Awards Mania: Why the Oscars do (and don’t) matter

When I watch the Oscars with my friends, the noise tends to frighten them off. Not the show’s noise, mind you; my noise. From the first red-carpet starlet to the final shiny trophy, my co-viewers are subjected to a godless fusillade of shrieks, screams, cries and yelps courtesy of yours truly.

Sometimes they’re joyous noises, as they were when Lupita Nyong’o won last year.Often, they’re angry noises, as they certainly were when Tom Hooper won the Best Director Oscar for “The King’s Speech.” Apparently, sticking a camera in front of Colin Firth’s face and hitting “record” now counts as an act of auteurist excellence.

I do realize that this emotional intensity puts me in the minority. For a solid majority of people I know, the Oscars are either about J-Law’s dress or how stupid/ignorant/anti-Leo DiCaprio the Academy is. But for me, the Oscars really do mean something. As sad as this sentence may seem to you, Dear Reader, it’s true: The Oscars are my Super Bowl.This probably seems, to use a technical term, insane. Still, I’d like to believe that I have rational reasons for watching the show as well. In short, I’d like to think that the Oscars are in fact, to some degree, important.

Before I continue, let me concede a few points to my imagined critics. Yes, the Oscars are highly prejudiced against comedies, sci-fi cinema and action pictures. Yes, voters tend to be too easily impressed by an excess or absence of make-up. Yes, they often seem to cast their vote based on considerations other than quality (can you say “Crash”?).

But the Oscars are also a highly valuable showcase for important films and film makers. Because the phrases “Oscar nominee” and “Oscar winner” carry such cultural import, the show helps to shine a spotlight on great but overlooked films. Since millions of people watch the Oscars each year, contenders that didn’t sell out at mall theaters or make bank at Redbox  get another chance at exposure.

Take “Whiplash,” for example. Made on a shoestring and released in select theaters, the film is doing bang-up business now that it’s been nominated for multiple Oscars””so much so that it’s expanded to theaters all across the country and made back its entire budget. This sort of exposure helps fatten the wallets of ambitious artists, and it also gives the “Whiplash” cast and crew the bargaining chips they need to continue making good cinema in the future.

What’s more, the Oscars is also one of the few awards shows that’s truly comprehensive. If you’re a Grammy winner for Sound Design, your speech is cut to make more time for whatever blasphemy Nicki Minaj is committing that year. But if you’re an Oscar winner for Best Production Design or Best Animated Short, you can get up onstage and remind everyone why your craft is important””why craft itself in important.

The Oscars may not always give the award to the Right Guy, but they do important work on behalf of the Little Guy. This, to me, is their primary value.

Also, they’re just damn good television. Getting a bunch of professionally dramatic people into a room and putting them in the middle of a suspenseful situation is bound to have entertaining and moving results.

Like Robert Benigni climbing over everyone’s seats, for example. Like a history-making Halle Berry sobbing uncontrollably, for example. Like J. Roy Helland winning a Makeup Oscar after 50 years in the industry, for example.

Emotional power. Memorable moments. Greater exposure for indie cinema. Each year, these are the things that keep this humble writer watching””and yelling.