Oscars at the Ranch. Courtesy San Diego Film Foundation

By Pat Launer

Want to be part of the glitz and glam of Oscar night? Well, you can dress up, and walk the red carpet, too — and you don’t even have to leave San Diego.

For the fourth year, the San Diego Film Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated “to making a difference through film,” is throwing a big bash for the Academy Awards.

Step onto the 75-foot red carpet that extends from the complimentary valet parking to the entrance. Proceed to the 25-foot red carpet for step/repeat photos. Find more photo ops next to the 6-foot cutouts of Oscar statues.

Then start the evening with a champagne welcome. Cast your vote for the slate of Oscar winners. Watch the broadcast live in one of five indoor viewing rooms, or on the big screen behind the pool. Later, get a gift bag of goodies.

Mix and mingle with other film-lovers, while you quaff craft cocktails from Snake Oil Cocktail Company and William Grant & Sons, including one named “The Oscar,” and another titled “The Best Dressed.”

Sample signature dishes created by some of San Diego’s finest chefs: Chef Jeff Jackson from A.R. Valentien; Chef Alex Emery from  La Valencia; Chef Bernard Guillas from The Marine Room; Chef Steven Reimer from Oceana Coastal Kitchen; Chef Michelle Velez from Pillbox Tavern;  Chef  Trevor Chappell from The Barrel Room; Chef Drew McPartlin of Second Nature Catering; and José Barajas of Mmm… Cakes.

Take the opportunity to explore the stunning party site: a private estate in Rancho Santa Fe called Hacienda Del Corazon, an authentic Spanish colonial compound, custom-built to look and feel like a movie set from the Old West. (Check out the long bar in the saloon, with horse-saddle stools!). And if you fall in love with the place, take note: the estate is now on the market.

Overall, there’s method to this movie madness:

Ticket sales from the party will help support the educational arm of the San Diego Film Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization that also presents the annual San Diego International Film Festival, one of the leading stops on the independent festival circuit.

This year, the fundraising spotlight is on a program called Focus on Impact, which brings films with social justice themes to San Diego schools, in order to create a dialogue with students about issues in their community and beyond, and to encourage empathy through the accessible medium of film.

In 2017, the Film Foundation brought “Storied Streets,” an acclaimed documentary about homelessness, to local high schools. After students watched the movie, they participated in a discussion with the filmmaker/producer, a former homeless youth who was featured in the film, and the president/founder of WIT, a San Diego-based organization that works with teens to empower them to become social entrepreneurs and leaders.

The San Diego Film Foundation believes that “film can be transformative.” Honorary Chairs Dr. Howard and Barbara Milstein agree.

“Movies have such a dynamic power,” the Millsteins say. “Whether it is by moving us to tears, or giving us the courage to keep going and never forget the power of humor and laughing at ourselves … magic happens on the big screen. It’s thrilling to be part of The San Diego International Film Festival and support the work of the San Diego Film Foundation.”

“We’re using film as a way to bring people together, to explore social issues and develop empathy,” says San Diego Film Festival CEO and artistic director Tonya Mantooth. “Before and after we showed the homelessness film to local high schoolers, we surveyed the students, asking how they felt about homelessness. After the screening, we saw a measurable difference; the film had actually changed students’ perceptions.”

Mantooth has an excellent eye for film. Each year, she spends about 350-400 hours watching movies, and she has a very good record in calling the Oscar shots.

Last summer’s Film Festival screened two films that went on to win nominations for 2017’s Best Picture: “Call Me By Your Name” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

This year, she’s banking on “Three Billboards” to take Best Picture, and shes confident that Guillermo del Toro (“The Shape of Water”) will be named Best Director.

She sees Frances McDormand as a shoo-in for Best Performance, with a close tie among the male contenders, between Gary Oldman (“Darkest Hour”) and Daniel Day-Lewis (“Phantom Thread”). She’s leaning toward Oldman, whose performance she considered to be “spectacular.”

For Supporting Actor, it will be Sam Rockwell (“Three Billboards”). But Supporting Actress will be less of a lock, she thinks. It’s between Allison Janney in “I Tonya” and Laurie Metcalf in “Lady Bird.”

Mantooth was wowed by “Lady Bird,” which is among the Best Picture nominees, and is “a huge fan” of its writer/director, Greta Gerwig, who’s up for Best Director.

“I’m surprised Katherine Bigelow got overlooked for ‘Detroit,’” she says. “She should have gotten a nod for tackling that tough, raw, intense subject” (the 12th Street riot of 1967).

She thinks “Mudbound” will get the award for Adapted Screenplay (written by Virgil Williams and the film’s director, Dee Rees).

But feel free to weigh in with your own ideas and favorites.

At the Oscar Viewing Party, Mantooth explains, “everyone buys a ballot at the outset, to vote for all those they think will win. The pool of money gets split between the winners and the foundation.”

There will also be a raffle, with some pretty high-end items, such as a Bentley for a weekend, or a Limo for the night to take winners to The Old Globe, with an overnight stay at the Lodge at Torrey Pines.

“I love this party,” Mantooth says. “I love everyone getting dressed up” (70% of the women wear gowns, fyi), “coming out and getting to meet fellow film-lovers. It’s a really fun night. It’s a time for watching or talking or networking or socializing. And this is an amazing house to accommodate all of those pursuits. It’s a great expanse, with little pockets of quiet, and TVs everywhere.”

Overall, Mantooth thought 2017 was a good year for film, but she “didn’t see as much diversity” as she would have liked. “I think it’s going to take a while for female directors to be noticed.”

In the meantime, you can be one of the ones who gets noticed —  at a sensational soirée that gives a local taste of Oscar excitement right here at home.

  • Oscars in The Ranch: The Academy Awards Viewing Party will be held in a private estate in Rancho Santa Fe on Sunday, March 4
  • 4:30 p.m. red darpet; 5:30 p.m.Academy Awards Show telecast
  • Complimentary Valet Parking
  • Cocktail Attire/ Black Tie or Bolo Tie Optional
  • Tickets are $175 per person. Proceeds benefit the San Diego Film Foundation’s Educational Programs.
  • Info and reservations are at: sdfilmfest.com/oscar-awards-party.

Pat Launer is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at patlauner.com.

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