How to Throw a Trophy-Worthy Oscar Party

Oscar party planners' top tips on throwing an over-the-top Academy Awards party.

February 19, 2009, 6:43 PM

Feb. 20, 2009 — -- So your invitation to the Academy Awards got lost in the mail? No worries! Throw an Oscar party, invite some friends over and you can all feel like members of the audience.

"The Oscars is a great excuse to have a party," Lara Shriftman, party planner for the stars and author of "Party Confidential," told

For some folks, it's the party of the year.

CLICK HERE to print an Oscar ballot to pass out at your party.

"There's nothing like the Oscars," said Frank Rizzo, a writer for Variety and the Hartford (Conn.) Courant. "It's sort of like the Super Bowl for people who are into sports. For different types of people, especially people interested in the arts or pop culture, it has such a long tradition."

Like the Super Bowl party, the Oscar party has also become something of a tradition. "We want a sense that we're in that Oscar audience, too, so you have to have a crowd," said Rizzo, who has been hosting Oscar parties since college, some 30-plus years ago.

Kimberly Wade, a 40-year-old office manager from Wilmore, Ky., started her annual Oscar party 10 years ago, when it became clear that her husband did not share her love for Hollywood's biggest night as much as her girlfriends did.

Now, guests at her girls-only event get to walk their own red carpet outside her front door, dress like movie stars and vote on the categories like Academy voters on official ballots.

"It's a great time to get together with my girlfriends," Wade told "It doesn't cost them anything. And it's good clean fun."

Her husband and two children "stay pretty clear of the whole thing," although this year her 11-year-old daughter is excited to show off her "dressy dress" that she got from a local thrift shop.

If you live in Los Angeles and work in the industry like Ava DuVernay does, an Oscar party is de rigueur. This year's party -- her seventh -- has outgrown her home, so she has moved it to a refurbished 230-seat movie theater in downtown Los Angeles.

"Literally every soul I have ever met has been invited to this thing," DuVernay, who owns a media and marketing company, told

An Eclectic Oscar Party Guest List

The guest list is as eclectic as always and includes industry colleagues as well as folks from Compton, where she grew up. "I was looking at the guest list and saying, 'Wow, this is wacky,'" she recalled. "I've got Earle [of Earle's Grill], who started out with a little hot dog cart, next to someone who has an Academy Award."

Shriftman, who has had Oscar parties great and small, also believes in mixing up the guest list. Other than a few dos and don'ts, such as make sure your television works and you have enough comfortable places for people to sit and watch, Shriftman encourages party hosts to get creative.

To help with some ideas, asked Shriftman and the others how they throw an Oscar party:


"When you're having an Oscar viewing party, you want to have one serious area for people who want to view the Oscars and another for people who are socializing -- and that's where you want to keep the food and the drinks," she said.

As for the food, keep it simple and something guests can eat with their hands. "Slumber party or diner food," such as mini grilled cheese sandwiches on skewers, mini hamburgers and pigs in a blanket, always go over well.

Take it from Dani Janssen, who has hosted A-listers Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, Oprah Winfrey and Barbra Steisand for Oscar night: Food is the way to a guest's heart. Shriftman said Janssen cooks her partygoers' favorite foods and then sends them home with a goody bag of leftovers.

Shriftman said even if you're not cooking, you can present the food in a chic way. She likes to put out big containers of popcorn, candy and chips and let guests create their own snack bags to eat during the show.

She recommends keeping the décor simple, sticking to one color theme -- she likes gold -- and splurging on either renting a big-screen television, a photo booth or even a masseuse for the people less interested in watching the show.


"Make it as wacky as possible," she said. "You can't just have people over watching the show."

Poor Economy Means Recession-Proof Pool

Even at the party's new location, DuVernay's guest can expect to get their Polaroid picture taken with Oscar -- from a prop store as they stand on the red carpet (a towel placed strategically next to stanchion ropes). "Everyone wants to go home with a picture of themselves with an Oscar," she said.

In the past, DuVernay has made "theme food," named after the nominated films. This year, she has bought out the concession stand, so there will be free popcorn and Twizzlers for everyone, as well as an open bar.

And, as always, she will have the Oscar pool. Instead of the usual dollar that is required to vote for all the categories, she has created the "recession-proof pool," for just 50 cents.

DuVernay's parties are fun. Her guests watch the celebrities' red carpet arrivals on the cheesiest stations they can find -- one year it was Korean TV. "I always make it a point to invite the comedians, so there's some very callous comments about the dresses," she said.

But when it comes to the speeches, she expects her guests to pipe down. "You have to respect the speech," she said. "I don't care if he is a sound editor, when he gets up and thanks his wife, you've got to listen. He just won the Academy Award."


Each year, Wade sends out formal invitations with a poem incorporating the five Best Picture nominees. This year's read:

THE READER will note that it's that time again! The Best Party of the Year soon will begin!

Despite the FROST lying all around on the ground The excitement for good movies continues to abound!

No need to be a MILLIONAIRE to have lots of fun! There are plenty of great prizes waiting to be won!

You'll be as cute as a BUTTON in costume or gown But highlight your ballot or Kimberly will frown.

So drink plenty of MILK to build up your stamina And help you look great as you smile for the camera!

Wade decorates her house inside and out for the occasion. "It looks like a movie scene spit up all over it," she said.

A red carpet leads up to her front porch where there are two large Oscar statues for her guests to pose next to. All the pictures are collected in an Oscar party scrapbook.

Party Guests Have a Chance to Win, Too

She drapes with red velvet curtains to make it look more like a movie screen and rents fold-up chairs to create rows of seating for her guests; she gets between 10 and 20.

Guests are also asked to dress for the occasion either like a glamorous movie star or a character from one of the films that year. And if they'd rather show up in jeans and sweats, they can come as a moviegoer.

Wade also gives out prizes for best costumes and the partygoer who gets the most winners right on her ballot. The person who gets the least right on her ballot also gets a prize, usually a gift certificate for movie rentals. "Obviously, they need to see more movies," she said.

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