And the Winner Is... St. Louis film fans dish up a night of food and fun in honor of the big “O”

There are so many people I admire in this world, especially those who use their free time to cook fabulous meals for their families and who scrapbook elaborate photo albums commemorating each month of their children’s lives. I often wish I knew how to make homemade birthday cards for my friends or that I was part of a group who volunteers selflessly for worthy causes. But for better or worse, I will probably never be one of these people.

I’m simply too busy going to the movies.

Whenever I have a couple of free hours, I find myself sneaking off the nearest cinema, absolutely content to sit alone with my popcorn and Coke. And as I ring in the new year each January, I think, ‘Only two months until the Oscars!’ Oh, I know that some movie lovers insist that the Academy Awards are bogus, since the best films are so often ignored. But I say: Let’s all just enjoy the party. It’s the only time each year when we can shamelessly celebrate our own love for the cinema and dedicate the entire day to movies! And although I haven’t given up hope of one day attending the big event in person, until then, I plan to celebrate in style right here in St. Louis. Let’s face it, after a year full of scurrying around from one theater to the next, determined to see as many films as possible, I’m ready to let loose – to dust off the boa I keep tucked away in the back of my closet – and locate the nearest red carpet to sashay down.

Out on the town

Cinema St. Louis, the organization that brings us the St. Louis International Film Festival, throws the area’s largest Oscar bash. The glitzy event is part of Oscar Night America – the Oscars’ grassroots charity program – and all the proceeds benefit Cinema St. Louis. This means, of course, that you can celebrate in style, while also supporting a good cause.

The annual event began 11 years ago at Zoë Pan-Asian Café in the Central West End. “It was basically Spago-type pizzas and beer,” said Carrie Houk, chair of the Oscar party and second vice president of Cinema St. Louis. “We got every screen in town that could be donated, and ever since then, we’ve been a sellout. We had people dress as their favorite actor, and I remember Freeman Bosley’s mother – he was the mayor at the time – came as Tina Turner.” After a few years, though, the party outgrew the space. “We’ve been sort of roving ever since, finding bigger and bigger venues,”
she said.

This year, the party will be held at the Moolah Theatre & Lounge – the luxurious, single-screen theater that recently opened on Lindell Boulevard, which has room for 400 guests. Chris Clark, managing and artistic director of Cinema St. Louis, said he’s excited to host the party there, not only because people are interested in finding out more about the theater, but also because it’s so beautiful.

Cinema St. Louis’ operations manager Andrea Sporcic said, “It almost feels like being [at the Kodak Theatre] when you’re in the seats watching the show.” And since it’s sanctioned by the Academy, partygoers will also receive the same booklets as guests at the actual awards.”

Heavy hors d’oeuvres, catered by Remy’s Kitchen and Wine Bar, will be served throughout the evening, and there will also be movie trivia during commercial breaks, a silent auction and a fashion commentator to keep guests thoroughly entertained. But don’t fear: Your boa will fit in just fine. According to Sporcic, the dress code is “Hollywood festive,” which ranges anywhere from sparkly jeans and belts to tuxes and cocktail dresses. For more information on tickets, call Cinema St. Louis at 314.454.0042 or log onto the Web site

Producing your own event

Jonathan Marmon, a food lover and avid cook in Philadelphia, spends the entire day preparing a five-course meal – one course for each of the best picture nominees – which he serves throughout the broadcast. Marmon said, “What I do ends up being a big production, but it’s only for one [guest].” He prepares the meal for his wife, Margo, a mega-movie enthusiast whom Marmon enjoys pampering on Oscar day.

The dishes he prepares may relate to the movie’s title, the characters or the actors – whatever inspires him. For instance, in honor of “Chocolat” a few years ago, he served cocoa-dusted scallops. For the film “Traffic,” he made a tres leche cake and (keeping in mind the drug-centered story line) topped it with a good dose of powdered sugar. Marmon said when possible, he serves dinner with a couple of cocktails. For instance, when “Chicago” was up for best picture, he made a small Chicago deep-dish pizza, served alongside bathtub gin and tonic.

If you’re throwing a large party, Marmon said that you probably won’t want to be cooking during the awards, like he does. As an alternative, you could put together a buffet with international cuisine inspired by nominated films in a variety of categories.

For this year’s nominees, as a tribute to “Finding Neverland,” offer Thai pork, beef or chicken satays as an appetizer, served with Peter Pan Peanut Butter dipping sauce. Or if Italian is more your style, the stretchy limbs of Elastigirl from “The Incredibles” may motivate you to whip up some garlic bread topped with streeeetttcccchy cheese – perfect for the kids (or kids at heart) running around your party.

As a main course, serve an African dish to honor “Hotel Rwanda,” or, if the boxing workouts in “Million Dollar Baby” inspire you to pound on some meat, serve chicken spiedini, another Italian dish that all will enjoy. Finally, since Ray Charles – whose life is brought to the big screen in “Ray” –
was born in Albany, Ga., make a sweet treat with some Georgia peaches. (Peaches are obviously out of season, so you could use peach preserves or jarred or frozen peaches instead.)

