And the Award Goes to . . . the Iceberg Lettuce

Mary Susan Herczog is an occasional contributor to Calendar

The votes are tallied and now all that remains is to decide what to bring to my annual Oscar-watching party, which is perhaps an even more serious business. Guests must bring food eaten in or suggested by one of this year's nominated movies--nominated for anything, assuming you actually know what was nominated for a technical award or animated short subject.

Longtime guests scrutinize movies as earnestly as the critics do, thinking not Top 10 List, but Party Snacks. Sure, it's amusing, but always having this goal in the back of your mind means never looking at movies the same way again. Take "Boogie Nights," for example, and the climactic moment when Mark Wahlberg, as tremendously endowed porn star Dirk Diggler, finally shows us his talent.

The average moviegoer views this scene and thinks "Dear Lord!" or, conversely, "That is so fake." The serious film scholar immediately begins analyzing the semiotics of the shot.

Me? I'm thinking "foot-long hot dogs!"

After a number of years and an increasing amount of pun-obsessed attendees, this party has spiraled so out of control that it has spawned an East Coast version, for certain geographically challenged guests. In exchange for co-opting the concept, their food ideas get ruthlessly ripped off for this article. It seems only fair.

But before we get to suggestions for this year, let's have a quick recap of the party fare spawned by the 1997 awards.

There was a small ham, which the film crew (oh, yes) persisted in identifying as a symbol of bad Hollywood acting, despite our gentle corrections that it really was a stand-in for the "baked funeral meats" line from "Hamlet." Not to mention a pun on the title. (Though it is so tempting to steal that joke, and this year serve a really big ham in honor of "Good Will Hunting" nominee Robin Williams.)

For "Fargo," there was chipped thief, er, beef. The pregnant sheriff would have appreciated the pickles and ice cream. Curiously, many attendees thought they would bring red-colored snowballs (the winter landscape gets gory during the movie), then they all decided that was too obvious, and so one and all opted to support underdog "Sling Blade" by bringing biscuits, complete with mustard. A moment of synchronicity that may explain Billy Bob Thornton's somewhat surprising best screenplay win. Karl would have been dissatisfied though--there were no "fried pataters."

"Secrets & Lies" brought out the black-and-white cookies (deli and Oreos), while "The People vs. Larry Flynt" produced cheesecake and tarts. Of course there was warm milk and Sominex for "Sleepers." Green Jell-O, standard hospital food, fed "The English Patient," though jokes about blackened food were kept to a nearly tasteful minimum.

A "Birdcage" filled with toast allowed guests to practice "schmearing like a man." We also had what "Jerry Maguire" director-screenwriter Cameron Crowe referred to as the "never stop loving me" (that's the family newspaper version) strawberries. Gold-foil-covered chocolate coins showed guests the money.

Now to this year.

"Titanic" got a nearly infinite number of nominations, and appropriately, the possibilities suggested by it number similarly. It's a long film, after all. (And since the movie turned out not all that bad and is, so we hear, making some money, we don't even have to recycle those "Waterworld" too-expensive and slightly-stinky-fish jokes.)

First of all, serve water. Lots and lots of water. On the rocks, of course. Then there's salad, with iceberg lettuce and a side of Blue Diamond almonds. Follow up with that diner favorite, Adam and Eve on a Raft and Wreck 'Em. The character Jack said he didn't care for caviar, but your guests might. And for dessert, Ben & Jerry's Phish Food. Do, however, skip the PCP-laced lobster chowder. (Goodness knows the film crew members wish they had.)

Meanwhile, the guest who previously distinguished himself by not only bringing a green salad dubbed "The Romaines of the Day" but living to tell about it suggests a batch of fish and chips called "Nearer My Cod to Thee." With that, his luck may have finally run out.

Of course you could just do a punch bowl with a large chunk of ice. But spike it with rum punch--the name of the book "Jackie Brown" was based on. Speaking of the latter, chocolate lovers will be thrilled with either Jackie Brownies--or Her Majesty, Mrs. Brownies.

Naturally, you must honor "The Full Monty" with the heftiest bratwurst or kielbasa you can find. Chase it down with a bunch of Coke--we mean the liquid kind, unlike the kind the characters from "Boogie Nights" indulge in. Salute those hard-boiled detectives from "L.A. Confidential" with some hard-boiled eggs. Or how about Dove bars and chicken winglets for "Wings of the Dove"? Unrecognized geniuses in the crowd will welcome baked beans, assuming they come from the Boston area as did "Good Will Hunting."

By the way, lack of nominations for "The Postman" (there's a surprise) saves us from having to get some kind of mail-order meat and enduring the inevitable delays in shipping.

Any dish you serve should be "As Good as It Gets"--and serve any dogs who attend that fancy bowl of chopped roast beef and bacon enjoyed by the movie's dog. You can also see who likes warm rolls and hard-shell crabs. Your obsessive-compulsive guests can bring their own plastic dinner ware. Plus, they probably won't have forgotten Jack Nicholson's exact habitual diner order.

Unfortunately, we did--see? You need to bring a notebook if you're going to play this game--but it had something to do with a short stack and eggs. You also have to hold it between your legs and . . . oh, wait. That was another diner order from another Nicholson movie.

We told you this was serious business.

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