Until my kids reached their teen years, watching the Academy Awards show — the Oscars — ranked right up there with Thanksgiving and the 4th of July.
Like all venerated holidays, there are foods associated with the show. At our house, turkey and dressing are Thanksgiving essentials, fried chicken with ripe cherries must be eaten to properly celebrate Independence Day and spaghetti with hearty Italian sausage and red sauce makes a command performance for Oscar-viewing.
The goal of any art form is to generate an emotional reaction in the viewer. That applies to food, too. Since movies are designed to draw out emotion, spaghetti, the world’s greatest comfort food, is the natural partner when considering a menu.
This could be pure perversity on my part — spaghetti and red sauce would be the last thing a starlet would order if she was worried about spilling on that white chiffon gown.
But watching the show from our couch peanut gallery, comfy in sweats and ogling divas and starlets with their designer get-ups and flashy jewelry, no stately golden men can be doled out without a bowl of spaghetti warming our laps.
Matching movies with food when all you want is spaghetti
Unfortunately, as Academy Awards season gets rolling, there’s a great flailing by food writers to design menus reflecting the nominated movies’ themes.
Personally, I think Oscar meal matching suggestions are like mother-daughter Lilly Pulitzer outfits. Floridly in your face, they try too hard to curate an assortment of foods that have only a tenuous connection. It’s cute, but will we remember a flick better if we’re eating Mystic Pizza while watching it?
Even so, I made a half-hearted attempt to match this year’s Best Picture nominees to meals:
Belfast: In this coming-of-age drama about actor/director Kenneth Branagh’s childhood in Northern Ireland, take your pick between Irish stew or colcannon and champ — the Irish take on British “bubble and squeak,” a mix of mashed potatoes and whatever veggies linger in your fridge. Like Branagh’s diction, fry it together until the ingredients are nearly unrecognizable.
CODA: In another coming-of-age drama, a child of deaf adults grows up in a fishing community in Gloucester, Massachusetts. In this working class, fishy setting, fish and chips are a no-brainer.
Don’t Look Up: An asteroid is plummeting to Earth and no one is going to divert it; in fact, everyone pretends it doesn’t exist. If we’re in End Days (and who knows, at the moment), a free fall in the grocery store would be a stress reliever. Shop like it’s the end of the world — you won’t be around to pay the credit card bill when the statement arrives.
Drive My Car: In this Hiroshima-based version of Anton Chekov’s play, “Uncle Vanya,” there’s a lot of angst about life and death. Since it’s in Japan, sushi might be your first thought, but longevity noodles offer more hope. It depends on your mood.
Dune: A hostile fantasy universe plays host to gigantic sandworms and a psychic drug called Spice so let’s skip ahead and eat dessert. Gummy worms in a cup of Oreo-cookie dirt might lighten the movie’s tone.
King Richard: In this saga about tennis royals Venus and Serena Williams’ father, Powerade sports drink sipped while holding a 10-pound dumbbell to tone biceps will ace the choice.
Licorice Pizza: The third coming-of-age drama in this year’s line-up, while licorice on pizza sounds unique, if you break it down it’s just fennel seeds, an Italian pizza sauce staple. Fennel bulbs, often labeled anise at grocery stores, are one source of licorice flavor. Go gourmet and strew a thinly sliced fennel bulb over your ‘za.
Nightmare Alley: It’s a psychological film noire loaded with gruesome violence. Steak, ordered rare or black-and-blue, is perfectly in sync.
The Power of the Dog: there isn’t much food consumed in this supposed Oscar frontrunner centered on toxic masculinity, but there is a scene where salad is tossed, so let’s go with lots of greens.
West Side Story: In Steven Spielberg’s remake of the 1961 classic reworking of Shakespeare’s play, “Romeo and Juliet,” Tony still loves Maria. Spoiler alert: black beans partnered with a vanilla milkshake and fries are a comforting trio to assuage the flood of tears you know is coming.
But, back to spaghetti
At this point, you may be thinking the spaghetti option sounds intriguing. If so, you’re in good company.
Spaghetti was good enough for Brad Pitt, who skipped the Oscars when his film “Moonlight” was nominated for Best Picture in 2017. He spent the evening slurping pasta at a friend’s house in Los Angeles instead of attending the awards show. Maybe he had performance anxiety, or possibly the lure of a good spaghetti dinner was more tantalizing than putting on a tuxedo and having to sputter out a thank-you speech.
In hindsight, Pitt may have been prescient in anticipating the decline of the public’s taste for Oscar viewing.
According to Esquire, televised audiences for the awards extravaganza have been dropping for years, with the 2020 show drawing a paltry audience of 23.6 million eyeballs, down by 20% from the previous year.
This year, in an effort to regenerate viewers’ interest, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences removed eight categories from the live telecast, relegating those awards to pre-taped clips.
As the mom of two teenagers, I could have predicted this trend.
The last time my family sat down for an Oscar-watching spaghetti fest, Harrison Ford was one of the presenters, a fact about which my teens couldn’t care less. Yes, they’d seen him in Star Wars, but even I had to admit he looked old.
I wanted the volume turned up so I could enjoy every syllable Ford uttered; the teens and my husband began debating the merits of spending three hours watching movie snippets when we hadn’t had time to watch the full movies themselves.
The discussion culminated in a squabble, during which I requested sole possession of the remote control from my husband, which — in tossing it to me — skimmed my son’s bowl of spaghetti and landed with a tomatoey splat next to me on the couch.
Even so, I stubbornly remain firm in my belief that spaghetti and viewing the Academy Awards — should you be inclined — are natural partners.
Movies and comfort food go together like Han Solo and Princess Leia. If you disagree, I’ll toss you the remote control.
A few local spots to source spaghetti and red sauce:
Pellegrini Cucina Italiana, 2400 17th St., Greeley | 970-515-5332, www.pellegrinicucina.com | Take-out only
Cable’s Pub & Grill, 1923 59th Avenue, Greeley | 970-330-4847, www.cablespubandgrill.com
Santeramo’s Pizza House and Italian Food, 1229 10th Ave., Greeley | 970-353-4844, www.santeramos.com
The 94th Academy Awards, hosted by Regina Hall, Amy Schumer and Wanda Sykes, are set to take place at 6 p.m. MDT. Sunday on ABC.