Oscar night heads into the kitchen

02/20/2013 12:00 AM

02/19/2013 7:47 PM

If food is the universal language, alcohol loosens its tongue. No wonder directors and screenwriters tuck so many food and drink references into their films as a visual shorthand for myriad emotions.

At Sunday's Academy Awards, the nine nominees for best picture gravitate toward the boozy side with a shortage of identifiable vittles on the dinner table (or in the boat). From "Argo" to "Zero Dark Thirty," several characters stay well lubricated, if not well fed.

What's an Oscar-viewing party host to do?

Go with the flow and throw a film-themed cocktail party. Guests can dress up, soak in a little televised glamour and maybe channel some of the Golden Globes' table-hopping spirit while watching the latest Oscar winners as they gasp and cry.

Amid clinking glasses, bite-size snacks make perfect Oscar party munchies. They can be literate odes or humorous twists to the nominees. Just don't forget the popcorn!

"Silver Linings Playbook" offers the one slam-dunk for Sunday's Oscar menus: crabby snacks. These '70s-style appetizers mix melted cheese spread and crab on toasted English muffins, cut into quarters. As well-intentioned moms know, this is the kind of food that can make hearts melt, too.

Producer David Russell got a taste of them firsthand before filming began – thanks to Anne Cappelletti, mother of football great John Cappelletti (1973 Heisman winner and running back for the Rams and Chargers).

Anne Cappelletti lives in the Philadelphia neighborhood that served as the movie's location. According to Russell, she invited him over to her house and served him "crabby snacks and homemades."

Culinary movie stars were born as both became part of "Silver Linings Playbook," which is nominated for eight Academy Awards.

Such homespun food is the way Jacki Weaver's movie mom tries to unite son (Bradley Cooper) and husband (Robert De Niro), who only see eye-to-eye while watching Philadelphia Eagles football games. (Along with best actress nominee Jennifer Lawrence, all are up for Oscars.)

"Homemades" are homemade egg noodles, a Sunday favorite for Italian American families in Philadelphia. They go well with braciole – thin slices of beef wrapped around cheese stuffing and fried, then topped with tomato sauce. (It's another specialty from Weaver's movie kitchen.)

Matthew Quick, author of the book that inspired the movie, is a big fan of crabby snacks. But he didn't use "homemades" in his novel. Instead, his fictional football-loving family eats homemade three-meat pizza with ground beef, chicken and sausage.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" offers a whole Southern-fried spread of finger food ideas. It's main character is named Hushpuppy, an imaginative young girl who copes with rising floodwaters in her swampland home. (Quvenzhané Wallis, now age 9, is a best actress contender.)

Hushpuppies – little fried cornmeal balls – along with spicy deep-fried shrimp, catfish and chicken nuggets could satisfy any Southern-loving beasts on Oscar Night. Like Hushpuppy's dad, wash 'em down with Miller High Life.

Also ripe with Southern inspiration are "Django Unchained" and "Lincoln." Both hark back to 1800s history in very different ways.

"Django Unchained," Quentin Tarentino's payback movie about a slave's quest to gain freedom for himself and his wife, is spiked with Old West-style barroom action plus a meat-and-mashed potatoes dinner scene.

Likewise, "Lincoln" features some heavy drinking by shady characters who are inclined to chew the fat, but otherwise this Civil War drama offers little grist for the Oscar Night menu.

What about the real-life Abe?

According to historians, President Abraham Lincoln was pretty indifferent about dinner and often forgot to eat. His likes were simple: bacon, apples and strong coffee. He nibbled on grapes and loved gingerbread men, a childhood treat.

This year's other nominees for best picture spice up the evening with international flair.

Set mostly adrift on the Pacific Ocean, "Life of Pi" could inspire any number of curry spiced-fish tidbits, served with naan. How about grilled tiger shrimp on skewers? Or make it "Life of (Pizza) Pie" for a punny alternative.

In a salute to "Les Misérables," let them eat French bread. Better yet, baguettes – smeared with paté or cheese – served with red wine. Imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread, Jean Valjean (best actor nominee Hugh Jackman) should have had it so good.

Such French comfort food could go a long way with "Amour," the French- language nominee for best picture. But nobody has an appetite in this sad story of an elderly couple dealing with the wife's debilitating strokes.

Detailing one agent's relentless pursuit of Osama bin Laden, "Zero Dark Thirty" also doesn't do much for one's appetite. Best actress nominee Jessica Chastain's CIA agent Maya mindlessly consumes french fries and beef jerky as she focuses on one goal.

Real-life Middle East intrigue also provides the backdrop for "Argo," which recounts the creative efforts (via a fake movie production) to rescue six Americans secretly holed up in the Canadian embassy during the 1979 hostage crisis.

Led by Ben Affleck, the pseudo-filmmakers enjoy their scotch. With their Canadian hosts, the Americans keep their spirits up with red wine around the dinner table.

For that Middle Eastern flair, kebabs are a natural served with naan (or pita) bread, yogurt, tomatoes, cucumbers and – a Persian staple – eggplant; basmati rise optional. For dessert: baklava.

So, what will Oscar winners be eating?

For the 19th consecutive year, Wolfgang Puck will be in charge of the Academy's Governors Ball, the official after-Oscar dinner party.

His menu: smoked salmon "Oscars," chicken pot pie with shaved black truffles and mini Kobe burgers with aged cheddar.

And of course, Puck will make some California pizzas to pass around. It's just not Oscar night without it.

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