In one sense, the Oscars continue to matter as much, maybe more, than they ever have. For the past ten or twenty years, the number of films that are good enough to get awards attention has been shrinking. If it weren’t for the Oscars and the additional money they generate, would the incentive to make prestige films be vanishing even faster? The Oscar race is virtually an industry unto itself. It spans the entire year, with films opening at Sundance, moving through Cannes, Telluride and Toronto, all hoping to hang on through year’s end. To say nothing of the smaller fests, like Santa Barbara and Palms Springs which operate as both Oscar showcase and a venue for smaller films.
So, yes, the Oscars still matter. They matter to actors, producers, filmmakers and audiences who still want to see movies that aren’t prepackaged and sold to the broadest demographic and lowest common denominator. They matter, still, to film preservationists and Oscar historians. Will they ever matter to critics who have a long tradition of writing them off? Perhaps if critics recognize that they’re the finger holding up the dyke they might someday appreciate their importance. If only the consensus choices by the industry were more often worthy of the title, “Best.”