Are you planning an Academy Awards party, but don't know where to start? You don't want the timetable and budget to spiral out of control like a Jerry Bruckheimer or James Cameron production. At the same time, you would like to make the bash a success for you and your movie-loving friends. Here are some tips to get you started. The goal is to maximize the fun and comfort of your guests even as the annual Oscar ceremony stretches well past its usual three-hour mark on the evening of Feb. 29.

Getting Started

> Sending invitations via the Internet is the best way to gauge who is and isn't coming to your Oscar party. I recommend www.Evite.com, which offers Academy Award designs and tracks replies.

> The cable channel E! Entertainment Television begins its Oscar coverage at mid-day with a variety of special "Countdown"-style programming. So, decide early on when exactly you want your Academy Awards party to start. If you know a bunch of hard-core Oscar junkies, you may want to request they get there when the catty Joan and Melissa Rivers hit the red carpet in Hollywood at 6 p.m. EST so you can join in on the fashion dishing and dissing. Otherwise, request that people show up in the half-hour before the awards are handed out.

> Decide early on -- depending on how committed your friends and loved ones are -- whether your party should be "Oscar formal" or "movie-theater casual."

Food

> Popcorn, and lots of it! You're celebrating movies, and nothing says cinema like kernels popping away in the microwave or on the kitchen stove.

> Appetizer-style food is usually the best for Oscar-style parties. For parties of eight to 10 guests, at least three appetizers are a must. If you're entertaining a dozen to 16 people, then four or five appetizers are warranted.

> "Hollywood" your food up. You can even theme your culinary offerings according to this year's nominees. Serving fried chicken? Don't forget to bake some "Seabiscuits." Ordering pizza or baking it yourself? Tell your guests that it is "Mystic River Pizza." Finally, think of all the fun you can have with appetizing names like Kevin Bacon.

Presentation

> Start at the front steps and door with a rolled-out red carpet.

> The party-supply stores in and around Baltimore do a fairly good job of carrying themed cups, plates and table accessories for Oscar parties. But if you have trouble finding such favors, the traditional Oscar colors of black and gold will suffice.

> If you have a bar in your home, make a little sign and call that area the "Prancing Pony," named after the bar in "The Lord of the Rings." Various "Rings" toys and figurines can add to the effect.

> If you have any movie posters or movie-themed memorabilia such as 8x10 star photos, your Oscar party is the time to hang them up. If you don't have such art, there is no better place in the city than Urban Posters in Fells Point to pick up quality movie d├ęcor. The various Suncoast stores in several area shopping malls are another good resource, as is the I Love Theatre shop in Ellicott City's historic district. Some even sell mock Oscar statues.

Final helpful hints

> Don't be pushy. Give your guests an Oscar pool sheet, but don't make it mandatory for everyone to play. Oscar party pools are not about winning money, either. They're about fun. So, don't charge more than a couple of bucks to play. If the group wants to up the stakes, let them suggest it.

> Come up with a host of movie trivia questions to ask guests during commercial breaks and the boring music production numbers. You can even give away little prizes like movie-theater gift certificates.

> Have at least two TVs tuned to the broadcast in and around the house or apartment. Some parties have hard-core Oscar viewers who follow the Best Makeup and Best Art Direction categories as closely as they root for Best Actor and Best Picture. If the chatter of the main party room annoys them, they can watch on the other set.

> If there will be small kids present, consider playing past award-winning children's flicks such as "Shrek," "E.T.," or this year's "Finding Nemo" on a separate TV in another room. It's also wise to set aside a nap area.