How to throw a blockbuster Oscar party
By Anthony Breznican, USA TODAY
There’s no need for a red carpet, though you could certainly run out to the local rug distributor to grab one for the front porch.
The key to a successful Oscar party is not really glitz. It’s capturing some of what the Academy Awards are supposed to honor – creativity.
TEST YOURSELF: Play USA TODAY’s Oscar Jeopardy game
GET COOKING: Wolfgang Puck’s chicken pot pie recipe
PARTY KIT: Get great ideas here
GET THE CONNECTION: How the nominees relate to the presenters
Though most people who watch Sunday’s telecast will do it from their own couches, others have found ways to turn the Oscars into an event. It’s not hard.
A few cleverly named movie-themed dishes, a couple of games, a decent TV and copious enthusiasm are all that’s needed. You don’t have to be Wolfgang Puck– although he’s here to help.
“This year we have a great menu, and it’s a lot of things people can do at home,” says the celebrity chef, who creates the dinner each year for the post-Oscars Governors Ball. “Our main course is a twist on the chicken pot pie with black truffles. But you don’t have to spend $1,000 on a pound of black truffles,” he adds, though that’s what he’ll be doing.
Puck is known for his chocolate mini Oscar statuettes, dusted in 24K gold. Because that is also outside most people’s party budget, he suggests baking cookies in Oscar shapes, using a printed-out silhouette of the trophy. The treats can either be decorated beforehand or by the guests themselves.
“Everybody loves to take home a few Oscars,” he says.
The key, as with any party, is good food, and the Academy Awards make dressing it up easy.
“We’re doing Up-cakes, instead of cupcakes,” says Misty Wagner, 33, of Boise, drawing inspiration from Pixar’s animated best-picture contender.
She is hosting an old-fashioned sleepover party for 12 friends the night of the show. Girls only – no guys allowed – which means even her husband will be persona non grata.
“He will take my daughter and go hang with the guys,” she says. “As long as they’re back the next morning.”
There will be a formal four-course meal, but Wagner chose the sleepover theme because it contrasts with the formality of the Academy Awards.
“Pajamas are required,” she says. “I wanted people to feel comfortable as possible, but I also love to cook. So it’s complete opposites. You’re sitting there eating gourmet food in your pajamas while watching the Oscars. Hopefully it’ll be fun. I tried to think of something that would be interesting and fun to people who don’t care about the movie aspect.”
Drinking it all in
Libations are also a helpful ingredient to most Oscar soirees. Anne Francis, 38, of Seattle has been hosting an Oscar party for 18 years and takes pride in matching cocktails to the nominated movies.
“In 1995, my dad had the idea to create Tang martinis in honor of Apollo 13. Since then, I’ve made themed drinks. Not just made-up drinks with cutesy names – I scour the Web and recipes to find actual drinks that either the name or the ingredients suggest the movie,” she says.
“Sometimes the drinks are huge successes: Roberto Benigni Bellini forLife Is Beautiful or the Sunny D Screwdriver for Juno,” Francis says. “Sometimes they are horrible. Car Crash for Crash– no one drank it.”
Since everyone wants to go home a winner on Oscar night, it’s worth planning on a few games. The only must: Print out an Oscar ballot and have everyone vote. Lay down some cash (for entertainment purposes only, of course) if you must.
Don’t let people grumble about not being sure who to pick for best documentary short. That adds an element of risk, since the major categories are often so easy to guess.
There are a plethora of other possible games.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences even offers its own bingo cards (oscars.org/awards/academyawards/partykit/index.html). Instead of numbers, they list things likely to unfold during the ceremony: “Music cuts off speech” and “Male winner with no tie” are a few. Line up enough of them and … “That’s a BINGO!” … as supporting-actor nominee Christoph Waltz declares in Inglourious Basterds.
(The academy has a lot of other features in its Oscar Party Kit at that site, including recipes and a shopping list that includes such necessities as table linens, candles and flower containers. And it has an impressive list of trivia questions, such as: “Who is the only Oscar to win an Oscar?” The answer: Oscar Hammerstein II for best song in 1941 and 1945.)
Connecting the dots
The producers of the Oscar show, Bill Mechanic and Adam Shankman, say an unofficial guessing game can be made out of the celebrity presenters they’ve assigned to introduce particular nominees.
The showmen have chosen presenters who have a past connection to the person they’re introducing.
Think of it as Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (hold the Bacon.)
“It’s ‘Can you get the connection?’ ” Mechanic says. “Maybe there was a movie 18 years ago. … I like that you’re sitting there going, ‘Hmmm.’ ”
One just-announced presenter is Jake Gyllenhaal, a natural to introduce his sister, Crazy Heart’s Maggie Gyllenhaal, in the supporting-actress category.
That one would be easy.
“And some will be extremely obvious,” adds Shankman, pointing at Mechanic. “But he likes the ‘Where’s Waldo’ of it all.”
Mechanic promises some others will be head-scratchingly obscure, and the producers don’t plan to reveal the connections at the bottom of the screen.
“That’s what buzz is about,” Mechanic says.
It’s also what drinking games are about.
Perhaps the champion Oscar games master is Richard Horrmann, 40, of Long Beach, Calif., who annually turns Academy Awards weekend into a kind of holiday.
“I have it the night before and call it All Oscar’s Eve,” says Horrmann, a former radio reporter who would frequently be covering the telecast the night of the show. Now he’s a manager of broadcast publicity for Disney-ABC Television, helping promote such shows as Lost and Modern Family, and, once a year, his favorite – the Academy Awards.
Games people play
He maintains the night-before tradition for friends who still have to work the Oscars.
“It started out as a gathering of friends and party people, but it had a trivia element to it. And over the years the trivia has become more dominant,” Horrmann says with a laugh. “It’s now more of a trivia competition with party elements.”
He creates as many as four full boards of Jeopardy-style movie questions, has his own buzzers, and even works in video and music questions with his TV and stereo. Prizes are DVDs, soundtracks and other movie-related gifts, but his film-buff guests compete mainly for glory. Horrmann encourages the fierceness while also trying to keep the mood festive.
Every year he has a red carpet installed from the street to the front door of his home on the second floor of a duplex.
“I had a lot of strange stares the first year from neighbors,” he says. “Of course, since there was a lot of money involved to get that red carpet, I’ve saved it. All eight pieces of it.”
Who’s that on the red carpet?
And what’s a red carpet without a celebrity … (cough) impersonator?
“One year I had a Joan Rivers impersonator interviewing the guests as they arrived,” Horrmann says. “We had a feed going up to the television in the living room, so people who were already there could watch the arrival of the other guests being interviewed by Joan Rivers.”
Past years have featured Sweeney Todd, Dolly Parton (when she had a song nominated for Transamerica) and Borat.
Horrmann says the Borat impersonator was built more like the character’s portly sidekick, Azmat, and probably revealed more to the guests than they would have liked when he emerged midway through the get-together in that neon green, over-the-shoulder thong.
Last year, Horrmann hired a Joker impersonator (with a henchman) for The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger’s supporting-actor nomination. “He busted through the front door and acted as though he was there to hold up the place, which nobody really believed – but they were surprised,” Horrmann says. “He really did a great job with the makeup, so everybody wanted to take a photo with him.”
This year, his invitations looked like American Airlines boarding passes, in honor of Up in the Air. But he has Avatar in mind for the celebrity guest.
“The challenge has been to figure out how to get a Na’vi into my home without getting blue makeup all over the furniture.”