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The Oscar for Best Party . . .


(By Michael Temchine For The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 22, 2008; Page WE26

Now that the Oscars are back on, everyone's happy -- none more so than Nancy Hwa.

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And Seth Hurwitz. And Kate Andrews. And Lisa Klisch. And so many other folks in the Washington area, not to mention this country and the whole tuned-in world, for whom watching the Oscars means putting on their own kind of show, lavish or modest, for friends.

Sure, many of us have other annual huddle-round-the-TV traditions: the Super Bowl, March Madness, the Thanksgiving Detroit Lions game or New Year's Eve in Times Square. But the Oscars, airing Sunday on ABC, have a special quality. It's our window into a special world where everyone is living the American dream and parading on the red carpet to prove it.

"I love sporting events as much as anybody," says Andrews, 33, a magazine editor in Richmond who has her own Academy Awards soiree for anywhere from five to 15 pals. "But not my girlfriends as much. Plus there's the dress-up part [of having an Oscar party] that's really fun."

" You try getting good-looking women to come to a March Madness party," says Hurwitz, 49, who owns and runs the 9:30 club. His party, hosted with his wife, Caroline, 46, draws scores of friends; the annual roll call often climbs upward of 60. But the numbers aren't what count. Hwa, 45, who works for a nonprofit firm in downtown Washington, has a select circle of four or five, for instance.

For them and other hosts, it's about the fun factor and the sense of vicarious immersion: to feel somehow connected to the glam and glitz unfolding on the plasma screen. If the Hollywood stars on the red carpet are beautiful, then so are we! (Yes, more champagne, dahling.) And if their Oscar de la Rentas cost more than we earn in a year, we are not jealous. Our jeans or off-the-rack Ann Taylor shifts serve us just fine, thank you.

Besides, if we do feel excluded, a trifle jealous, why, we have the option of couch potato ridicule. You know, "Mystery Science Theater" catcalling time. What is Beyonce wearing, a designer sausage skin? Who do we have to bind and gag to stop those horrible song-and-dance numbers? ("How frightening is it," Hwa wrote in one of her witty e-mail invitations for her party, "that 'Norbit' actually has a chance of calling itself 'Oscar-winning'?")

What's involved in these homebound bashes? A little planning, thought and creativity -- just enough to make for a fun evening but not so much the hosts feel like professional wedding planners.

Most often, there is theme food, as in liver with fava beans and a nice chianti to honor fictional cannibal Hannibal Lecter's special recipe in "The Silence of the Lambs." Or "chicken Parmesan masquerading as veal Parmesan," a wry metaphor for the deceitful character at the center of "The Talented Mr. Ripley," courtesy of Tracy Brown, a screenwriter in Los Angeles, who gives her own parties in the very heart of Tinseltown.

Last year, the Oscar fiesta at the Fairfax home of 30-somethings Klisch and husband David Sedlak included a "Flags of Our Fathers" pizza (white cheese stars on a field of blue cheese) and, in 2006, a platter of olive penguins for "March of the Penguins." They have a 10-year tradition of such movie-related dishes. (Candy cigarettes for "The Insider," sushi for "Lost in Translation" and "Finding Nemo," etc.) And this year, Hwa's au courant offerings will include borscht for "Eastern Promises" and blood sausage to commemorate -- you guessed it -- "There Will Be Blood."

Also at Oscar parties are knickknacks: maybe posters on the wall or a plastic Oscar perched atop the TV. At Hwa's Arlington HQ, there's a full-size Darth Vader figurine looming in the living room. And then there's the red carpet unfurled majestically over a very suburban driveway -- a long-standing (or long-lying) tradition chez Hurwitz.

Some, like Andrews, have a dress code: Come as your favorite star or movie. Andrews's favorite year? When everyone suited up in "The Aviator" gear. The idea behind wearing costumes, of course, is transformation. Isn't that what going to the movies is all about?


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