February 15, 2011
How to throw a Jewish Oscar party
With so many famous Jewish names among the Academy Awards nominees this year—Coen, Cohen, Eisenberg, Aronofsky, Sorkin and Newman, to name a few—it seems like a good time for a Jewish Oscar party.
But how to make an Oscar party Jewish?
In case someone like Joan Rivers asks what I’ll be wearing, I have my total Jewish designer outfit pressed and ready: Calvin Klein pants, Ralph Lauren shirt and Dov Charney (American Apparel) T-shirt. But that’s not going to be nearly enough.
Should there be a set order and ritual, like the seder? Or, like Purim, an evening filled with costumes, beauty pageants, shouting at bad guys and lots to drink?
Do I need a red carpet or a black-and-white tallit?
Clearly I needed help. Who ya gonna call?
No, not Ghostbusters.
Rabbi Sara Goodman, a Los Angeles chaplain, has been holding Oscar parties for almost 25 years, even through rabbinic school.
“I can’t say that I am at my holiest during the party,” Goodman told JTA. “But I do see the show as a holy event,” she added with a note of melodrama.
Her parties feature a nice buffet, and a friend brings Oscars ballots. And then there are the tableaus: Goodman makes sure her table is graced each year with a few thought-provoking, Oscar-related creations that keep her guests guessing.
“One year I had a Koran on the table,” she recalls. “It was for the movie ‘Babel.’ ”
Another year Goodman put out a Princess Diana mug, a royal collector’s spoon and a soap box with Buckingham Palace pictured on it. That was in 2007, when director Stephen Frears’ “The Queen” was nominated in three categories. Helen Mirren won the Best Actress award.
With Jewish actress Natalie Portman up for an award Feb. 27, I asked my special-effects friend Stuart Ziff for an idea for my table.
Ziff worked in the first three “Star Wars” movies, and in 1982 he won a Technical Achievement Academy Award. He picked up the little-known industry honor, which is handed out at a special ceremony and dinner prior to the Oscars, for the “motion picture figure mover”—a device that was used to animate a puppet of ET in the famous scene when the extraterrestrial and Elliott ride a bicycle into the air in front of the moon.
I was in the hands of a maker of movie magic.
To honor Portman, who was nominated for Best Actress for her role in “Black Swan,” Ziff suggested a goose made of chopped liver.
“Maybe we can figure out a way to make it move,” he said, again showing his award-winning chops.
“Maybe it doesn’t need to move,” I responded, thinking the chopped liver sculpture could double as an hors d’oeuvres.
Now that I had table art and food, what about the awards?
The pre-show Oscar balloting, the heart of any real Oscar party, gives the guests a shot at voicing their opinions and picking the winners. Could I call them the Mazels? What would be my categories: Best Jewish actor who had a bar mitzvah? Best actress who identifies as being Jewish? Best name variation of Cohen? Best screenplay with characters who are not stereotypically Jewish?
Things were getting complicated, so I needed to consult with someone who could put things in perspective. I called my uncle, a Director’s Guild member who votes for the Academy Awards and has won an Emmy for Best Director.
“I agonize over the process,” Alexander Singer said.
In the Best Picture category, Singer said he was torn between “Inception,” which he loved for its inventiveness; “The Social Network,” for its great characters; and “The Kings Speech,” for great storytelling.
How to decide? Change the ballot.
On my rejiggered Jewish ballot, if I recast the category a bit, the answer became easy: Best movie featuring the portrayal of a character who had a bar mitzvah but now considers himself an atheist (so what’s new?), and though he invented a new form of social media seems coolly distant just like your crazy cousin who sits in front of the computer all day.
The envelope please?
(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. He sees the Hollywood sign every morning as he walks out the door to get the paper.)