The show of shows

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Tuesday 5 Mar 2024


 A year in the making, costing millions, involving thousands, it is the most anticipated, exaggerated, over-estimated annual event in the world of entertainment.

A glitzy, glamorous flight of fantasy, it is watched by tens of millions of people in 200 countries.

At age 96, it may have lost some of its lustre, but it remains the biggest, richest, loudest Hollywood party of the year.

It is, without a doubt, the greatest show of razzle-dazzle, gloss and glitter, known as the night of the Oscars.

Satin and lace are being aired and displayed in vibrant colours and fetching styles at every couture house.

Armani and Co are pondering on ways to revamp that imperturbable, staid, black and white tuxedo.

Make-up artists are madly mixing and matching their powders and pastes with glint and glaze.

Hair-stylists stand at attention with silver scissors and waggish wigs.

Master chefs are furiously baking and cooking around the clock, their sumptuous menus for the big fiesta, which this year includes a whimsical taste of London fare of fish and chips, side by side with lobster and caviar, and so it goes, without rest or respite during Hollywood’s award season.

It started early in January with an average of two dozen celebrations, and now it has reached its peak.

The auditoriums are shut, the votes are in, the red carpet is rolled; the show of shows begins.

Within hours Tinseltown will turn into Fairyland, sprinkling gold on its elite residents.

The air is thick with great expectations and anxieties as fortunes ride on a tiny gilded statuette, fondly known as Oscar.

What does a win mean to the movie industry, to stars, agents, producers, directors, writers, studios, theatre-owners, streamers, etc? Money.

Widely considered the highest honour in the film industry, an Oscar win is a cherished title to precede the name of its owner, equal to nobility, much like the Nobel Prize.

Of course, not all winners are stars and not all stars are winners.

Academy members have been chastised for overlooking such luminaries as Charlie Chaplin, Richard Burton, Peter Sellers, Montgomery Clift, among many others. Even when they try to play catch-up with a Life Achievement Award, it is too little, too late.

Many of history’s most revered actors never got their hands on that bald and naked little man, who only glitters like gold, but can be blind as a bat.

The major goal in Tinseltown is to reach stardom, with or without Oscar. Stars are the stuff the industry dreams of. They market the films, sell the tickets, fill the seats, grace the pages of magazines, social media, and TV screens. Without the stars’ fame and flourish, the mega-bucks reaped by the industry would disappear.

Who makes the stars? We do. We flock to them, idolise them, emulate them and cannot get enough of them.

What makes the stars? Stars are deified by a frivolous world and the reason is invariably elusive.

Seeking that mercurial, invisible quality that forms the stellar attributes of film stars, we come up empty. We know not what it is; we do know what it is not.

It is not beauty; it is not talent; it is not visibility; it is not hard work, neither is it a combination of one or any of those traits.

This je ne sais quoi remains a je ne sais quoi, perplexing, enchanting, esoteric, bewildering, and magnetic. Some call it charisma, some call it chemistry. Or is it witchcraft? Whatever it is, you cannot be a star without it. So many talents, so many beauties fall by the wayside, if they lack that mesmerising, hypnotic quality.

This pleasurable diablerie costs and we have to pay.

Salaries of movie stars have more than doubled in the last decade.

Tom Cruise remains constantly on top of the heap, demanding $30-40 million for one of his impossible missions. He has recently been surpassed by Dwayne Johnson (the Rock), who received $50 million for his movie Red One, a head scratcher.

Depending on contractual deals Keanu Reeves beats them with a $156 million take for the first two episodes of The Matrix. Not one of them ever received an Oscar.

Sandra Bullock received $70 million for a film you may have never seen, Gravity, a 2013 science fiction thriller, thrilling no one but Bullock.

Oscar does not a star make.

The American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences created a monster 96 years ago, fed annually by more hyperbole, publicity and controversy, adding an immeasurable steady growth to its value.

This year there is little competition or confusion. The guessing game is over and the uncontested favourite is Oppenheimer nominated for 13 Oscars and is likely to sweep the major categories and then some.

The only question in Hollywood is whether the academy will grant Emma Stone a second Oscar for Poor Things fter her less than lustrous performance in La La Land (2016) or will it go to Lily Gladstone, a native American actress playing a native American heiress in Killers of the Flower Moon.

A hopping, popping night for some, Oscar night is a long, dark night for many.

Losers can find comfort in the words of Bernard Shaw:

“I dread success. To have succeeded is to have finished one’s business in this world.”

Besides his Nobel Prize, Shaw won an Oscar for writing the screenplay for Pygmalion in 1939.

Hear. Hear.


“In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants and the other is getting it.”

  Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

* A version of this article appears in print in the 7 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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