During Sunday's 84th Academy Awards ceremony, 24 competitive awards will be distributed, honoring the best the film world has to offer. Each year it's all part of the tradition -- ABC's cameras zoom in on nominees' nervous faces as the envelopes are opened and the winners are revealed.
While it's easy to sometimes give a big eye-roll at some of the more sentimental speeches, the strained smiles of those whose names were not called out, and the overall self-congratulatory tenor of Hollywood's big night, for everyone nominated, the stakes are very high. An Oscar win can change a career almost overnight.
'You Have It for Life'
"What's the payoff of winning an Oscar? It's the prestige, the boost for someone's reputation," said film historian and critic Leonard Maltin. "It means a lot in every possible way -- once you have 'Academy Award-winner' next to your name, you have it for life."
What is coveted is the sense of immortality and career longevity that an Oscar win brings to films, and with an Oscar in hand, the winner secures a place in Hollywood history. Just take a quick look at the films that made the American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Movies" list from 2007. Out of the Top 100 Movies named, more than a quarter had won Best Picture.
Do They Still Matter?
Perhaps the most common criticism lobbied against the Oscars is that they just aren't relevant anymore. In a social media age where everyone's a critic, the authority possessed by the Academy might not have the same kind of sway over movie fans that it once had.
According to an article in the New York Daily News, this is most evident at the box office. Out of the nine films nominated for Best Picture this year, only "The Help" managed to cross the $100 million mark at the domestic box office. While both "The Descendants" and "The Artist" experienced a post-nomination boost, films like "Hugo" and "War Horse" failed to catch the Oscar momentum. However, this could also reflect the ever-changing trend of how audiences view films.
"In the old days, if the timing was right, the Oscars would add to your box office," Maltin said. "Now, you're talking about DVDs, VOD, and downloads -- whether you see it in a theater, or order it online, an Oscar-winning film means money."
It's an Honor Just to Be a Nominee
Ever since the Oscar contenders were announced last month, nominees have flooded talk show couches and press junkets, where they are often asked the inescapable question: "How does it feel to be nominated?" The typical answer? "It's an honor just to be a nominee." While it may be Hollywood cliche, that sentiment certainly holds a lot of truth.
The nominations don't just benefit the A-listers. From costume designers to set decorators, visual effects artists to documentary filmmakers, a nomination means more recognition for work that isn't always celebrated.
"If you are slaving away at a documentary short that may never get shown in a theater, and it gets nominated, then everywhere you go it will be known as an Oscar-nominated short," Maltin said. "Those letters are written in neon."
And what do the Academy Awards mean for the average moviegoer? Despite the parade of precursor awards and the reality of lessening ratings each year, the Oscars are a time for audiences to come together and celebrate the art of film. For many, it's a lifelong tradition.
"I've been watching it since I was 10 or 11 years old, and it's been part of the continuity of my life long before I had any professional involvement," Maltin said. "I'm just a lifelong movie nut -- it's a major event on the yearly calendar for me."
Check out coverage of the 84th Academy Awards on Yahoo! Movies
- Arts & Entertainment
- Leonard Maltin