Like Marmon, you can also offer your guests libations related to the various films. This year, pay homage to “Sideways” by offering a variety of California wines, which will call to mind the film’s wine tasting road trip. Honor Martin Scorsese’s best picture nomination “The Aviator” by charming your guests with an appropriately named cocktail: The Aviation. This gin-based drink was quite fashionable in the United States during the 1930s – the same time that Howard Hughes was making headlines. And for guests wanting to sip on a nonalcoholic beverage, remember that Hughes himself would probably prefer a bottle of milk, or use the film “Closer” (about two romantically challenged couples living in London) as inspiration to brew up a pot of English tea.

Keeping it simple

If you’re not quite up to preparing such an elaborate buffet, don’t worry, because there are plenty of other ways to throw a memorable shindig. And, best of all, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Local movie enthusiast Phil Steinberg, who has thrown Oscar parties for the past 20 years, said, “When you get a bunch of movie buffs together, they’re going to sit there and look at the lifetime achievement winners and all that stuff and look at the clips and get all excited anyway. So, for many of the years, this party has sort of partied for itself, done itself, without too much work.” He described it as a “junk-food evening” and usually serves foods such as mostaccioli
and chili.

Rob Lammle, founder of The St. Louis Film Club, also hosted a casual Academy Awards get-together last year. “Essentially we sat around talking about the films up for awards, old favorites and some that were so bad (but still good to us) that they never stood a chance of winning anything. It was very informal but a lot of fun nonetheless.” He described the event as “sort of a film geek’s Super Bowl” and said, “We root for movies we like and boo the ones we don’t think deserve the statue.”

To add to the excitement, both Steinberg and Lammle hold a contest to see who can predict the most Oscar winners in each category and keep the tally going all night to see who won. While Steinberg does his by paper ballot, Lammle hosts the contest online at

Oscar-worthy extras

You’ll have to get creative when it comes to dressing up your house for the big event. As far as decorations go, Steinberg said he tried for years to find ones that were fitting but finally concluded that no one has ever gotten the rights to use the Oscar on napkins, tablecloths and plates.

Still, if you’re determined to have Oscar himself represented at your party, for $25 you can order the official Academy Awards poster online at And definitely take a trip to the local fabric store to buy your own red carpet – that way you can surprise your guests by taking photos of them as they walk down it … just like celebrities at the actual event.

And speaking of guests, ask them to come dressed as their favorite character from any of the nominated movies. Then, arrange a costume contest and present the winners with gift baskets, just like the nominees receive before the awards. You could fill one with DVDs starring this year’s nominees.

Or keep the price down and include funny items that relate to the films nominated for best picture. For example, as a tribute to “The Aviator,” encourage the winners to design their own airplanes with a pad of decorative writing paper; in honor of “Sideways,” a bottle of California wine (or even a bag a grapes!) should do the trick; a pair of gloves (even if they aren’t the boxing type) will represent “Million Dollar Baby” quite well; let “Ray” inspire your guests to create their own music on a pocket harmonica (or any other child’s toy instrument); and since “Finding Neverland” star Johnny Depp was born in Owensboro, Ky., home of the International Bar-B-Q Festival, a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce is more than appropriate. For additional laughs, have the “winners” give their own acceptance speeches.

Houk said it’s also important to remember that while there are people who really, really care about watching the event, there also the partiers who may just want to check in now and then to find out who won the big awards. “You have to take care of both crowds,” she said.

Local preparties

If you just can’t wait until Feb. 27 to start celebrating, St. Louis has a couple warm-up events. To start things off, Frederick’s Music Lounge has scheduled a Countdown to the Oscars during its Free Monday Movies. On Feb. 14, spend some “family time” watching “The Godfather” and “The Godfather: Part II,” at 6 and 9 p.m. respectively. Then, on Feb. 21, Frederick’s will present “L.A. Confidential” and “Chinatown,” at 7 and 9:30 p.m.

“Our process for deciding on these [particular films] was to get lists of Oscar winners going back 35 years and essentially arguing the merits of every movie on the list, which took several excruciating hours,” said organizer Steve Chafin. “Our final criteria for selection were 1) great films and 2) films we hadn’t shown before.”

Still craving more movie madness? On Feb. 25 and 26 at 7 p.m., the Webster Film Series has scheduled a special Oscar Weekend Kung Fu Double Feature, including “Master of the Flying Guillotine” and “Enter the Dragon.”

“To be honest, I really don’t like the Academy Awards – even though I watch them every year,” said Mike Steinberg, director of the Webster film series. “Sure, I like to see what the royals (I mean, celebrities) are wearing, and I must admit I like that In Memoriam montage where they show everybody who’s died last year – but I usually get angry and cynical – part of the reason I thought a double feature of unadulterated-Kung Fu action might be nice prep for the ceremony.”

But however you celebrate Tinseltown’s biggest night, be sure not to leave all the fun to the celebrities. After all, there would be no Hollywood without an audience. So give yourselves a big pat on the back for all of the movies you watched this year, wrap that boa firmly around your neck and
start partying!