Monday, March 8, 2010

And the Oscar for worst party goes to:

I haven't seen one Oscar-nominated film from 2009, not one. I might be wrong, but I don't recall watching even one flick that had a chance of winning anything on Sunday night. Plenty of mainstream movies get nominated for the sound categories and costuming, but I've missed every one of them. It's not that I boycott those flicks, I just don't get out to the movies much.

But being a sucker for an event, I entered to win tickets to an Oscar party at Theatres at Mall of America. Yep, the movie theater at that bastion of retail gluttony was hosting an Oscar party. I e-mailed an entry, thinking it would be a nice evening out for my girlfriend. I'm not sure how many people were intrigued by the idea of watching the Oscars on a movie screen, but I won two tickets.

I went to an Oscar party several years ago, the big party in Minneapolis. I won tickets to that party, too, and took the girlfriend of the time. That party is an annual fundraising event that draws a good crowd. We had a good time at that party.

Flash forward to 2010, I'm going to a party at a movie theater. I didn't expect it to measure up to the big gala, but I figured it would be fun. I was wrong.

The MOA theaters opened, with the mall, more than 17 years ago. At the time it was impressive: 14 screens in an over-sized mall. Within a few years we had 16- and 20-screen theaters opening around the Twin Cities, many with stadium seating. The mall theaters looked lame in comparison, yet mall ticket prices were among the highest in the Twin Cities.

The theaters had been part of a chain, but a few years ago they went independent. Under the new, independent ownership the theaters have been revamped a bit. There's now a VIP theater. It has nice, wide seats, cocktail tables and a waitstaff. You have to be 21 to view a movie in the VIP theater, as they serve beer and wine. It has been years since I went to a movie at that theater, and the idea of paying a premium for VIP tickets, just for the privilege of buying a beer during a movie, has little appeal to me.

But Sunday night I sat in that precious theater, watching free TV. I'm not sure if they've held an Oscar party in the theater previously, but the idea makes sense. People go to the movies during Oscar night, but given it's a Sunday, chances are attendance in the VIP theater would be less than capacity. On Oscar night, why not open it up and cater to those who love Hollywood?

Since it was a free party, I wasn't expecting free cocktails. But I would have thought they'd offer complimentary hors d'œuvres. I was wrong.

There are some nice restaurants in the mall, and others that are a step above the food court. You'd think they would have lined up one of those restaurants to provide complimentary munchies for the party. On a Sunday night, during the Oscars, how busy could one mall restaurant be? Why not give away some product and promote your restaurant? It might not have done the restaurant much good, but it would have benefited the theater to do so.

Without complimentary hors d'œuvres, we ordered a couple of munchies off the theater menu. It may be a VIP theater, but the food is definitely coach class. Choices included hot dogs, pizza, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, popcorn, jumbo pretzels and French fries. We ordered overpriced French fries and mozzarella sticks. The French fries were adequate, at best, and the sticks were subpar. I thought all mozzarella sticks were created equal, but the MOA theater proved that you can sell crappy sticks.

We also ordered drinks, although not the champagne or champagne coolie drink they were selling. They had some sort of bar set up at the front of the theater, although I didn't see anyone buying a drink up there. It looked like there were a lot of bottles of champagne chilling up there, and plenty of them left at the end of the night. As you'd expect, being served alcohol in a movie theater is a privilege you pay for. We spent about $40 on food/drink, and I didn't exactly over-tip.

The party was sponsored by Metromix, a website that has all sorts of restaurant and entertainment information for numerous cities around the country. The site is owned by the parent company of our local NBC affiliate. We arrived shortly before the ceremony started, although the theater opened its doors to Oscar VIPs at 6 p.m.

The weathercaster of all trades at NBC-11 was the host of the party early on. During commercials he would get up and ask Oscar trivia for prizes. I'm not very good at Oscar trivia, so I had little chance of winning a prize. We also received a raffle ticket, as there were prizes given away randomly.

At some point after the ceremony started the weathercaster slipped out, leaving some Metromix woman to conduct the prize giveaways during the commercials, which inexplicably featured Michael Jackson as the background music all night long. The weathercaster was less than charismatic as the emcee, but Ms. Metromix nearly sucked the life out of the party. She wasn't terrible, but she was far from a natural, and she insisted on plugging her damn website throughout the night.

Everybody in attendance received a gift bag, which contained a few product samples, a soundtrack CD from one of the flicks, two tickets to the mall's comedy club and a couple of other random items. Nothing special, but not terrible, either. My girlfriend and I both won a raffle prize. We received a DVD of a recent 2-star movie, a promotional T-shirt too small for just about any adult male in the United States and a Metromix notebook. It was nice to win something, but we didn't win much.

At the end of the night they drew tickets for VIP theater tickets, as well as gift cards for the mall, but I assume we were out of the running since we had already won a prize. Thanks Metromix, we were able to leave 60 seconds before everyone still in the running. Way to buzzkill the big prize drawing at the end.

What should have been a showcase for the mall and the theater was a rather dull Oscar party that has given me no incentive to return to the mall for a VIP experience any time soon. When it comes to hosting an Oscar party, Theatres at Mall of America earned a Razzie.

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