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How to lighten up your Oscar party

As much as people love their Oscar parties, a cloud of gloom often hangs over them. For all the televised glitz, jokes and gowns, you can't avoid that sometimes the honored movies can be majorly depressing, like Mystic River or Million Dollar Baby. For this year's Academy Awards broadcast (Sun., March 5, 8 p.m., ABC), the slate's pretty much a bunch of downers across the board. Watching angst-ridden clips from the nominated films or hearing acceptance speeches that decry homophobia, racism or terrorism can really undermine your festive get-together.

How to keep the Oscar-nominated films from killing your Oscar party? Creative Loafing proposes the following party games, each inspired by the front-runner films, all designed to find the lightest possible interpretation of the heaviest message movie.

Brokeback Mountain

Number of nominations: 8

Why it's a bummer: The most-likely-to-succeed also happens to be an epic of unhappiness. After their summer of love on the titular mountain, two cowboys can only continue their romance over sporadic "fishing trips" as the decades pass. Meanwhile, they wallow in misery and depress their unsuspecting wives as well. Oh yeah, and someone dies.

How to make it fun: Pitch a tent in your living room. Play Spin the Bottle, and winning couples -- of any gender, of course -- can spend five minutes in the "Jack and Ennis Pup Tent" away from the prying eyes of Randy Quaid. What they do in there is their own business.

Capote

Number of nominations: 5

Why it's a bummer: The senseless murder of an innocent Kansas family hangs over the story. The title character longs for the execution of his condemned sources so he can finish his book, In Cold Blood, but he doesn't feel good about it.

How to make it fun: Set up a Truman Capote Sound-Alike Contest. How high and sibilant can you make your voice, especially when arguing against a stay of execution? Give extra points to anyone who can accurately distinguish between the real Capote and Philip Seymour Hoffman doing Capote. (Hint: Truman Capote sounded almost exactly like Droopy Dog from the old Tex Avery cartoons, if that helps.)

Crash

Number of nominations: 6

Why it's a bummer: In Paul Haggis' confrontational vision of Los Angeles (and by extension, America), no good deed goes unpunished, and high-strung people take out their frustrations on the first differently colored person who wanders into their field of vision.

How to make it fun: Decorate cardboard boxes to look like cars (or, if you've got a party budget, get actual kiddie cars) and set up the Crash Bumper Car Demolition Derby in the back yard. Players bash into each other and simulate road rage until their vehicles fall apart. In the spirit of the film, "drivers" can shout ethnic slurs, although to keep actual fights from breaking out, require them to defame their own ethnic group.

Good Night, and Good Luck

Number of nominations: 6

Why it's a bummer: Technically, it's the happiest of the nominees, since Edward R. Murrow and his team of CBS journalists contributes to the downfall of a witch-hunting U.S. senator. But the black-and-white interior scenes feel bleak and claustrophobic, and the film ends with a stinging indictment of the modern-day media. Ouch.

How to make it fun: Salute the crusading, tobacco-addicted muckrakers of yesteryear with the Edward R. Murrow Memorial Smokeout. Who can smoke a complete pack of Kent cigarettes the fastest? Points off for coughing, watering eyes, dry heaves, etc.

North Country

Number of nominations: 2

Why it's a bummer: Two hours of humble, hardworking women being beaten, browbeaten and otherwise mistreated by Neanderthal mine workers. Possibly the most punishing of the major nominees -- why wasn't this a hit?

How to make it fun: Stage the Charlize Theron Mine Worker Beauty Pageant. How glamorous can you look while still loading 16 tons of No. 9 coal?

Munich

Number of nominations: 5

Why it's a bummer: Assassinating terrorists doesn't improve Israel's war on terror. Eric Bana's hit squad discovers that their targets tend to be family men or poets or otherwise nice guys. The film ends with the hero in bed with his wife but obsessing over the massacre of the Munich hostages. Good times.

How to make it fun: Play Pin the Plastic Explosive on the Terrorist's Room. Blindfold players and see how close they can get the makeshift bomb to their unsuspecting target. Deduct points for collateral damage, i.e., blowing up innocent civilians, teammates or the fragile peace process.

Syriana

Number of nominations: 2

Why it's a bummer: The end of this Byzantine depiction of the oil industry, espionage and terrorism leaves you convinced that you can't beat a corrupt system, and the only thing more futile than trying is attempting to keep track of Syriana's story lines.

How to make it fun: Using a color printer and the Syriana website, print out the faces of all of film's characters, put them on a poster and play Syriana Connect-the-Dots. Which ones are the spies, the terrorists, the lawyers -- and what are their connections? Players have no time limit

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