwide education outreach and grant funding to institutions and non-profit organizations for filmmaking programs, fostering a future generation of filmmakers. The Academy has recently funded programs in Sarajevo, Cuba, East Africa and Iran.

The Margaret Herrick Library and the Academy Film Archive are two very important entities that also receive funding from that revenue. The Film Archive is dedicated to the preservation of motion pictures and houses more than 140,000 assets of film history. The archive has preserved a vast array of movies, including early films by the Lumière brothers, Georges Méliès, as well as WWII propaganda films, international documentaries and personal collections from filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock and Cecil B. DeMille.

The Margaret Herrick Library is home to an extensive collection of books, periodicals, posters, costume and production drawings.

Finally, revenue helps fund technological innovation. Every year we see movies breaking new technological ground and 2012 was no exception -- the breathtaking visuals in Ang Lee’s “The Life of Pi” and Peter Jackson’s bold undertaking of shooting “The Hobbit” at 48fps.

So why does all this matter? Martin Scorsese famously said, “Now more than ever we need to talk to each other, to listen to each other and understand how we see the world, and cinema is the best medium for doing this.”

So by watching the Academy Awards on Sunday, you are supporting the advancement of technology, the pursuit of education and, most importantly, encouraging new voices in cinema. 

Plus, there’s still nothing quite like hearing ‘And the Oscar goes to…’

Justin Craig writes about movies for He’s on Twitter @Justin_M_Craig