Why the Oscars still matter

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.


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 Fox411.com. He’s on Twitter @Justin_M_Craig